Skip to Content

25 / 5 Ways That Trust Inspires Innovation

Hosted by Sean Flaherty & Paul Gebel




Stephen M. R. Covey

Stephen M. R. Covey is the New York Times and #1 Wall Street Journal best-selling author of The Speed of Trust, which has been translated into 22 languages and has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide.

He is co-author of the #1 Amazon best-seller Smart Trust. Stephen brings to his writings the perspective of a practitioner, as he is the former President & CEO of the Covey Leadership Center, where he increased shareholder value by 67 times and grew the company to become the largest leadership development firm in the world.

A Harvard MBA, Stephen co-founded and currently leads FranklinCovey’s Global Speed of Trust Practice. He serves on numerous boards, including the Government Leadership Advisory Council, and he has been recognized with the lifetime Achievement Award for “Top Thought Leaders in Trust” from the advocacy group, Trust Across America/Trust Around the World.

Stephen is a highly-sought-after international speaker, who has taught trust and leadership in 54 countries to business, government, military, education, healthcare, and NGO entities.

Trust is the ultimate collaboration tool within teams. So says Stephen Covey, who joins Sean and Paul on this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast. In fact, trust is so vital that innovation cannot occur in its absence.

Steven is the best-selling author of The Speed of Trust who has taught leadership around the world. Trust is the currency that inspires innovation, which Stephen sees as a “continuum of staying current and relevant with our product and service offerings.” It is the enabler, guiding teams from coordination to cooperation to collaboration. Innovation cannot be achieved by one person working alone. These are such simple statements, but important not to confuse simplicity with underlying truth. Creating a culture of trust takes time and intention.

There are so many takeaways from our conversation with Stephen Covey; here are just a few –

  • Discover the 5 ways Trust inspires Innovation.
  • Product leaders need to speak the language of trust. We never used to talk this way, but today it’s what makes a leader credible.
  • Trust is foundational to all great product development. This is as true for our product’s users as it is for the team working on it.

Listen in to learn even more.

Paul [00:00:00] Well, hello and welcome to the show. Today we are very excited to be joined by Stephen Covey, the author of The Speed of Trust. It’s been translated into 22 languages with 2 million copies sold. As a writer and a practitioner of all things related to trust, he isn’t just a thinker, he’s a real-time trust leader. Welcome, Stephen, so happy to have you today.

Stephen [00:00:18] Thank you, Paul and Sean. It’s great to be with you.

Paul [00:00:22] Alright, well let’s get into it. So you’ve been a leader in the concept of trust as a currency, as a tool for prosperity and energy and joy. What’s on your mind? How can we learn to implement trust as a tool in this low trust world of ours and in this situation we find ourselves?

Stephen [00:00:38] Yeah. Well, I think you said it, right, that it is an increasingly low trust world where it tends to be going down. And I’ll tell you what, the danger of a low trust world is that it tends to perpetuate itself. You know, everyone becomes a little bit more careful, cautious, guarded, because none of us want to get burned and people respond back a little bit more careful, cautious, guarded. And if we’re not aware, we can find ourselves kind of perpetuating a vicious downward cycle of distress and suspicion, creating more distrust and suspicion, and everybody feeling justified in the process. Distrust is contagious. I’ve seen it happen in teams, in relationships, in organizations.

Stephen [00:01:20] Here’s the good news, though: trust also can be contagious and trust and confidence can create more trust and confidence where people are inspired by it and they rise to the occasion. They perform better and they produce more and they get it back to you. It can become a virtuous upward spiral. And if we can get good at this as leaders and as developers on our teams, within our teams, between teams, and build with trust, start with trust, we can actually see it ripple out from us and become this virtuous upward spiral. So I’m not pollyannaish on this; I recognize it’s difficult. It’s a process, but I am enthusiastic about how, just like distrust is contagious, trust is also contagious. And we need more of this today, not less, and especially, you know, during times of disruption like today with this pandemic and just the uncertainty and all these things that are happening. More than ever, trust is the currency of what makes our world go round and what makes a leader credible. So to have that trust is so vital for any leader, for any developer, any person, trying to operate in today’s world.

