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The Importance of Corporate Vision

I met an 88-year-old man named Orville at my health club, first noticing him one afternoon while checking in. I saw Orville sort of stumbling along behind me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was no way this man, slowly shuffling along the path to the gym, was going to work out! Orville patiently moved, inch by inch, into the weight-training area, picked up some dumbbells, and with an audible grunt, started his routine.

Then one day I happened to see him out of the corner of my eye stepping onto one of the treadmills. I was across the room, and he was already reaching for the start button. Too far away to help him, I just stood there and watched. As the treadmill came to life, Orville took one small step, and then another. The machine picked up speed, but miraculously, so did his legs. Within a minute, he hit full stride, running like a man half his age!

At this point, the reality of the situation dawned on me. Orville’s problem wasn’t with his legs, it was with his vision. He couldn’t see where he was going. He shuffled along slowly, not because he couldn’t run, but because he was worried that he would knock his knee, shin, or toe on the nearest weight equipment.

Though Orville did nothing to cause his vision problem, it is a powerful example of how limited we are when we lack clarity and vision. Being capable, but having no vision is poor stewardship. We, as individuals and organizations, can’t afford that. Without clarity, speed and meaningful action are impossible. With clear focus we not only become more efficient and effective, but we also build trust. Helen Keller, the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, said, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”

Few things inspire trust or hope like every member of a team working together towards a shared vision. A clear vision unifies and motivates. We see it in sports all the time. Certain teams, often lacking a big-name super star, seem to “gel” or “come together” at just the right moment. Often, when interviewed after the game, the players will comment on how focused they were on the common goal. When the players understand their role as well as the larger strategy and vision, the ground is fertile for success to grow.

If you are a leader in your organization, share your vision consistently. If you are not sharing your vision at least every thirty days, your team doesn’t know it. A clear vision inspires, unifies, and gives powerful focus.

The Bottom Line Effect of Caring for Your Customers

Top sales people don’t just get to where they are because they make a lot of calls, or because they know the best closing techniques. In most cases, their clients have come to see them less as commission earners and more as trusted partners. In those relationships, when the customer recognizes they’re truly cared for, they show their satisfaction by buying again and again—and referring you to others.

A good friend of mine and the top sales person for one of the largest A+ mutual insurance companies in America is a very uncommon man. Not only does Scott provide exceptional service and a listening ear, but he also continually gives to his clients. He gives everything from note pads and pens to Harley Davidson Stereos. Every client who buys an insurance product gets flowers immediately. Not only is it his nature to give, but I bet it is hard for another agent to come in and undercut him when they have to peer over the vase of flowers on the counter. When he hears of any client or family of his client being sick, he sends more flowers. He even trusts them to use his condos on the beach. He doesn’t use them as a write-off, and he doesn’t charge the client. Don’t think Scott just became generous once he was successful. Before he had a beachside getaway, he had a heart for service and generosity. He shared one of his mantras with me, “Small deeds are far better than great intentions.” Scott considers his role to be a professional servant. He says, “When you serve others and care about them, it all comes back to you.” Why does this work? He thinks beyond himself in the most genuine way, treating his clients like friends. As a result, many of them have become friends.

Of course people can show compassion for selfish reasons such as recognition or greed. People can “look” concerned when they are not, just like in Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire. Two hungry orphan boys, Salim and Jamal, were living in a garbage heap when they were found by Maman, who seemed like a savior at the time. Maman fed the boys and took them to his orphanage with a playground. The boys soon learned that Maman only showed concern in order to own them and teach them how to be beggars on his behalf. But what happened to Maman? He got rich but was angry, stressed, and ultimately murdered by those who he had taken advantage of. The most powerful compassion is sincere.

Trust is a Business Asset

The impact of trust on the economy can be witnessed at the corporate level. Bear Stearns, AIG, and Lehman Brothers were at one time considered trust-based businesses. Each of these companies relied on the trust of the market to establish the firm’s value. As trust goes down, value goes down. For instance, the $236 million purchase proposal for Bear Stearns by JP Morgan Chase came just hours after Bear Stearns’ market capitalization was $3 billion. Interestingly, just over a year ago that market cap was $20 billion. As trust in the market tanks, so does the value of the business.

