Innovative Service Leaders Nurture Trust

He was the CEO of one of the most innovative service companies on the planet. I asked him to write an endorsement for my new book, and used the encounter to learn more about how he created such an amazing culture. He did not hesitate with his answer: “Trust!”

He continued: “Leaders create an atmosphere of trust when they treat the work environment as the setting for special and important relationships. People who lead from this perspective bring completely different practices than those who have a more parental view of their leadership role. Their every action shows they respect the wholesome inner workings of work groups in much the same way they treat their close friends and family.”

Innovative service leadership relies on the naturalness of valued relationships instead of “proper” dealings, artificial structures, and contrived pecking orders. In the olden days, work relationships were agrarian and relied on extended family for production. The family in the field was the family at home. As industrialization moved to “work for hire” and efficiency-driven “objectivity,” people became more like objects and less like relations. While work has become more humanistic, residues of managerial detachment and indifferent logic still abound.

It takes trustful leadership to nurture employees who consistently deliver innovative service. It requires an attitude and approach that communicates “associates are like family.” In such a culture, people are encouraged to be creative rather than expected to be compliant. Experimentation is supported. Responsible risk-taking is valued. The frontline is rewarded for unique practices instead of instructed to follow uniform procedures. The result is a novel experience that yields a story customers are eager to share.

Trust Ensues from Optimistic Leaders

Parents who want their children to proceed with confidence and trust typically communicate optimism. “Look on the brighter side,” or “It's not as bad as you think,” are usually delivered by an optimistic parent to an anxious child. They also are the precursor to calm, confidence, and trust.

Innovative service leaders who seek to create an atmosphere of trust are optimistic about their world and their associates. Optimism does not imply a Pollyanna-ish attitude or blind desire. It does, however, mean courageous hope and rock-solid conviction in one’s capacity to negotiate troubled waters, unexpected twists, and dangerous turns. Optimistic leaders are not fearless, they are just gutsy.

Trust Requires Honest Leaders

Innovative service leaders who seek a trusting climate work diligently to always assert the truth. This keeps integrity at the forefront of all dealings. "One of the surest signs of a bad or declining relationship is the absence of complaints. Nobody is ever THAT satisfied, especially not over an extended period of time. The person is either not being candid or not being contacted." These words of Harvard professor and marketing guru Ted Levitt were written about customers. They could just as easily be about all relationships. Absence of unabashed candor reflects a decline of trust and deterioration of the relationship.

Ask anybody what they believe to be the number one cause of divorce. Eight in ten will tell you “communication.” A key part of important relationships is straight talk, a two-way pursuit of truth. No relationship is perfect all the time: healthy work relationships, like healthy marriages, are marked by welcomed critique. Honesty fuels more honesty if defensiveness is absent. As candor triggers improvement, those serving feel responsive, those served feel heard, and relationships emerge with greater health.

Trust Comes from Promise Keepers

Reliability is the foundation of trust; trust is the glue of innovative service relationships. Keeping promises is about protecting the sacredness of commitments, caring enough to remember. “Reliability is the foundation of mutual trust,” advises Carlo Medici, CEO of AlzecaBio, “. . . being able to meet every promise every time.”

“Keeping agreements,” according to Gay Hendricks and Kate Ludeman in The Corporate Mystic, is “joining forces with the creative powers of the universe, the same power that makes oak trees where no trees were before. Having stepped into unity with the creative force in the universe, you need to make good on the creation or cancel it out cleanly. Otherwise, you are bucking the greatest power there is.”

We commonly use the word “natural” to refer to things that are pure or organic, no bad stuff added. We also use it to mean innate or native, as in one’s natural talent. Innovative service requires leadership that reflects purity of purpose as well as instinct in practice. It does not mean leadership cannot be learned or refined. It does mean innovative service leadership draws on the genetic material of human relationships that are as untainted as children at play and as wholesome as family sharing a special moment.

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