Sean [00:02:28] I love it. So when Paul mentioned that you’re also a practitioner, obviously you grew your company from a couple million bucks to a hundred and sixty million before you sold it, so you obviously understand this thing better than most and you’re still practicing in this space today in a powerful way. So we sit on a consortium together, Trust across America, and in one of our last calls, which kind of prompted this meeting, you being on the podcast here, you said, “trust is the ultimate collaboration tool” and I thought that was profound. And I think you hit something spot on that we’ve been talking about for years in a way more eloquent way than we have ever been able to do it here. And trust leads to more innovation. So I would like to ask you to talk about that a little bit. How does trust lead to innovation?

Stephen [00:03:12] Absolutely. I’m really delighted to make this connection, especially on your show, because of the focus you have on innovation, on product leadership, and the kind of work that is being done today to create a new digital world and everything else that you’re doing. So if I could, I’ll give you, over the next little bit, maybe five key reasons why trust is so vital to innovation today. And the first one will be, Sean, to your very point right now, and that is this, that the reason why trust is so vital to innovation; innovation is a team sport and so we’ve got to collaborate, and trust enables that kind of collaboration that is needed in order to innovate. And we have a lot of technology, which is great. In fact, that’s a big part of what our developers and innovators do, is develop more technology and more digitization, different things, software, and all the like.

Stephen [00:04:10] So I know this, we all know this, that today we have the technology tools to collaborate. They exist. We’re using some right now. The question is, in my mind, whether or not we have the trust needed to collaborate. And that’s exactly what I said Sean, as you mentioned, trust is the ultimate collaboration tool. It enables us to collaborate in new and different ways that you just can’t do when people don’t trust each other. And so you’re not going to innovate unless you’re collaborating and you won’t collaborate without trust. I will say this, that it’s very possible for people to coordinate without trust. It doesn’t necessarily require a lot of trust to coordinate and that’s a good thing, that’s a positive. But you’re leaving a lot of value on the table. You can move to a higher level from coordination to cooperation; that requires some level of trust. There’s even a higher level, which is collaboration, which is creative and give-and-take and authentic and real. And the question I would ask as developers and as product leaders is, on our teams and between our teams as we’re working on development projects, are we truly collaborating with trust or are we too often merely coordinating? You know, touching bases but not collaborating? It is trust that turns mere coordination into true collaboration, and that’s needed for innovation today. So that’s my opening salvo, is that trust enables the kind of collaboration from which innovation flourishes. Does that square with your experience?

Sean [00:05:49] I think that definitely squares with our experience and we know this. We believe in this concept we call the loyalty ladder and we believe trust is at the foundation. And it’s not only for the products that we build in terms of engaging the consumers of our products, it’s also internally focused on our teams, like we need to get our teams to really feel and believe in and trust and if we can figure out how to measure that… That’s one of the things that we’ve been working on for years at ITX. We believe that trust is foundational to all a great product development on both sides of the fence, for the consumers and for the team working on it.

Stephen [00:06:21] Yeah, perfect. In fact, Sean, I can see the loyalty model right behind you.

Sean [00:06:26] That’s right.

Stephen [00:06:26] …Moving from trust to loyalty to advocacy. The trust is the roots; it’s the foundation. It enables us to collaborate and it’s from that collaboration that innovation flourishes. Again, trust is the ultimate collaboration tool. Now, let me give you a second.

Sean [00:06:39] You said there were five, so what’s the second one?

Stephen [00:06:40] Yeah, okay, so here’s a second one. Trust leverages our differences such that they become strengths. Think about this. Differences are strengths when people trust each other. Differences are often viewed suspiciously, sometimes even divisively, when people don’t trust each other. And the value of differences as it relates to innovation is this, is that, think about it. There’s an innovation expert, Robert Porter Lynch, who said this: innovation flourishes when there is a collision of differences in an environment of trust. And the greater the contrast in those differences, the greater the potential in the innovation.

Stephen [00:07:25] And so, you know, the fact that we see the world differently, come at things differently; that’s not a weakness. That’s a strength when we trust each other. When people don’t trust each other, they often are viewed differently and suspiciously and it can become even divisive. They can be labeled and the like. And what you get is dysfunction and, you know, you get Republicans and Democrats, you know, differences but not trust. They’re not innovating, they’re not creating, and it’s not bringing them together. So that’s the second key reason. You know, not only do we collaborate better, it enables us to take our differences and turn them into strengths through trust as the agent that helps make that happen.

