I’m not sure why I requested a review copy of the book Trust & Inspire—How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness In Others by Stephen M.R. Covey, but I did. Like many of you, I don’t have a business or employees. Not only do I not manage other people, I sometimes don’t seem to manage myself that well either. But I do deeply admire the author’s father—the late Stephen Covey author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, so the name caught my attention. And when I think about it, the idea of trust has been on my mind as well. Do I truly trust myself to do what I say I will do? Do I trust those around me? Do I trust the products I buy and/or the businesses that sell them? Do I trust my government? As Covey points out, if trustworthy people don’t see others as trustworthy (even if they are) then trust is absent. And is that the kind of world I want to live in?
Right from the start Covey explains that we are all leaders in our own world. This is true whether you have children or run a corporation. Sure, it is more obvious when you have a title in a business that signifies you are in charge. But every person who is a parent, a teacher or offers guidance or collaboration with others is in the position to lead. How we do that is likely either one of two main approaches: 1) Command & Control; or 2) Trust & Inspire. Unfortunately, the majority of leadership falls under the well-known Command & Control model. However, as Covey says, “The world has changed—but our style of leadership has not.”
And lest you think that doesn’t apply to you and me, Covey states that the majority of leadership in families and other organizations we belong to (civic groups, schools, churches, etc.) still operate as Command & Control. Any time we (or the group leader) attempt to control or insist on compliance or efficiency from others, our intent is to command and control. Any attempt to motivate others to fulfill our requests by barking out orders, or with the traditional carrot-or-stick method, our goal is to achieve obedience. The saying, “My way or the highway,” or “Father knows best,” is pure Command and Control. And I don’t know about you, but the family I was raised in fit that to a tee.
Yet as Covey says, we are now living in a different world. People no longer want to simply be controlled like pawns on the chess board. Rather than nicely (or instead unkindly) being motivated to perform, people today want to be inspired. Rather than being told what to do and then expected to blindly comply, we want to be involved and trusted to contribute and create. With change occurring in our world at whirlwind speeds, we no long wish to be mere cogs in a wheel churning out what leaders insist on requiring. Instead, most of us yearn to collaborate, to transform, and to co-create. We want to be led, not managed. At least I do. What about you?
On the flip side is the Trust & Inspire Leadership model. A core value of this approach is believing in the inherent greatness that exists in each-and-every person. Once you hold that perspective, the goal is to unleash that potential by empowering, engaging and inspiring them. Obviously, it is necessary to start with trust as a guiding principle. A metaphor that Covey uses repeatedly is that a Trust & Inspire Leader is more like a gardener, while the Command & Control Leader is more like a machinist. While they both might have a job to be done, their innate intentions and how they carry out the task makes all the difference. So, while all leaders might have a list of chores to be completed, would you rather one stood over you with a predetermined list of demands, or one who trusts you and works with you to complete the necessary tasks? Again, I know which I’d prefer.
A big part of the problem is that we are all so conditioned to believe that Command & Control is necessary and even the best way to get things done. That is because it has become such a part of the culture that we can’t often see how it didn’t work that great in the first place. Sure, a C&C Leader might have forced us to comply, but even if we did it was often with resentment. Usually that type of leadership is also transactional. I’ll do what you say for a paycheck but don’t expect anything more of me. I’ll follow the rules you lay down, but the minute I can I’m leaving. I might owe you for what you do for me, but don’t expect me to love, trust, or respect you in return. A big part of the reason people aren’t staying in jobs, organizations or even relationships in our world today is because if we are treated as an untrustworthy and replaceable part in a machine, our loyalty is nonexistent, and we move on for greener pastures.
Which brings us back to trust. Covey is clear that we all want to be trusted. A problem is, while we tend to think that we are trustworthy—we often do not extend that trust to others. Why? Because a Command & Control Leader has many fears. Fear that they will lose control. Fear they will be replaced, or heaven forbid, found to be a fraud. Fear that they will fail to get the job done. C&C leaders believe that there is only so much good to go around and if you don’t demand and require your share, you will fail.
Trust & Inspire Leaders are the opposite. They not only believe in the inherent greatness within their people, they also believe in an abundance of life. To them innovation is a team sport where everyone wins. When you believe and trust in the people in your life (family, groups, business) then that inspires them to be all they can be, and again, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Of course, Covey is realistic and says that being a Trust & Inspire leader, parent or anything isn’t always easy. It might seem that you just sit back and let others do whatever they want and accept the consequences. No. Instead, a T&I Leader starts first with their own intentions, fears and lack of trust, before they can extend it to others. They see their leadership style as a “steward” rather than boss. They model the behavior they wish to see in others, and work to unleash potential rather than exert control. Rather than micro-manage or “helicopter” those they live with or work with, they trust the others to co-create and collaborate with them.
