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Stephen Covey Masterclass: Leading at the speed of trust

Bestselling author Stephen Covey's message that trust is an economic driver of business

SCV21 - event overview

Stephen M.R. Covey says trust is the new currency of our time.

The global speaker and New York Times and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Speed of Trust says if you build the trust, your ability to grow goes up.

“It’s always mattered, but it matters even more today in a low trust world,” he says. “Distrust is contagious. Thankfully, so is trust.”

The trusted person

Identify a person you have a high level of trust with at work. What’s it like to work with them? It’s reassuring, safe, exciting, encouraging, open. What’s the communication like? It’s honest, simple, clear, and open. How fast can you get things done? Super-fast, quickly. What type of results do you get? Optimal, solid, efficient, awesome, effective.

The distrusted person

Identify a second person, this time one with whom you have a low trust relationship. It’s exhausting, frustrating, fake, difficult, boring, stressful, demotivating. Communication is draining, guarded, exhausting, bitter. Results are hit and miss, mixed, not reliable, not great, slow, or average.

Trust is an economic driver

As you can see from above, trust affects speed and cost. When trust goes down, the speed will go down and the cost will go up. It’s a “tax”. When the trust goes up the speed goes up with it, and the cost comes down. That is a “dividend”. High trust organisations have been shown to outperform low trust organisations by more than 280% (on total return to shareholders). High trust offers a multiplier of 3x performance.

Trust is the #1 leadership competency

Today’s leaders must be agile and develop high-performing teams that are: inclusive, collaborative, innovative, engaged. Without trust people don’t collaborate, they just co-ordinate. Trust, on the other hand, is transformative. Those who trust are 30% more likely to take a risk and 11% more likely to innovate. Employees who trust their managers are 14x more likely to be fully engaged (ADP Research Institute 2020 global study). When trust goes up, so does energy and joy.

Trust is a learnable skill:

Trust begins with yourself (self-trust) then ripples out to relationship trust, organisational trust, market trust, and societal trust. First step is always to look in the mirror. You build trust from the inside-out.

Think of a tree as the framework: The roots and trunk are character. The visible canopy is competence.

Sub-framework: The 4 cores of credibility

From the roots of the tree to the top of its canopy are four core tenets of credibility:

·       Integrity – honesty, truthfulness, doing the right thing (even if it costs you).

·       Intent – genuine caring and seeking mutual benefit. Assume positive intent in others.

·       Capability – growing, learning, getting better, staying relevant.

·       Results – when people see a track record, there is trust.

Without trust you are not really a team, Stephen says. It is trust that turns a group of individuals into a team. 

13 behaviours of high-trust leaders

The saying goes “To err is human and to blame it on someone else shows management potential!” Joking aside, high-trust leaders exhibit many of these 13 behaviours:

Character behaviours:

·       Talk straight

·       Demonstrate respect

·       Create transparency

·       Right wrongs

·       Show loyalty

Competence behaviours:

·       Deliver results

·       Get better

·       Confront reality

·       Clarify expectations

·       Practice accountability

Character and Competence behaviours:

·       Listen first

·       Keep commitments

·       Extend trust

Stephen says to start by choosing three behaviours to work on. You can also take the list to others and ask them to choose three behaviours you could work on, or discuss the list as a team. What can we work on to increase team trust?


Stephen Covey says his father had a great expression – “You can’t talk your way out of a problem that you behaved your way into.”

However, if you are keen to restore trust in a situation, Stephen says you can behave your way out of a problem you behaved your way into. Take responsibility, he says. Own it. Write the wrong. It might include an apology or restitution. Tell people what you are going to do to rebuild or regain the trust. Clarify your expectations on what you will do. Do what you said you were going to do. 

1.     Start With Self - Work on your own credibility and behaviour.

2.     Declare Your Intent -Don’t assume people know your intent to trust them, and assume positive intent of others.

3.     Lead Out - Extend trust to others before you expect trust in return.

When we extend trust to other people we give them a chance, says Stephen. We need more chances in life.

“While it takes two people to trust, it only takes one to start.” – Stephen Covey 


Image: Tracey Bailey, founder and CEO of responsible retailer Biome. "Trust is at our core."

Trust is absolutely the economic driver of Tracey Bailey’s business. The founder and CEO of eco-store chain Biome says retail is a marginal, tough industry, but her focus on being trusted has led to double-digit revenue growth year on year since her 2003 launch. We chose Biome as a case study on trust to bring to life Stephen M.R. Covey's record-attendance masterclass Leading At The Speed Of Trust.

Trust as purpose

Biome now has six stores across Brisbane, Gold Coast, and Melbourne, and employs 100 staff.  

“Trust is at the core of Biome's purpose because we stand for being transparent with our customers and giving the 'whole story' of how a product is made, what it is made from, by whom and where, and what its impacts will be,” she says.

The discipline to not waiver

Biome’s strict criteria for what it stocks and how it’s operated means they’re always in a precarious financial position, she says.

“And that includes the job security of my team. Because their job security is on the line if Biome is not successful, my team need to have absolute trust in my leadership on that stance. Our decision to remove all products containing palm oil derivatives meant our business took a huge financial hit, but we survived.”

Tracey says the team trust her decisions will fall in line with the company’s principles. 

“I have to be disciplined to not waiver, because it is a slippery slope. I am a diligent follower of the saying: ‘Those who stand for nothing, fall for anything’ by Alexander Hamilton,” she says.

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