Sean [00:08:03] You just struck a chord with me when you mentioned trust is at the root. The chord it struck is a Henry David Thoreau quote, that “for every thousand people hacking into leaves of evil, there’s one striking at the roots,” and I think those that strike at the roots are those that are using trust as that foundation. And I think I lifted that quote from your book, by the way.

Stephen [00:08:22] Yeah, I think so. It’s one of my favorite quotes. It was one of my father’s favorite quotes in Seven Habits, you know, and it’s beautiful. “For every thousand hacking at the leaves, there’s one striking at the roots.”

Paul [00:08:34] Alright Stephen, I think that that is actually a great segue to the third point, right. So innovation is a team sport, trust leverages our differences, where are we going next?

Stephen [00:08:42] Trust encourages calculated risk-taking. And one of the ways we’re going to innovate is that we’re willing to take a risk. Unless we’re willing to learn and to make a mistake and to fail and to learn from that, we’ll tend not to innovate. So the whole idea of “fail fast, fail forward, fail often,” is always within a construct because you don’t want to bet the farm on it. But you won’t do that on a low trust team, in a low trust culture, because it can be career-ending, you know, certainly career-limiting, maybe ending in some cases, and people will be quick to point the finger, blame other people, cover up, hide. And the bottom line is you want to innovate. Here’s what a study from LRN shows: in a high trust culture, people are 32 times more likely to take a responsible risk. Thirty-two times more likely, and they’re 11 times more likely to innovate.

Paul [00:09:41] So we’ve both used this word back and forth several times, and before we move on to the fourth reason that trust is critical for innovation, I kind of want to take a step back before we just plunge into number four here.

Stephen [00:09:51] Okay.

Paul [00:09:51] How are we defining innovation? How do you define innovation?

Stephen [00:09:55] Well, probably just this. It’s a kind of product leadership. It’s kind of staying relevant with our products, with our services, with our offerings that we’re relevant, we’re current, we’re improving. Sometimes it might be a breakthrough with disruptive technology and it’s not an incremental improvement, it could be a quantum leap improvement. And you know, certainly, so there’s kind of a continuum of innovation from continuous improvement, which is a good thing, you know, to a higher level where you’re maybe really making huge progress on this to flat-out reinvention through a disruptive technology or some other means that’s completely reconfiguring the whole landscape. And so it’s the whole spectrum of, you know, staying relevant and creating and adding value to customers. And you always start with understanding customers and markets and their needs and trying to meet those needs with relevant products and services. And you’re being innovative if you stay current and relevant with changing customer needs.

Paul [00:10:58] Riding that wave.

Stephen [00:10:59] From the range of continuous improvement all the way to reinvention.

Paul [00:11:03] I love that. Relevancy along a continuum. It’s a great model. So I’ve interrupted.

Stephen [00:11:07] No.

Paul [00:11:08] So let’s get into a number four then. How are we thinking about trust as a tool for innovation after this, leveraging the first three that we’ve gone through? Where are we going for number four?

Stephen [00:11:17] So here’s the fourth one. Trust also leverages learning and creates learning. You learn better in cultures of trust. There’s overwhelming data on this. We work with a lot of schools and there’s strong data that shows that in high trust schools, people are three and a half times more likely to learn than in low test schools. Apply that same setting to a culture, an environment in a company with developers. When there’s trust, people learn better, they learn faster, and there’s more double-loop learning. As you go around, you learn from the learning, and so it’s an ongoing process of again, innovation, you know, continuous improvement, getting better. The whole point is, you learn better when you trust, and learning is part of staying relevant and innovating. And so, again, trust just accelerates the whole learning cycle. So not only do you collaborate better, you learn better.

Sean [00:12:10] I love it. So it reminds me of another quote. I like to throw some quotes from smart people out there. Have you heard of Robert Sapolsky? You guys heard of this guy? Brilliant writer, he wrote the book Behave.

Stephen [00:12:19] Yeah, yeah.

Sean [00:12:21] But I’ve watched all his videos. You can actually go and take his course on Stanford University [online] on anthropology. It’s like, he’s like a behavioral anthropologist and he went and lived with the orangutans in the jungle for a while. He’s a brilliant, brilliant guy. But it’s about evolution, and he says, “evolution’s not about getting more complicated; evolution is about running faster and faster while staying in the same place to deal with whatever the current pressures are.” And I think that applies to our teams, to the products that we build, to the businesses that we’re trying to build. Evolution is about adoption and in the context of where we are, it’s about learning. And without that environment of trust, we can’t do any of that. It just becomes that much harder. I totally agree with you.

