Trustworthiness is earned – do it, mean it, say it, believe it—for we are only as good as the last promise kept
Trust is an investment, earning interest over time. And one errant withdrawal can lose it all. Yet, being trusting or being trustworthy are actually two different sides of the same coin.
Trust me. If ever a statement has the opposite effect of its intended meaning, it’s this one. We’re not likely to give our trust to just anyone—and especially not just because they say those two words. To truly trust another person, there needs to be a two-way contract of sorts—a promise based on character, capability, and follow-through.
Trustworthiness is the other side of the coin. It literally means being worthy of others’ trust—and it’s an aspiration for anyone, at any level. In fact, our firm tests for trustworthiness as a key leadership trait. Based on nearly 70 million executive assessments Korn Ferry has done, the know it’s not binary. There are several layers and levels between being trustworthy and untrustworthy. There are those who do it well, such as the person who “actively promotes and protects the interest of others”—and those who do it poorly, such as a person who “undermines others” or “distorts the facts with [their] own biases and agenda.”
But words alone won’t suffice when it comes to being perceived as trustworthy—far more important is what others experience. Over the past year, society has made a lot of promises—to walk in others’ shoes, to listen before we speak, to be more tolerant, to be more inclusive. To be trustworthy is to be inclusive. Diversity is a fact – therefore inclusion is essential.
We must say what we mean and do what we say. There can be no daylight between the two. As James Lewis, a senior scientist in the Korn Ferry Institute, told me this week, “Being trustworthy is about showing it—not just telling it. And that happens over time.” After all, we’re only as good as our last promise kept.
A few years ago, Gary flew into the Midwest for business, arriving well after midnight. There he was, driving a rental car along unfamiliar, pitch dark country roads. He could only see as far as my headlights allowed. The only hope was that oncoming cars saw me as they rounded a curve or crested a hill.
All he had to guide him were the left and right lines that kept me in my own lane. By being a trustworthy driver, though, he had a better chance of keeping myself and others safe on that road. That’s what he could control—not the driver approaching from the other side.
Within organizations today, trust and belief form two lanes of the highway, while unwavering commitment, continuous communication, and purposeful action paint the stripes down the middle. The values of the organization are the left and right guardrails, keeping us moving forward toward our destination.
So what builds trustworthiness? The answer can be found in a six pack of soda and a handful of dollar bills. Author and researcher Dan Ariely conducted an experiment a few years ago in which six packs of soda were left randomly in dorm refrigerators all over a college campus. Within days, every can was taken. Later, when six loose dollar bills were left instead, not one was touched. The difference? It comes down to values. While a soda in a refrigerator may seem like fair game, it’s unthinkable for most people to take someone else’s money.
That’s why the trustworthiness we want to see in others actually starts with ourselves. Here are some thoughts:
- Trust taking flight. My son has recently learned to fly. Do I trust him—that he is putting in the flying hours? Yes. Do I trust him enough right now to take me flying? Soon. This has nothing to do with his character. Rather, it’s about the continued development of his capabilities. As much as we might like to think of ourselves as being trusting, are we really? Early in my career, during a performance review, Gary’s boss told him, “Gary, you’re not always trusting of others.” It just didn’t come easy for him. But when we focus on our own trustworthiness, performance improves across the board. In fact, a recent analysis of 360-degree reviews of executives by our Korn Ferry team found that leaders who were viewed as instilling trust, making good decisions, and collaborating well with others were anywhere from twice to four times more likely to be rated as high performers.
- Our say/do ratio. We do what we say and say what we mean. It comes down to having a say/do ratio of 1-to-1. Others will know they can trust our words by observing our consistent actions. Then, and only then, will they mirror what we say and do. In the opposite scenario, distrust corrodes everything it touches. Moreover, when people work for a trustworthy leader, they are more likely to be motivated and inspired, show persistence when work is challenging, and learn from failures instead of being fearful of making mistakes. Bottom line: the more trustworthy the environment, the less stress people experience—and the more productive they are.
- Trust sets others free. Where trust exists, people speak their minds. Feedback flows from bottom to top and back down again. But if a leader repeats the stories heard or, worse yet, attributes names, that skip-level feedback will never be forthcoming again. People will default to saying only what they think leaders want to hear. Not long ago, we were convening a global video conference, and I purposefully joined first to make sure it was working. Then I turned off my camera and muted my sound while I made myself a cup of coffee. When I tuned back in as people joined, I heard the casual tone of their conversation—and participated in the small talk. It’s up to all of us to make sure others truly feel comfortable saying what needs to be said.
- Say what you mean, mean what you say. Years ago, Gary wanted to try an exercise among with his leadership team—and it was all about communication and trust. He used the “telephone game” from childhood. (Silly, yes, but in the end, effective.) Gary started off the game by whispering a simple phrase to the person next to me: “Communication is where leadership lives and breathes.” That person then whispered the phrase to the next person, and that person to the next … through 15 different people. Then the last person announced proudly what they were sure they had heard: “Call me on vacation when your ship leaves.” We all laughed … but the point was made. If there is one broken link in communication, no one knows who or what to trust.
