most important word

The Most Important Word In Leadership

If you had to sum up everything you believe about leadership, your core philosophy, in just one word, what word would you choose?

Would you choose Accountability? Vision? Inspiration? Resolve?

Those are all incredibly important, but there’s one that trumps these words, these skills and traits.

How about Humility? Decisiveness? Agility? Inclusion?

All important, but again, there’s one word that’s more essential to every leader. That word is Trust. It is the basis for everything else you believe and do as a leader. And everything you likely think you understand about trust and leadership is exactly wrong.

I speak with leaders, especially business leaders, all week long. It’s what I do: advising the C-suite and the board is my area of professional practice. And most often, when the essential topic of trust comes up, this is what most leaders tell me:

“Trust is vitally important for the success of this organization! How do we find more trustworthy people?”

“Stop it!” I want to shout. “Who hired you?” (I refrain).

I also hear this one much more often than I’d like to:

“How do I get my employees to trust me more?”

What can I do to make myself a more open, trusting person, so that I can be a better leader?

That is less egregious, perhaps, but still half backwards. And between them, these two leadership misconceptions of the basic nature of trust are killing companies large and small, on a global level.

Instead, this is how trust must – and I insist – must function in the mind of a leader:

“I need to trust my people more. What can I do to make myself a more open, trusting person, so that I can be a better leader?”

No one will trust you if you are distrusting yourself. And no one will be trustworthy if you don’t show your trust first.

Trust is a leadership issue. The leader must always go first.

On July 4th, we’ll run my second in a three-part series on trust in leadership. To celebrate America’s Independence Day, I’ll share what I believe to be the most essential leadership lesson of many that George Washington lived as our nation’s founding commanding general. I hope to see you back then! 



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Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

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  • Randy Conley

    Preach! You’re right Ted. The leader has to go first, and that means extending trust to others and looking inward at how he/she can be a more trustworthy person.

  • Elianna Dzubur

    How do I view the trust series? Thanks!

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  • Daniel

    Very nice!

  • David Penglase

    Ted I am so pleased your post was forwarded on to me. While most people quickly agree that trust is important in both their personal and business lives (there’s so much talk today about the importance of WHY), however, very few can clearly articulate HOW they earn trust in their lives. I believe we are nearing a tipping point (or maybe we’ve reached it) where the amount of dis-trust (disengaged trust) in our lives (politicians, leadership, marketing spin, false testimonials etc.,) will bring trust to the top of the agenda and focus of the corporate (and non-corporate) world. Congratulations on your thought leadership in this area. Warmly, David

  • Tarik Taman

    Ted, I one hundred percent agree, in my experience as a GM for a major international software company, I have discovered over the years that trust is earned slowly, lost quickly and is then irreplaceable. Whatever your other skills may be as a leader, if you lack trust, your team won’t stay with you long enough for you to prove yourself.

  • Kathy Davis

    Your post reminds me of the parable of ten servants: Each were given money by their employer and told to invest it while he was gone. Those who did something with the money and gained were entrusted with more, the one who sat on what he was given and just kept in safe, he was not rewarded. He had nothing to give back to his leader, and it proved lose lose. Yes, there is a risk in trusting, but there is also great satisfaction when you trust, and trust wisely. Trust because you are willing to accept the risk, not because it’s safe or certain. Thanks Ted.

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  • Ted Coine

    Hi Elianna,

    This is a tiny series just by me, three posts I thought up on this important topic. The second will run July 4th. But I’ve noticed Trust is a ever-greater topic of interest for the thought leaders across the Web, and especially for our own here at S&S. It’s making me think that we may, indeed, actually need to run one of our one- or two-week guest series on the topic. Would that appeal to you, as a member of our community of purpose?

    BTW here is an awesome post on the subject of Trust that ran just yesterday by a new guest author, Eileen McDargh: You’ll L-O-V-E the 9 steps to build trust that she outlines toward the end of the piece.

    Finally, let me recommend one of our favorite sites, Barbara Kimmel’s, for more on this topic. You’ll recognize several of our Leaguers and guests in her Top 100 list!

  • Ted Coine

    Thanks Randy! You ought to know – you’re one of my own go-to experts on this topic. Trustworthy and Trust-ing go hand in hand. In my experience, it’s impossible to have one without the other. I think leaders who try ring hollow in their employees’ eyes.

  • Elianna Dzubur

    Thanks Ted! I would be interested in a guest series on this topic. Appreciate the information!

  • Ted Coine

    On it! :)

  • Ted Coine

    Thanks so much, Daniel!

  • Ted Coine

    Tarik, thanks for adding your real-world experience to validate this piece. I think everyone here can think of a person (probably a few, in fact) who let them down and thus burned their trust. I’m thinking of one right now. Sometimes we stick with that person for a while, for whatever reason, but once our heart’s out the door, that’s it – you’re right, they aren’t getting it back.

  • Ted Coine

    David, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m absolutely with you on that agenda-topping transformation. In studying new business developments and budding trends for “A World Gone Social,” one thing came through again and again: spin, lying, deceit – the grist for many companies’ messaging mills in the Industrial Age – all of that cynical dishonesty is no longer working. Our customers and prospects, our employees and recruits: everyone’s connected and talking about us. We can’t pretend to be something we aren’t anymore. And I for one love it!

  • David Penglase

    Yes Ted… as you say, ‘Spin, lying, deceit… is no longer working’. In my language, this demonstrates clearly the platform principle of in my book, Intentionomics, which is – People Get Your Truth – over time, your intentions, promises, actions and results will either promote or expose you. And with almost every person now having the potential of being a ‘live-eye’ reporter and film crew, technology/social media is helping a resurgence of focus on the importance of ‘character’… and I too, like you, welcome that. Warmly, David

  • Ted Coine

    I can’t wait to read “Intentionomics”! Even the title is compelling. I sent you an email via LI.

  • Ted Coine

    Kathy, I L-O-V-E that! It’s a great parable, and your follow-on is terrific: “Yes, there is a risk in trusting, but there is also great satisfaction when you trust, and trust wisely. Trust because you are willing to accept the risk, not because it’s safe or certain.”

    In Twitter parlance, #brilliant!

  • Kathy Davis

    Wow! Thank you Ted :)

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