Stephen [00:13:03] Yeah, absolutely. I love it. I love that quote and that statement and, you know, kind of back to this point that Paul brought up when he asked about, what is my description of innovation? You know, the idea of staying relevant to customer needs and market needs in a changing environment, that’s going to require us to learn constantly and to relearn and sometimes to unlearn as things change and technologies change and disruption takes place. We’re going to constantly be, you know, relearning and unlearning and reinventing re-creating, but it’s an ongoing process of learning. It’s a lifelong process. And, you know, the half-life of our knowledge is just shorter and shorter all the time. We’ve got to become great learners and companies need to become great learning companies. And all I’m saying is, it’s nice to say that you’ll learn far better in a high trust team and culture than you will without it.

Sean [00:13:54] Totally agree.

Stephen [00:13:54] And that’s why it’s so vital. It’s a multiplier for that.

Sean [00:13:56] It’s essential for our evolution. Alright, we’re on the edge of our seats, Stephen, number five.

Stephen [00:14:02] Yay. We’re on number five. We got there. So the last one is this: trust creates speed. I call it the speed of trust. And nothing is as fast as the speed of trust. And in innovation today, we’ve got to stay relevant, you know, learning and improving and getting better and staying relevant and current. But we also got to move fast. And there’s so much change. There’s so much disruption. And if our process for innovation takes forever, that’s not relevant. We’re not current. We’ll get leapfrogged by others. We’ve got to constantly move and move fast. I love how Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, he said that in the future it is not the big fish that will eat the small fish, it’ll be the fast one that eats the slow. It’s about speed. It’s about agility. It’s about adaptability of responsiveness, entrepreneurship. Nothing is as agile as a culture of trust so we can respond and adapt.

Stephen [00:15:02] So look, I’ve given five reasons why trust is so vital to innovation. First, it enables the kind of collaboration from which innovation flows. Second, it leverages our differences, which is often the source of the innovation, differences colliding in an environment of trust. Third, it encourages calculated, smart risk-taking from which innovation will flourish and take place as we learn. Fourth, we do learn better and faster to stay relevant in this changing, shifting world. And finally, five is that we move faster in every aspect of the innovation process. There’s a speed to trust and if we trust each other, we’ll innovate better and faster. I could come up with more, but those are big, you know, roots of what trust does to help us in our innovation, in our product leadership, the very things that our listeners are focused on, working on, that we can help do as leaders and as developers.

Sean [00:15:59] Yeah, it’s brilliant. Thank you for sharing, Steven.

Stephen [00:16:01] Absolutely.

Paul [00:16:02] Yeah. That’s imminently applicable to the things that we do every day to try to help people out. I think if I could shift gears, I just want to go back to one aspect of smart trust that has really stuck with me over the years. I think the way that I look at the measure of success, you know, you can measure prosperity through the three metrics that you call out are liquidity, capital, and trust. And one of these things is not like the other, right. You can look at a balance sheet, you can look at a price to book value, but it’s hard to look at trust and objectify it. How do you look at an organization and tell whether it’s got a culture of trust to begin with? How can you look inside of an organization and see, are we developing leaders who are fostering trust? Are we championing this torch that you’re passing on? And how do you measure high trust, low trust in any kind of objective way?

Stephen [00:16:51] Yeah. OK, so let me take those in two parts. How do you know if it’s happening inside of a company? Well, look at the behavior of the people. Look at the culture. You know, the culture really just means how most people behave most of the time, and kind of this is the way we do things here, this type of thing. And if you go inside a culture, and I can go inside of a culture of a company and observe and notice like a fly on the wall, and when I see people spinning everything and positioning and posturing, that tells me something. When I see people kind of operating with hidden agendas, that tells me something. When I see people quick to point the finger of blame, it tells me a whole lot. When I see people, you know, kind of covering things up or hiding stuff, tells me a lot. These are all parts of low trust cultures. When I see gossip and kind of bad-mouthing and talking behind people’s back… Sometimes I’ll come into a situation and everyone starts talking about the person that’s not there, behind their back, and then someone from that group leaves and then they start talking about that person that just left. These are all what I call counterfeit behavior you know, that basically is indicative of a lower trust culture: blaming, finger-pointing, spin, hidden agendas, you know, rivalries, gossiping, all these kind of things going on, you know, not really listening, understanding.

