November 9, 2004      
Topics of Trust and Leadership, from the authors of The Trusted Leader



The authors of The Trusted Leader

This month we continue our new series of articles called Building Trust on the Way In with a discussion about keeping up the good work.

Just because you do a bang-up job once doesn't mean you're destined for future success. Leaders know that relying on past results can be perilous.

-Rob and Anne-


The Trusted Leader

Previous Issues:

What if You Flub It?

Surviving the Big Mistake

The Virtual Inner Circle


Next month's issue: Listen and Do Your Homework

Harvard Business Review case study: Succession and Failure, co-authored by Rob Galford. Available directly from HBR


Past Performance is no Guarantee of Future Results

Even if you are a star chef Alain Ducasse type, with a terrific track record behind you, you know that every leadership situation you encounter is different. While it certainly helps that you might have opened three new stores or four new regions in the same way you have done before, this next one can indeed be unlike the others.

If you are on the way in to a situation that is similar to others you've encountered, taking that deep inventory of what is the same, and making that profound inquiry into what may be different (whether consciously or unconsciously) has probably helped you each time. The more conscious you can be about the deep inquiry of similarities and differences, the better off you will be.

Take Jean, for instance, someone with substantial experience in this vein. Jean runs a huge mail-order facility.

An hourly work force of several thousand, along with 130 front-line supervisors, 25 second-level supervisors and 5 managers reporting to Jean, handle as many as 100,000 orders in a 24-hour period. The work force is largely part-timers, engaged in strenuous physical work, and performed according to rigorous standards and measures. As one can imagine, it is not an easy place to work, and the combined challenges of retaining a part-time labor force and maximizing their productivity are substantial.

Jean's company places great emphasis on building trust. They expect their leaders to not only be confident, but also trustworthy, and caring. Jean builds this emphasis on trust into a set of practical action steps to which she returns repeatedly.

By dint of promotions, transfers and schedule changes, Jean has had her fair share of situations in which she was required to build trust anew. In examining some of her more successful experiences with building trust on the way in, her very first comment squarely addressed the relative value of one's prior experience as follows: " In almost all the successful ones, I took the preconceived notions I had developed about jobs and people, and I held them to the side. You just can't start out with them."

Jean went on to say that relying on past results was perilous, as it could deceive one into thinking that situations (and solutions) were similar when the case was precisely the opposite.

Your past performance might have gotten you into your new situation, but continuing “in kind” may not be what will make you successful.

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How about you? How have you kept from using your past success as a crutch in future situations? Let us know.

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