Bill Otis, former Chief of the Appellate Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, offered this analysis: “Our ability to bail our way out of this recession is extremely limited, because, even if they worked and could be paid for, bailouts and government spending generally fail to address the fundamental problem at the heart of our difficulties. The fundamental problem is not liquidity or even solvency. It is trust—or more correctly, the lack of trust—that has spawned the breakdown in the credit markets. The lack of trust cannot be remedied with money. It can only be remedied with that which creates trust.”

Though our trust has been shaken in America during this economic crisis, we still enjoy a level of trust that is not enjoyed in all parts of the world. A business professor and friend of mine, Leo Gabriel, was asked by a native of a small war-torn, developing country, “Why does capitalism work in America and not here?” Gabriel said, “Because, generally, we can assume trust in our economic system.” In America we can go online, order a product, and assume it will be shipped. The retailer can generally assume that he will be paid. Without trust there cannot be economic activity. You must be able to put trust in your cash, check, or credit to have value and be good. A retailer must know that the product or service will be delivered from the supplier as expected. With greater trust comes greater economic activity and a better form of capitalism.

Anonymity Dilutes Accountability

A major way to increase accountability is to reduce anonymity. There is a reason that crime is less per capita in small towns; people know each other. They know what each other is up to, and they talk. They know who is at the bar and whose car is parked outside of “that person’s” house all night long. While gossip is certainly a negative; small town accountability can promote higher character. If people know they are being watched, they are more likely to act above reproach. This is one of the reasons people do more stupid things in Las Vegas while on a business trip. Anonymity dilutes accountability. This is the reason why some conscientious families move computers into the main living area. By having the computers in a more public space, family members are less likely to go on sites they would be embarrassed to be found searching. And it’s the same reason why offices with open work spaces promote greater productivity than ones with solid doors and walls. Colleagues can see whether each other is napping, tweeting, or working.

Five Ways to Build Character

  1. Be humble. It is the beginning of wisdom.
  2. Live out your principles and values. Whether it’s “love others,” or “do the right thing,” living by your principles will make decision making easier and your character more steadfast. Make sure to hire principled people because it is very hard for any of us to learn principles after age 10.
  3. Be intentional. Integrity does not happen by accident. We are all products of our thoughts and habits. Be intentional about filling your mind with good thoughts. Creating a habit of this internalizes principles and breeds high character.
  4. Practice self-discipline. Being of high character takes the ability to do what is right over what is easy. As Harry S Truman said, “In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first.”
  5. Be accountable. Surround yourself with people who have high expectations for you. Be responsible to yourself first. Lose the pride. Open yourself up to accountability.

Insincere Apologies are Trust Killers

I had a chance to sit down with the CEO of Compass Strategic Investments. For six months, he lived and worked in the Netherlands, so he had some cultural observations to share. One of the distinctions that he noticed was that Americans often make insincere apologies. When it comes to building trust, being able to say we’re sorry and doing it sincerely is an important skill. However insincere apologies, those made out of habit or indifference, are trust killers.

Expressing remorse without any real intent to change comes off as insulting or dismissive, like someone who always comes late to a meeting and says, “I’m sorry I’m late.” The likely truth is she never really intended to be on time. No one believes her apology, and so she is not trusted.
Do you mean what you say? Whether it is “I am sorry” or, “I will get back to you ASAP,” if you can’t follow through, don’t say it. Make sure you return calls when you say you will and deliver when you say you will. If your intent is good, your words will mean something and you won’t have to apologize very often. It’s like a mother who says “No” to her child at the candy counter repeatedly with ever increasing volume and intensity. Because the mother has given in to her child’s badgering in the past, the child does not trust that Mom means what she says.

The problem also happens when people apologize even though they are not really sorry for what they did. They are only sorry that they got caught. Learning to apologize is only part of it. Doing it sincerely and with genuine intentions is the real test. The next time you feel an apology is in order, ask yourself, Am I sorry to the degree that I am genuinely going to try to make sure it does not happen again? Do I really mean it? Of course it is important to apologize, but so is the action that shows you meant it. Those who only need to apologize occasionally, and do it sincerely, will be trusted.