Stephen [00:18:12] But I can also see the opposite where I might go into a culture and I’ll see people genuinely respectful to others. They kind of balance this straight talk with respect so that they’re honest without being offensive and they show respect without being so deferential that they don’t tell the truth. You know, you find that balance of talking straight and demonstrating respect. They’re also open and transparent. They’re not hiding things, they’re upfront about it. They own mistakes. They take things head-on, they take responsibility, take accountability. They’re really good at listening and trying to understand another person. They make and keep commitments, you see that consistently, and they extend trust to each other. You see people intentionally trusting people versus kind of holding it back.

Stephen [00:18:56] So you see it manifest in the behavior. That’s what culture is, is you know, cumulative behavior, and you know, the norms and the values and such. And so when I see a high trust culture, I’ll see behaviors that are creating that kind of culture. And here’s the interesting thing, Paul, everything I just described, if you want, you can measure that, you know, through surveys, through anonymous surveys, just like you might do an engagement survey and it’ll tell you a lot about the engagement of people. You can likewise do a trust survey inside of a team, inside of an organization, inside of a culture, and where you can try to measure the level of trust that people have in the leadership, in the management, or what have you. But equally important is to kind of know the dimensions of it, the components, the credibility components of trust and those behavioral components of trust. That way you’ll know what to work on. Because if we come back and we get data that says, “Hey, there’s lower trust,” that’s useful to know. But the real question is, why? It’s one thing if it’s because there’s a lack of integrity and there’s dishonesty everywhere. It’s another thing that there’s low trust because we’re seen as self-serving and, you know, we’re not seeking mutual benefit, win, win. Or what if there’s low trust because we don’t deliver, we don’t perform, we don’t get results? So we’re nice people, but we don’t come through and create value. You know, that’s part of trust, too. And so this helps you know where to focus.

Stephen [00:20:26] And, you know, I just was with a client where they were measuring trust. It came in really low and the CEO said, “this doesn’t surprise me, but it does disappoint me. It doesn’t surprise me because I kind of sensed it. The trust was low. So this validates my fears, but what I’m most excited about is that I know what to work on right now.” Because what came in there, there were two behaviors that were so low on this scale where you can have a norm and you can see where most people are falling in a range. This was an executive team that measured about 20 people on his extended team and through these 13 behaviors that I have in The Speed of Trust. For create transparency and practice accountability, they were, you know, in the teens on a zero to 100 scale. They were just extremely low. Everything was hidden. There was no transparency, hidden agendas everywhere, and no accountability. It was all blame game, finger-pointing, and they were 30, 40 points lower than everything else. And so from that, the team together said, “we’re not going to be able to trust each other unless we become transparent and learn to take responsibility and accountability and then we can work on other things after that, let’s get good at this.” And so they focused on this, they began to move the needle. We measured again six months later and they’d moved those scores up 30, 40 points. And as those behaviors went up, the level of trust went up with it. So in a sense, the level of trust is like the lag measure. The lead measures that move the lag are the behaviors and it’s nice to measure that and you can measure that.

Stephen [00:22:00] So a long answer to a great question, but the whole idea is that you’ll see trust in the behavior and you can kind of see where you’re at and get a snapshot and actually move the needle on it. And that’s exciting. And suddenly we’ve taken trust from being this mystical, ethereal, intangible idea that you can’t get your arms around and made it concrete, actionable, learnable, and even measurable. So, you know, you set goals. “I want to get a superb product done well, that meets the needs, is relevant, on time, on budget, and coming out of this with a high trust team and culture so we can do it again and again and again.” You know, so you set that as a goal too, not only to get the outcome of the product but to get the culture of trust, knowing that that will help you do it again and again and again. So those are some of the ways you might really think about this. It’s so practical. And what I think is my kind of calling is I’m trying to make trust learnable to people and make it tangible so it’s not just this nice, ethereal concept.

