I totally believe that great leaders offer their people unconditional love — a safe place to learn, to grow, to take risks, and to become the next generation of great leaders. Sometimes, however, we have to work with people we don’t necessarily love. This can be a simple difference in personalities, interests and even politics. And in cases like these, we need to understand the value of trust.
I can work with people I don’t personally like, as long as they are effective and I’m confident that they will do the right thing. No question — it’s more fun working with people I love. They make me feel good. They make it easy for me to help them. But with apologies to John Lennon, all you need is trust.
When we trust someone to execute to our own high standards, when we know their core values are solid, it doesn’t really matter if we want to each lunch together. Trust is foundational; trust is an essential requirement. When leaders don’t know whether or not they can trust someone on whom they rely, the result is stress. Stress amplifies every opportunity to fail. Trust illuminates every opportunity to win.
It’s not enough for leaders to trust their followers; leaders must inspire trust in their followers. If employees can’t trust you to look out for their needs, they will be forced to look out for themselves; selfishness replaces any sense of teamwork. We can all recount stories about companies whose business failures boiled down to a bankruptcy of trust. Too often, would-be leaders acted the part of bad managers by demanding loyalty and sacrifice from people they’d trained to be distrustful and selfish. That formula will never work for long.
The soldiers who followed Henry V into the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 knew the odds were not in their favor. They may or may not have liked Henry, but they trusted his leadership, they trusted that he would execute the best plan given the circumstances, and they trusted that he would share whatever glory and rewards came their way. The result was a big win for Team Henry.
In 2006, when Bruce Mau was asked to help Guatemala unite its beleaguered citizenry behind a common vision, his team started by addressing the trust factor. The people of Guatemala had been made promises before, and were suspicious of institutions. (There’s a great case study here.) A design-thinking approach helped surface compelling evidence of successful entrepreneurial projects springing up across the country—small businesses and community ventures run by real citizens. These became the rallying point for a grassroots movement. It was something people could trust, and they embraced it.
Someday, you may earn the love of people who will follow you anywhere – into any situation, any risky proposition, any physical or philosophical battle. But first, you’ll have to earn their trust. Without trust, love is blind.