Ranking only a tad better than lawyers, business executives are among the least trusted occupations in America. According to a survey by Pew Research Center, about half of respondents indicated that executives provide only “some” contributions to society’s well-being, while a condemning 28 percent said they offered “little or nothing.”
As a CEO, you can therefore expect around three out of every four people you meet will think you’re full of baloney.
Fortunately, trust isn’t merely a virtue—it’s an invaluable skill that can be learned and refined to make you a better leader and your company more profitable. In an interview with The Washington Post, Stephen M. R. Covey, CEO of the Covey Leadership Center and son of the late Stephen R. Covey (best-selling author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”) explains the two most important components to developing trust:
“Credibility flows from having both character and competence. Our character is who we are; our competence is what we can do.”
Covey claims credibility is built on four pillars: Integrity, or your ability to narrow the gap between what you say and what you do; Intent, which hinges on your motive or agenda; Capabilities, such as learning and improving; and Results, or the caliber of your performance.
Notice Covey doesn’t suggest you can pick and choose which pillar to stand on. Missing even one means you’re likely to fall. Whether you’re a competent leader with a self-serving agenda or the most earnest executive with subpar results, your credibility will begin to break down.
“Behavior is what we do and how we do it . . . You can’t talk yourself out of a problem that you behaved yourself into.”
If you’ve behaved yourself into a corner, the only solution is to behave yourself out, says Covey. When you feel pressured to produce results, don’t ever compromise an appropriate means of arriving at such a destination. The best way to sustain trust is to be trustworthy every step of the way.
Covey also points out that trust is reciprocal by nature. If you want to be trusted, you’ll need to extend trust to others. Through your behavior, openly demonstrate your confidence in employees, board members and even customers, and you’ll find more trust comes your way as well.
In a world where so many are inclined to doubt the leaders of business, CEOs would do well to actively focus on building trust with their stakeholders. Covey’s formula is simple: Declare your intent, signal your behavior and then do what you say you’re going to do.
In doing so, you will witness the power trust has to improve collaboration, unleash creativity and surround your organization with greater energy and satisfaction.