Sean [00:23:02] You know, that’s the value I’ve gotten out of your work. And what we’ve tried to build into ITX in terms of how important this thing trust is and how foundational it is. But I do think, like whenever we start out with a new team or new product or a new client, and this came up in our conference call the other day, too, and the problem is around the definition of the word. And I believe that trust is so important. We make all of our foundational life decisions based on trust, our personal subjective definition of it. I speak to CEO groups all over the country and I do this exercise where I ask them all to define trust. They write it down and then they read it aloud. And I always get the same result. They all have very different definitions of trust. And then they’re all right. So when I ask them whose is wrong, you know, other than the joker in the room that points to the guy next to him and says, “his is wrong,” you know, they all agree. They’re all right. Because it’s such a subjective, powerful word, it’s hard for a business or a team or a group that’s trying to create trust to operate on it. So one of the things that we’ve, I think, gotten relatively good at is abstracting it. I don’t even think that whatever definition you choose to use as your group is as important as having the discussion and creating awareness around it and working to improve it together. I mean, I think that’s pretty much summed up in the work that you’re doing as well, right?

Stephen [00:24:20] Absolutely. Sean, I love what you just said because I agree with that, that if you can bring together a team and a culture and kind of say, “look, here’s what we mean by trust,” just like you do, “here’s what we mean by innovation,” or what have you. And rather than having a hundred good answers, all probably right, “here’s how we’re going to define it for our purposes.” You know, what’s that expression? The beginning of success is the definition of terms. And so we’re trying to say, “here’s what we mean by trust,” and, you know, “here’s the definition we’re gonna work with,” and get on the same page so that we can have a common language to talk about trust, a common framework to think about it, and then an intentional, deliberate process of how we can build it on purpose. And I do the same, you do the same, there’s others. There’s lots of ways of looking at this. What’s important is that we have those conversations, those discussions, get on the same page and try to create that common language. Then that’s really powerful and useful. Then you’ve got a construct that you can work with and then you can measure against that again and again. I mean, the whole idea of, you know, think of accounting. It’s based upon generally accepted accounting principles. It’s all assumptions, but they’re generally accepted. So we gotta do the same for trust. We’ve got to kind of get on the same page as to what the generally accepted trust principles are. Then we can kind of measure where we’re at and where we’re going and how we get good at this. So I love what you just said and I agree and I’m trying to bring a language and a framework and a process to it that I hope can be helpful to many.

Sean [00:25:53] So I’m to share something with you. I’m going out on a limb here. I’ve been doing some research on this for a while and I actually went and surveyed all of the dictionaries I could find anywhere and I collected the definitions of the word trust and I put them into a word cloud and I, you know, just analyzed, how is the language used? And it turns out that across all definitions of trust, confidence is the key thing. And the simplest definition I could find for the word anywhere was from Merriam Webster; it’s one in which confidence is placed. And you can measure the behaviors around it, like the key is, like you said, to measure the behaviors around it. Now, I also go and speak to these CEO groups and I’ve been collecting their definitions of trust over the years and when I put them into the same sort of analysis, I get the same sort of result. The way in which we use it is the way in which it matters, right?

Stephen [00:26:43] Absolutely. Here’s what I love about that, Sean. It actually happens to coincide with my definition because, you know, when you ask me what is my definition, I say three words. Trust is confidence.

Sean [00:26:58] Perfect.

Stephen [00:26:58] And you know what? In French, in Spanish, in most romance languages, trust and confidence are the exact same word. There’s not two words. Like Spanish, French, la confianza is trust. La confianza is confidence. There’s not two words. French, there’s many others. So trust is confidence. Then my second level of that is, a confidence that flows out of having both character and competence. And I’m trying to kind of say, you know, that’s where the confidence comes from because there’s character and competence. And so I’m adding another layer to it of why you would have confidence, because there’s character, and that’s integrity and intent. The motive, the genuis, the caring, and there’s competence, being relevant and a track record of results give people confidence. Because someone could have character and not have competence so I might trust them to watch my home if went on vacation because they’re honest, but if they don’t have the competence and they don’t deliver, they don’t perform, even if they’re nice and honest, I’m not gonna trust them on the key project, the key deliverable. So, you know, when you add the character and the competence, it enables you to broaden it to, you know, why you’re able to trust someone or not in different contexts. And it’s always tied to that. So like you say, Sean, you can go so much deeper into this and there’s different angles and approaches. But I love your word chart because that’s my simple definition. When someone asks me, “give me the most simple definition you have;” trust is confidence.