At the same time, they also honestly open-up about their intentions, needs and the needs of the organization. Authenticity is essential and so is revealing your agendas. They listen carefully to the needs and necessities of everyone within the “team” and collectively attempt to include that in the necessary outcome. They extend trust consciously—with clear expectations and accountability. So, unlike Command & Control leaders, this might not be the fastest approach to getting things done, but it is by far a more effective because it instills teamwork, engagement and commitment.
Still, as Covey says, “The idea that you can have two trustworthy people working together and no trust between them continues to be one of the biggest challenges I run into when working with people.” He claims this challenge exists in the highest levels of leadership down to families and everything in between. Covey believes that most people are trustworthy—even Command & Control Leaders. The problem is that while we usually think we should be trusted—we don’t automatically assume others deserve our trust. Why? Some hold the belief that trust must be earned, while at the same time others believe it is simply a given. Covey asserts that trust is actually both—earned and given at times—but unless we are willing to start with what he calls “smart trust,” we stay stuck in fixed mindset of fear and distrust. According to Covey, by first extending trust to others, we automatically generate a trusting environment that grows and builds. He says yes, “there is risk in trusting others (if there were not risk, you wouldn’t need to have trust). But—and this is vital—there is also risk in not trusting people.”
The book also helped me to look more deeply into trust on a personal level. Last year my WOTY (word of the year) was “Trust.” While I of course worked to trust others more, I primarily worked to trust myself more—my intuitions, my inner being, that still small voice within me. And while I made progress, I am aware that this is an ongoing process and this book helped me focus on it in a new way. Is my trust intrinsic or extrinsic? Is my first inclination to offer trust (both to myself or others) or do I expect it to first be earned? How trustworthy am I?
Obviously, there is much more in the book about both forms of leadership and even one that is slightly in the middle of the two. Yet Covey reminds us that, “As organizations and as a society, we have become very good at measuring the cost of trusting too much, but we’re not very good at all at measuring the cost of not trusting enough.” Again, Covey admits that not all trust should be a given, he also claims that “Research shows that people who are trusting are happier, healthier and live longer.” After reading this book I now believe it is SMART to work toward being more inspiring and trusting in all my relationships—for my sake, as well as those around me.
What an interesting topic and such a inspiring way of looking at it! All the concepts sound so simple however we all know they’re not. And, yes, the past few years it has been very hard to trust political or public figures. However, trying not to paint everyone with the same brush is the challenge, isn’t it?
I’ve had challenges and experiences that made me a very strong control and command person for a number of years. I didn’t trust myself so how could I trust others? Thankfully, I haven’t gotten back to trusting myself and my gut instinct. It makes it so much easier to extend that same gift to others.
However, like Gary said you give them a couple of chances and if they don’t follow through they have made themselves untrustworthy. And that is definitely smart trust and a good way to look at things, I think.
Thanks for the reading tip and the excellent take on a very important topic.
David Kasperson says
Kathy, this is such an excellent post. So many solid insights, and all were made better because you modeled exploring those insights in your own world. Thank you for this. Being on the receiving end of this kind of leadership is life-altering. We can probably all identify someone who has done this for us. The hope is to give people tools to be able to do the same for others. My very favorite observation you made was right out of the gate, noting that you don’t have a business, or employees, or don’t manage other people, and yet you found this applying to you. While there’s obvious business and traditional “leadership” connection, we worked to keep in mind that before becoming a Trust & Inspire leader, or parent, or teacher, or anything else, the key is really to become a Trust & Inspire person. The context side will fill itself in, AND there’s such value to me as a person that is only additive to my contribution in various other roles. Thank you again!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi David! Thank you for your kind words. And forgive me for not listing you as one of the authors of this book. (too many names for a short article!!). I agree that it is a great book for all of us because as you said the key to living a “trusting” life is to be a trustworthy person yourself–and then extend that to others as well. And once we do, as you said, it adds to our contributions in all other roles in life. May the book find its way into ALL the right hands (and minds) that can benefit from its wisdom. ~Kathy
Bob Lowry says
Well, there is a book I will get for my bedside! I did enjoy his dad’s book quite a bit; this one sounds like a must-read.
Trust is the key ingredient that seems to be missing in both public and private spheres. Your analysis and reactions to the book prompt me to get a copy.
For me, the last several years of alternate facts and blatant disregard of reality has left my trust in a damaged state. Maybe Mr. Covey’s words will help.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Bob! Thanks for checking in here. Like you I’m thinking trust is sorely missing in our world today and that’s exactly why I wanted to read it too. And like his dad, this Covey is also an optimist and helps give a positive outlook for the world as well. ~Kathy
Kate Sullivan says
Hi Kathy, great review of the book. I’m going to check it out. As I thought about the concepts I couldn’t help from overlaying them with the current polarization and division in our country today. Maybe we’ve always had periods like this but we seem rife with mistrust. Lots of finger pointing and very little attempts of either side to listen and learn from each other. All seem to be in the Command and Control mode. Maybe this book should be required for anyone running for office.