Cliff Locks is a trusted mentor, confidant, and advisor to CEOs, C-Level Exec, and high-potential employees to help them clarify goals, unlock their potential, and create actionable strategic plans.
Available to join your Board as a Certified Master Professional Board of Director and Advisor.
I am a trusted mentor, confidant, and advisor available by Zoom and by phone to be your right-hand man, who will make a significant contribution and impact on your way to success.
As a Trusted Mentor, Confidant, and Advisor, I support you, along with your company’s strategic and annual operating plan. This plan may include marketing, sales, product development, supply chain, hiring policies, compensation, benefits, performance management, and succession planning.
Most successful leaders enjoy talking to someone about their experiences, which is why most develop a close relationship with a Trusted Confidant—a person with whom they feel free to share their thoughts, concerns, and ideas without fear of sharing too much or being judged by the people they lead, or their colleagues and superiors. I am a sounding board who will help you to better develop and see your ideas through to fruition.
The most effective Executive find confidants who complement their strengths and sharpen their effectiveness. Bill Gates uses Steve Ballmer in this way; Warren Buffett turns to vice chairman Charlie Munger. In the end, both the Executive and their organizations benefit from these relationships.
As your trusted confidant, I am always by your side, holding your deepest secrets and never judging. Everything discussed is held in complete confidence.
What many executives feel is missing from their busy life is a trusted business person who understands the holistic complexity of both their business and personal life.
I strive to provide solid financial, business, and family expertise and serve as a dispassionate sounding board, a role I like to call “Executive Confidant.”
By holding a safe place for the Executive to work on life path issues as well as direction, I repeatedly see remarkable benefits as personal values become integrated with wealth and family decisions, enhancing a more meaningful life.
As an Executive Confidant, I welcome a confidential conversation about the most important issues facing the business leader, including:
• Strategic planning toward your visions of success and goal setting • Operations, planning, and execution • Career transition • Retirement • Legacy • Kids and money • Marriage and divorce • Health concerns • Values and life purpose • Vacations • Mentoring & depth of the executive bench • Succession planning
When I do my job well, I facilitate positive action in both your professional and personal life. This consistently has a positive benefit on impacting people within the sphere of your influence.
The job of an Executive can be lonely. For various reasons, confiding in colleagues, company associates, family members, or friends presents complications. Powerful, successful, and wealthy individuals often isolate themselves as a protective reaction because of their inability to find people they can trust and confide in.
Successful people are often surrounded by many people, yet they insulate and isolate themselves to varying levels of degree. This isolation factor is not often discussed in the same context because the assumption is that success and wealth only solve problems. The false belief is that it does not create more problems, when, in fact, sometimes it creates a unique set of new challenges. Success and wealth do not insulate you from the same pitfalls that the everyday person faces. It may give you access to better solutions perhaps, and that is what I can help you achieve. Financial business success can create unique vulnerabilities, often overlooked as most people feel that the “problems” of the wealthy are not real-life problems.
The Executive Confidant can be particularly helpful when:
• Aligning life priorities with the responsibilities of wealth. • Wanting more meaning and purpose in life. • Desiring a candid and experienced perspective. • The answers often come from within, and we cannot arrive at them easily. • Clarity often comes into focus, with skilled questions and guided discovery. The right questions can be the first step in achieving ideal outcomes.
Who can you turn to when you need to find clarity? Who is your “Executive Confidant”?
Referrals to a team members or family members are always welcome.
One-to-One – Individual payment: Strategic Coaching: $295 per month (weekly for 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the depth of our conversation Zoom meeting).
One-to-One – Corporate payment:
i. Coaching & Leadership Development: $600 per month engagement (weekly 1 hour Zoom meeting).
ii. One-to-One Executive Coaching and Mentoring: $600 per month engagement (weekly 1 hour Zoom meeting).
iii. Increasing Top Team Performance and 1:1 Mentoring Sessions: $600 per month engagement (weekly 1 hour Zoom meeting).
iv. Planning New Futures for Senior Executives: $600 per month engagement (weekly 1 hour Zoom meeting).
i. Enhancing Boardroom Effectiveness & Executive Impact Group: Starting at $15,250 per annual engagement.
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v. Energy and Sustainability Efficiency Initiatives: Starting at $18,500 per annual engagement.
Board of Directors or Board of Advisors:
- Private company:
- $25,000 to $45,000 per year, depending on the number of Board and Committee meetings.
- Public company:
- Under $50M in revenue: $25,000 to $45,000 per year, per year, depending on number of Board and Committee meetings.
- Micro: $50M – $500M in revenue (click for annual compensation)
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