Stephen [00:28:32] And I’ll give you the most simple opposite. The opposite of trust, distrust, is suspicion.

Sean [00:28:39] Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Stephen [00:28:40] Think about it this way, you know, I don’t trust someone if I’m suspicious about their agenda or I’m suspicious about their integrity or maybe their lack of it. Or what if I’m suspicious about their ability to deliver, to perform, to come through, to get the job done, to be current and be relevant. So confidence versus suspicion. And I think sometimes defining the opposite really helps us understand what we mean by confidence versus suspicion, but it’s coming out of our character and our competence. I’ve taken, in Speed of Trust, character and competence down one level, and divide character into two pieces, integrity and intent, and competence into two pieces, capabilities and results. And then I get into all the behaviors. They help us, you know, actualize it and activate it and make it practical and tangible. So again, many constructs, many different things. I think you said it best, that if we can kind of get on the same page, that’s where the real value of this is. Having this discussion, this dialog with your team, with your people is so helpful.

Paul [00:29:46] You know, one of the things that I’m reminded of, at the beginning of our conversation today, you said something to the effect, of you’re not pollyannaish about it. But I think that when we do look at the future through the lens of trust, there is a sense of joy about where we’re going. We don’t often use the word joy in the workplace. It’s not a very professional term, so to speak, but it does have the same forensic results of the behaviors that we’re talking about. When leaders exhibit trust and there’s a culture of trust, you see innovation. You see behaviors about avoiding gossip and assuming the best intent, assuming the best in others, and assuming positive intent. And I think one of the things that, as we’re thinking about where we are, at the time of this recording, we’re in day 49 or 50 of quarantine and people are isolated physically, and in a growing sense, we’re figuratively isolated because we’re not having the opportunity to interact in the ways that we’re used to. How can you start to look at the world in this pivotal moment in a way that is still optimistic, yet realistic? What are some things that we can look forward to in the future about how we can apply these things going forward, that’s positive and not naive?

Stephen [00:30:53] Wonderful question, and I think that, first of all, if I could respond to the idea that trust creates joy and then I’ll get the broader answer of how do we go forward. I couldn’t agree more. I always try to make a case for trust as to why this matters, because, at one level, we all know trust matters. But if we really believed it was the key dimension that impacted everything else, we’d be doing far more about it than we are. And so I try to always do two things. I try to make a business case for trust and a leadership case for trust. And the business case is around, you know, greater speed, lower cost. I can put a value on it, and the data is overwhelming. High trust organizations outperform low trust organizations by about three times in total return to shareholders, you know, in value. The leadership case? That’s tying to all these dimensions of leadership, including innovation, which we’ve done, collaboration which we’ve done, but also to engagement, to building teams, to executing strategy, to leading change. Trust enables all those things to work far better, just as I illustrated on innovation. And I could go on and on and on. And so you get good at trust; it makes you better at everything else. But here’s how I summarize the leadership case: rather than listing all the important dimensions; collaboration, innovation, engagement, I say it comes down to what it does to energy and joy. And in high-stress teams and cultures, it’s energizing, it’s pleasant, it’s fun. You enjoy it. In low trust cultures, it is exhausting. It is no fun. You’re in a low trust team; it just drains people. And the neuroscience on this is just overwhelming. You know, if you’re interested, go to a study by Paul Zak, the neuroscientist, called The Neuroscience of Trust, published in February 2017, Harvard Business Review. And I’ll try to summarize it. Bottom line shows that high trust cultures are 106% more energized, 76% more engaged, with 74% less stress and 40% less burnout than low trust cultures. It’s just night and day around energy and joy hard neuroscience showing this.

Stephen [00:33:18] So as we emerge out of this uncertainty and this environment, I think trust is part of the solution because it will energize people. It will energize cultures. It will energize relationships, and we need to trust each other more, not less. And we need to kind of double down on this and go back to the basics. And what I’m hopeful, Paul and Sean, is that rather than, you know, becoming more fractured, there’s certainly a possibility that could happen, I’m hopeful that this pause in so many things and this difficult time of where we’re at will cause a lot of us to really kind of think through the most important things in life. And maybe we’re humbled by these circumstances and in the process of doing that, we come back to the roots, Sean, as you mentioned, the roots of our challenges and how we really need to build trust, starting with ourselves, looking in the mirror, not just pointing the finger at everybody else and then building on relationships and teams and be willing as leaders to extend trust to others so that we can have it reciprocated.