Thanks for your insights. Always appreciate them.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Kate! Yes it is difficult to read anything like this without seeing it played out on a national scale as well. I admit that my trust level in our government and elected officials has been challenged in the last few years and I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. But I also keep reading that unless we start recognizing our similarities and the benefit of country, it will keep getting worse. Covey quotes Gandhi by reminding us that we have to start by “being the change we wish to see in the world.” Not easy at all but I’m guessing our world needs it badly.
On another note, are you planning to visit the desert this season? I sure hope so. ~Kathy
Kate Sullivan says
I needed that encouragement, Kathy. If it doesn’t start with ourselves, where can it start. Like Margaret Mead said, ‘Never underestimate the power of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
We’re going to Florida for a couple weeks in January. Hopeful for California in February. I’ll keep you posted.
Donna B. says
Hi Kathy! I agree with the concept that it’s better to trust and inspire when it comes to friendly relations with people, but there are so many kinds of relationships that require different levels of trust, and we end up dealing with them multiple times a day. Home delivery people, Uber drivers, restaurant workers, hired helpers, neighbors, friends, colleagues all require tailor-made levels of and styles of trust. And dogs too! Although I must admit I oscillate between C&C and T&I when it comes to her. (Either I’m pulling the leash to make her come or encouraging her to come by calling to her.) But I think the main point of your article is simply to trust more, and bark less, which is always a good idea. Thanks for the reminder, Kathy!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna! I LOVE that idea of “trust more and bark less!” That is an awesome way to think of the direction I hope I’m moving in. And Thom and I talked about it quite a bit and we tend to think that it really comes down to the quality of your relationship. I’m thinking if you want to be close to someone then having an intention of mutual trust is critical. With Uber drivers and home delivery people–not so much! And we all likely know people that we’ve trusted in the past and KNOW they can’t be trusted in the future…but again, if we want to get closer and try and repair a relationship that’s gone south, then a place to work on would be with trust. But Covey is also clear that trust should be “smart trust” and goes into explanations where you are very clear about accountability and intention before you continue. Lots to think of but a fast and easy way is your statement “trust more and bark less!” Thank you for that! ~Kathy
Debbie Harris says
This was very interesting and thought-provoking post Kathy, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Isn’t it funny how we sometimes pick books without really knowing why?
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Debbie! Oh yes…I’m constantly amazed at some of the books that grab my attention. And while I do get at least one or two things of value from every one of them, I am getting more and more picky. I was recommended a fiction book recently and it was SO BAD I stopped reading it after two short chapters. I also never write a review about a book I couldn’t recommend to someone else. Life is too short, right? ~Kathy
Galen Pearl says
That is so fascinating. I see how those two models have played out in my own family. I was more of a command and control parent, but I am now more of a trust and inspire parent (of adult children) and grandparent. Very different styles for sure. Speaking of the Covey senior, I’ll share one of my favorite quotes from him — “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Maybe in this style the main thing is trust. I’m working on a new book, and one whole chapter focuses on trust, so this book sounds like something right up my alley. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Galen! What a great quote from Covey senior. I didn’t think this book was as inspiring as the “Seven Habits” but it certainly got me thinking more about trust. I guess he also wrote another book that focuses almost entirely on trust so you might want to check that one out as well. (The Speed Of Trust) And yes, I’m guessing if most of us looked at our life we would have to admit that we “used to be” Command & Control because it is so prevalent in our world. I think Covey says that the vast majority of us still are! I would like to think since I’ve read this book that I’m more Trust & Inspiring but I know there is a lot of room to cover! ~Kathy
Thanks for the interesting post. Important stuff to think abou.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Annie! Thanks for letting me know it got you thinking and I’m not alone in thinking about these things! ~Kathy
Donna Connolly says
Hi, Kathy – Thank you for another very though-provoking post. People who are more trusting also being happier, healthier and living longer kinda makes sense!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna. You’re welcome! And it does make sense doesn’t it? It reminds me of that question: Do you believe the Universe is friendly? ~Kathy
Gary Lange says
I usually give people a trusting chance once or twice with their word or action, but if they do not follow through (without an explanation) I lose trust in them. Recently I had two instances where I wish I had trusted my instincts. As we age, hopefully we can be more inspiring to others and notice other inspiring people. I like: “happier, healthier and live longer.” Thanks Kathy for your many blogs which give me something to think about…
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Gary! I think your decision to not necessarily trust everyone is what Covey calls “smart trust.” He talks about how once a person has proven themselves to be untrustworthy that we are definitely within our rights to not trust everyone. The trick (at least I think it is) is not to condition ourselves to believing that everyone will be the same so we stop trusting everyone. I find myself doing that with political figures and I want to move past that. And YES when it comes to listening to our own instincts (which is a big form of trust, right?) rather than what someone else is telling us or even doing. Thank YOU for sharing your thoughts AND for letting me know you appreciate me giving you something new to think about. ~Kathy