How the Best Leaders Build Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey @ LeadershipNow
WITHIN THIS ARTICLE:
How do the best leaders build trust?
13 Behaviors of High-Trust Leaders Worldwide
About the Author
By Stephen M. R. Covey
Almost everywhere we turn, trust is on the decline. Trust in our culture at large, in our institutions, and in our companies is significantly lower than a generation ago. Research shows that only 49% of employees trust senior management, and only 28% believe CEOs are a credible source of information. Consider the loss of trust and confidence in the financial markets today. Indeed, “trust makes the world go ’round,” and right now we’re experiencing a crisis of trust. This crisis compels us to ask three questions. First, is there a measurable cost to low trust? Second, is there a tangible benefit to high trust? Third, how can the best leaders build trust in and within their organizations to reap the benefits of high trust?
Most people don’t know how to think about the organizational and societal consequences of low trust because they don’t know how to quantify or measure the costs of such a so-called “soft” factor as trust. For many, trust is intangible, ethereal, unquantifiable. If it remains that way, then people don’t know how to get their arms around it or how to improve it. But the fact is, the costs of low trust are very real, they are quantifiable, and they are staggering.
In 2004, one estimate put the cost of complying with federal rules and regulations alone in the United States — put in place essentially due to lack of trust — at $1.1 trillion, which is more than 10% of the gross domestic product. A recent study conducted by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimated that the average American company lost 6% of its annual revenue to some sort of fraudulent activity. Research shows similar effects for the other disguised low-trust taxes as well.
Think about it this way: When trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden “tax” on every transaction: every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.
By contrast, individuals and organizations that have earned and operate with high trust experience the opposite of a tax — a “dividend” that is like a performance multiplier, enabling them to succeed in their communications, interactions, and decisions, and to move with incredible speed. A recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%!
I contend that the ability to establish, grow, extend, and (where needed) restore trust among stakeholders is the critical competency of leadership needed today. It is needed more than any other competency. Engendering trust is, in fact, a competency that can be learned, applied, and understood. It is something that you can get good at, something you can measure and improve, something for which you can “move the needle.” You cannot be an effective leader without trust. As Warren Bennis put it, “Leadership without mutual trust is a contradiction in terms.”