Stephen [00:34:27] And I’ve often been interviewed in the past where people have said, “our world is becoming so distressful, what’s it going to take to change it?” And my short answer has always been, “well, we’ve got to kind of work where we are, we’ve got to ripple from the inside out, wherever you stand.” So, yeah, maybe you can’t change the world, but maybe you can change your team. Maybe you can change you and your relationships and ripple out from there and see what happens. I still think that is the best way that we will change trust in the world. I also, though, would sometimes add this; I’d say, in our society at large as we become so distrustful, people don’t know if they can trust media, government, political parties, NGOs, you know, all kinds of things, you know, it might take a crisis to cause us to learn to trust again. And you know, what we’re going through right now is, you know, the most significant disruption and crisis and I am confident we will emerge from it. I hope that as we do, we go back to the roots and the foundations and say, “I think there’s a better way to live, to lead, to operate in how we treat each other and how we treat people.” And I think trust is a foundational piece of it.

Sean [00:35:42] And I can think of a better way, Stephen, to wrap up the podcast. We have one question we ask all of our audience members and we’ll post this on the page. What are a book or two, other than your own, obviously, Smart Trust and Speed of Trust, what are some books that you’re reading right now that you would recommend that you read recently? Maybe they can help us on our journey to create more trust.

Stephen [00:36:05] Oh, so many wonderful ones. I’m thinking of, it’s Reinventing Organizations. And it was just so interesting because the whole premise was on the basis of trust. And if you start with trust, you would redesign your organization forever.

Sean [00:36:27] Frederic Laloux.

Stephen [00:36:27] That’s correct.

Sean [00:36:28] Great book.

Stephen [00:36:29] I couldn’t remember the Laloux. Frederic Laloux. This is not a new book, it’s an old book, but one that a lot of people know about, The Loyalty Effect by Frederic Reichheld. You got that over there? So that’s back to your whole continuum and, you know, it starts with trust but you move to loyalty and advocacy. But the whole idea of creating value and the ultimate value creation is what drives the loyalty, and again, the foundation of that being trust at every level. That’s one I go back to time and again. You know, I like some of the classics, Good to Great, you know, because of how they help you think about organizations and leadership and the like. Of course, I couldn’t be on this without mentioning my father’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, called The Seven Habits “the operating system for human effectiveness, which our developers will appreciate. That, to me, is another important one. So I’m skimming books, reading the summaries, listening to books all the time. But I always seem to also go back to some of the classics that give you the roots, the foundation and so I have a framework through which to look at everything else I’m seeing.

Sean [00:37:44] Awesome. Well, I can honestly say, I think this was my favorite pod so far. No offense to any of our previous interviewees, but you delivered. Thank you, sir.

Paul [00:37:54] Yeah. Speaking of joy, this has been an absolute joy. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Stephen [00:37:58] You’re welcome, Paul and thank you, Sean. Thank you both. I’m truly honored to be with you. I love what you’re doing and your focus on product leadership and really on innovation, and I would say, really on trust as the foundation of all of this. And I know, Sean, you’re a real thought leader in the field, and that’s why you’re part of this advocacy group that we both belong with, you know, Trust Across America, Trust around the world. And the work you’re doing. Sean, and you too, Paul, and what you’re doing together with his podcast is exciting. So for me, it’s an honor to be a part of it and hopefully contribute to this ongoing conversation. So the challenge I leave for all of us as we walk out, is you remember this: while it takes two to have trust, it only takes one to start and each of us can be that one. So let each of us become the catalyst to help bring about a renaissance of trust in our world.

Paul [00:38:50] Here, here.

Sean [00:38:52] Here, here. Thank you, Stephen.

Paul [00:38:53] Well thank you. And bye, for now, Stephen. Thanks again so much for joining.

Stephen [00:38:56] OK. Thank you, guys. Take care.

Sean [00:38:58] We’ll be in touch. Thank you.

Like what you see? Let’s talk now.

Reach Out