“Trust is the glue of life…the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” ~ Stephen Covey
Recently we were at a luncheon for an executive leadership group we belong to. If an opportunity appears to have value, we’ll sign up for just about any leadership learning experience that we can get our hands on. Leadership is complex and so intricate that on-going professional learning experiences are simply a must. The day was valuable due to the authentic leaders and their candid messages. There were several take-aways, and we thoroughly enjoyed listening to everyone who spoke. However, during one of the panel discussions, two district superintendents were pressed for their take on “important issues” in leading an organization. The resounding “issue” was the T-word—Trust. They both agreed that trust is one of the most important factors in running a successful organization, regardless of the circumstances. Here’s what they said:
“Sometimes the protocol for decision-making can go sideways.” –Dr. Mark Holodick, Superintendent of Schools
When the protocol for decision-making turns sideways, it’s the leader of the organization who sets the decision straight. In fact, Holodick went on to say that “decisions are rarely top-down or bottom-up.” Decision-making is more complicated than that. Decision-making within an organization doesn’t always follow a natural hierarchy. Good decisions can come from anywhere and should. And, in great organizations, innovative decisions come from all directions. When the process for making decisions goes bad, or a decision itself is bad, good leaders simply set things straight. How is that done? With trust. He went on to tell the audience that “even good decisions are bad without trust.” When the leader has trust within the organization, he or she can always set a decision, no matter who made it, on the right path. What do we need for problem-solving? Trust. What do we need for innovation? Trust. What do we need for success at every level? Trust. The problem many leaders face is a question of how to build trust. That’s where Dr. Michael Thomas added valuable insight.
“A handshake is a powerful message in the street.” –Dr. Michael Thomas, Superintendent of Schools
Thomas was clear with his audience that making a connection with the community is likely the most important job the leader of an organization has. “Without the connection, no decision ever gets traction,” he went on. We’ve said this before in some of our posts, but it starts with being visible and making a connection. As the old adage states, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Great leaders are among their constituents and stakeholders, shaking hands and getting to know people. Genuine relationships create an environment of input. This happens when the leader is available and listening. Be available, listen, and respond to your community, and you’ll build trust. The problem is when the opposite is true—when “leaders” are not available, not listening, or inauthentic—responding based on their own desires for the organization. When that happens, you can guarantee that you’re preventing progress and building distrust.
What Holodick and Thomas delivered was profound, but the concepts are actually pretty simple: decisions can only be good, or made good, when trust is established; establish trust by making connections with people. As organizational leaders, every move we make should be about inspiring trust. Without it, progress is impossible.
Leadership Challenge: School leaders, make a connection with a community member (parent, local organization, etc.) and set a date to meet this summer (or in the near future). Don’t set an agenda, just have a conversation about the great things that have happened in the organization, the great things that are happening now, and the future greatness of what you plan to accomplish. And, don’t forget to shake hands.
Let us know about trust and progress in your organization. Maybe we can help.