Conflict is Unavoidable

Most conflict occurs because of a lack of clarity in communication, so I feel it is important to address here. Expect conflict. Learn to deal with it. Anytime there’s more than one person, you’re bound to find conflict. It’s only natural. We all have separate backgrounds, different tendencies, and unique perspectives. It’s no surprise we disagree from time to time. I am always amazed at the splits in friendships, churches, and businesses over a little conflict. Who do you agree with 100% of the time? Nobody. I don’t even agree with those I love the most, all of the time. Have you noticed how people will escalate in their friendship as long as they are talking about commonalities? However, when differences are found, the energy and engagement often drops. We may agree on many things, but now that I know you voted for one person and I voted for another, we can hardly be friends. Don’t let it happen. Expect and even appreciate conflict. The old notion rings true that if we are all exactly the same we are not all needed. Conflict can be a source of growth, creativity, and in the end, greater unity.

How to Make Conflict Constructive

  • The key to conflict is not avoiding it; it’s dealing with it effectively.
  • Conflict is inevitable and necessary for improvement. We can’t grow if we’re never challenged, so get used to seeing conflict as a way to spur positive change, not an attack on your point of view.
  • Use it as a chance to gather information. Understand that conflict resolution often gives the chance to gather input and clarify expectations.
  • Ask “Why?” Often, the best way out of conflict is to keep asking “Why?” The root of the problem might not be apparent on the surface.
  • Practice empathy. There’s no better remedy for a disagreement than putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Pause and be open to the other’s point of view and reasoning.
  • Stick to the facts. Don’t focus on negative feelings or perceived intentions, but rather, concentrate on what happened, and what you can do about it.
  • Practice using “I” language. Using “You” language like, “You always,” or “I wish you wouldn’t do that” puts the other person on the defensive. “I thought this,” or “I felt this way,” allows you to express yourself more clearly and helps the other person better appreciate your point of view.

Being Clear With Expectations

Few things are as frustrating as working for a manager who gives you an annual review and tells you all the things she thinks you should have been doing during the past year. How is this information helpful now? The year is over. Why weren’t these expectations expressed earlier? If you are a parent, you know how important it is to communicate expectations with your child. So often, a clear communication of expectations will prevent both misbehavior and failure.

As little sense as it makes, I hear about similar situations all the time. Supervisors need to be clear about their expectations. This is true in my own company. When I’m specific with my requests about what I want, I almost always receive what I asked for. When I’m vague in my requests, I typically receive something other than what I had in mind.

If you’re in charge of leading your group or even a company, consider whether you’re communicating specific expectations effectively. Of course, micromanagement is a supreme trust killer, not to mention a spectacular waste of time. But in most cases, if you are clear about the outcome in mind, it will get done, sometimes even beyond your expectations.

My new marketing director was feeling overwhelmed and losing motivation. I could see it. When I inquired, she said she felt like there was so much to do but didn’t know what to do first. Once we clarified priorities and expectations, her motivation, effectiveness, and enthusiasm returned. As her leader, helping her work through this was my responsibility.

If you work for someone who is vague about what they want, spend a few minutes talking with him or her about your work. Find out expectations, including the appropriate deadlines and priorities. If it isn’t possible to finish everything on your plate at once, figure out what’s most important. You’ll foster greater trust and a more productive workplace at the same time. Visit us at www.TheTrustEdge.com to learn more about leadership, trust, and productivity.

Motivate Contribution

There are plenty of people who want to make a difference, but haven’t put their vision into action. Contribution is tied to action. You have to actually do something to get anything done. A friend, author, and small business expert, Mark LeBlanc, says, “Done is better than perfect.”(www.MarkLeblanc.com) What a great statement. We can become paralyzed, because we want something to be perfect. I am all for excellence, but sometimes a line needs to be drawn between finished and perfect. Even while I worked on my book project, I thought of all the research that I had not shared. There are compelling stories coming out every day that are pertinent to this topic. At some point, good enough and done becomes better than perfect and not done.

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