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The Trusted Leader Excerpt: Introduction

This book about trusted leadership is a surprising, accidental byproduct of the work Rob was doing around the skills of trusted advisors (the topic of his first book, with David Maister and Charles Green.). Rob was teaching in a series of executive programs jointly delivered by the graduate business schools at Columbia and Kellogg/Northwestern, for the executives of a single firm. In each of those thirty sessions, he asked the participants to rank themselves -- and then rank their colleagues -- on how trusted they were as advisors to clients and customers. The striking results of that particular survey question, repeated every single time, session after session, was that a sizable percentage of the respondents had little or no confidence in their own partners' abilities to build trust! If such a gap in the level of trust existed inside the upper levels of an organization, Rob wondered, how could the organization ever develop the trust of its customers?

That question led us to explore just how to create and sustain trust among the members of a single organization. This challenge affects companies large and small, centralized and decentralized, global and local, and in our own work in recent years with and for companies of all sizes and shapes, we've personally learned a great deal. We wrote this book because we feel strongly that creating a community of trusted leaders who can then help trust permeate through all levels of an organization -- particularly in today's business context -- is critical to every company's long-term survival and success.

We wrote this book because even though there has been a great deal published about the role of the leader in creating a successful company, no one has ever given due credit to the important implications of having an organization with a trusted leader. A lot of literature addresses trust in families, between friends, in society, as well as trust -- and the related loyalty -- between company and client. But trusted leadership - the force that guides and builds trust inside companies -- between employees, between senior managers, across levels and departments -- hasn't received nearly as much attention. Part of the reason is a widespread misconception that trust is trust, and that if you understand the dynamics of trust in one arena, you'll understand them in any other. This is simply not so. Just to cite one example, consider the relationship between company and client. If trust breaks down, one party or another can usually exit the relationship, perhaps not without some difficulty, but with few, if any, long-term aftereffects. "That relationship is over, but no worries; there are other, similar, vendors (or suppliers, or consultants, or what-have-you)." Trusted leadership inside an organization, however, more closely resembles trust in families living under one roof. Individuals usually can't just walk away and forget, and every action or reaction has a lasting ripple effect.

Trust inside has its own unique set of dynamics, but they are not widely understood. Yet they are vitally important. Today's customer demands, the pressures to succeed competitively, and the new "employment contract" (the reality that there is no "employment contract" anymore) mean that trusted leadership is more important now than ever before. We have come to believe that creating organizations that are bound by strong, deep connections between peers, across levels, and across functions may be the only recipe for sustainable success.

Trusted leadership is not a "new economy" versus "old economy" issue. Nor is it an issue that is solely the challenge of running a large company versus a smaller-sized entity. Our background research and review of trust-related episodes at a number of companies (ranging from $20 million technology firms to $20 billion multinationals) demonstrate that trusted leadership is, above all, an issue of human interaction, and, as such, requires constant and vigilant treatment.

Trust is intangible -- like culture -- but it is useful to think of it as an "outcome" that results from very tangible processes. There are management tools you can use to become a trusted leader, and established, proven methods for sustaining trust inside and for repairing once-trusting relationships that have broken down.

The Trusted Leader is primarily for people in senior leadership roles. It is presented in five parts. The first part, "An Overview of Trusted Leadership" (Chapters 1 through 4) defines trust inside, the characteristics and competencies of the trusted leader, and the natural enemies of trust, in broad strokes. It also includes a self-assessment drill, to help you define where you are in your efforts to become a trusted leader and build trust inside your organization. (We're list-happy, and we like to put our readers through the occasional exercise.) In Part Two, "Identifying and Applying the Tools of Trusted Leaders" (Chapters 5 and 6), we identify and demonstrate the tools of trust-building on personal relationships inside the organization and relationships between leaders and the organization. Part Three, "How Trusted Leaders Work" (Chapters 7 through 9) -- drills down into what trust looks like -- and how it can be created, reinforced, and strengthened -- across levels, functions, and locations. Part Four, "Defining Moments" (Chapters 10 through 12) identifies those critical junctures when trusted leadership is tested, and also pinpoints specific opportunities for building trust inside. In Part Five, "Building Trust in Perspective" (chapters 13 and 14) we take a longer and more personal view, examining in detail how trust breaks down, what a leader can do in a situation where trust must be rebuilt, and also what it means to build a legacy of trust. Finally, in the Afterword, you will find information about how you can participate in our work on trust after you have read this book.

All of the advice we offer is "pressure-tested." That is, it comes directly out of our research and work with companies of varying sizes that have experienced the pressures of roller-coaster change, market uncertainties, and strategic and operational turmoil. It comes out of leadership mistakes and successes we have observed. It also comes out of our own personal experiences as top managers working with middle managers and front-line employees. The real case examples we present throughout the book provide a level of detail that paints a clearer picture than a generic description ever could. Some are disguised (to protect both the innocent and the guilty), some are directly reported by the people involved. Some are several cases merged into one to emphasize a particular insight. They're all true, and we hope you think they're as compelling as we do in their illustrations of our theories.

We should note that in the course of our writing this book, the Enron case rose to the fore, calling into question the very essence of trusted leadership. It was followed shortly thereafter by revelations at Global Crossing, Adelphia Communications, Tyco, WorldCom, and others. We haven't dwelt on these cases, but we have included examples that are representative of some of the problems that those companies experienced, particularly since, to us, Enron's saga is, for example, the Perfect Storm of how trusted leadership goes awry. One of the most interesting aspects of that debacle has been its effects on Arthur Andersen and many other entities.

September 11, 2001, also hadn't happened when we began to write. That enormously tragic event has had a profound, enduring effect on how employers and employees think about what trust represents within organizations. It has highlighted the responsibilities of leaders and companies regarding the personal safety and emotional well-being of their employees. The influence of that horrific day and the issues it rediscovered are throughout the book, most prominently in the chapter on trust in times of crisis.

The ongoing issues of trust and trusted leadership in organizations have led us to create a website, We invite you to visit us there in order to contribute to the conversation. In the meantime, we hope that this book will help you become a better leader, more capable of building and sustaining trust-based organizations than before. With trusted leadership, organizations are better positioned to weather any crises and to seize any opportunities for success in the marketplace over the long term.


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