Building Higher Trust 68 Restoring Lost Trust

April 22, 2022

Trust between individuals is bilateral. At any point in time, we have a balance of trust with every person whom we know. Trust is also directional; I trust you at some level and you trust me as well, but not at the exact same level.

In all our daily transactions with others, the trust fluctuates based on what happens: what we say, our tone of voice, body language, texts, and even what other people are saying.  It is a very complex and dynamic system. 

I believe that if the trust in one direction is very different from the reciprocal trust for a long period of time, that relationship will not endure unless forced to endure, or unless something happens to resolve the disparity. 

At work, we have a trust level with each person based on everything that has happened thus far in the relationship. Rebuilding trust is a situational thing, and not every situation calls for the formality offered below.

Nine tips to rebuild lost trust

  1. Act Swiftly

Major trust withdrawals can be devastating, and you need to address the situation immediately. Just as a severe bodily injury requires immediate emergency care, so does the bleeding of emotional capital need repair after a major letdown.

  1. Verify care

Both people should spend some time remembering what the relationship felt like before the problem. In most cases, there is a true caring for the other person, even if the hurt and anger of the moment seem unbearable. 

  1. Establish a desire to do something about it

If reparations are going to happen, both people must cooperate. If there was high value in the relationship before the breach, then it should be possible to visualize a return to the same level or higher level of trust. 

  1. Admit fault and accept blame

The person who made the breach needs to admit what happened to the other person. If there is total denial of what occurred, then no progress will occur.  Try to do this without trying to justify the action.  Focus on what happened, even if it was an innocent gaffe.

  1. Ask for forgiveness

It sounds so simple, but many people find it impossible to verbalize the request for forgiveness, yet a pardon is exactly what has to happen to enable the healing process. The problem is that saying “I forgive you” is easy to say but might be hard to do when emotions are raw.

  1. Determine the cause

This is a kind of investigative phase where it is important to know what happened in order to make progress. It is a challenge to remain calm and be as objective with the facts as possible. Normally the main emotion is one of pain, but anger or stress can accompany the pain. 

Both people need to describe what happened because the view from one side will be significantly different from the opposite view. Go beyond describing what happened, and discuss how you felt about what happened.

  1. Develop a positive path forward

The thing to ask in this phase is “what needs to happen to restore your trust in me to at least the level where it was before?”. Here, some creativity can really help.

  1. Agree to take action

There needs to be a formal agreement to take corrective action. Usually, this agreement requires modified behaviors on the part of both people. Be as specific as possible about what you and the other person are going to do differently. The only way to verify progress is to have a clear understanding of what will be different. 

  1. Check back on progress

Keep verifying that the new behaviors are working and modify them, if needed, to make positive steps every day. As the progress continues, it will start getting easier, and the momentum will increase. 


Modify the process to fit your particular application and do not follow a plan blindly. If a step seems like overkill or is just not practical, then you can skip it, but for serious breaches, the majority of steps will help.

In many cases, it is possible to restore trust to a higher level than existed before the breach. This method is highly dependent on the sincerity with which each person really does want the benefits of a high trust relationship with the other person.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 



Building Higher Trust 67 Trust and Inspire

April 14, 2022

On April 5, Stephen M.R. Covey released his third book entitled “Trust and Inspire.” I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of the book, and I really enjoyed it. The book is rich with examples to illustrate Stephen’s main point.

Main Premise

The conventional working world has been operating under a “Command and Control” mentality for many decades. This method of leading worked well to obtain compliance in simpler times. Unfortunately, mere compliance is not enough to survive in the current world. Today it is necessary to unleash the greatness in people at all levels that remain dormant under Command and Control.

Enlightened Command and Control

Many leaders have shifted to what Stephen calls “Enlightened Command and Control.” This style of leadership (informed acquiescence) attempts to gain greater engagement by doing more cheerleading.  It is only partially successful in today’s environment because it does not liberate the greatness in people.

Much more Effective Style

Stephen makes a strong case that a better way to lead in the current climate is to “Trust and Inspire.” This style of leadership allows the seeds of greatness that are already in the vast majority of workers to blossom.  The seeds were there all along. Unfortunately, the Command and Control mentality just did not provide the nurturing force to allow full bloom.


Throughout the book, Stephen illustrates the difference between Command and Control and Trust and Inspire by providing paired comparisons.

The Impact of This Book

I believe this book will be one of the top leadership books of this decade. It logically lays out a pathway to better performance.

Stephen shares scores of examples to illustrate the power of this new leadership style. Pick up a copy of this book and read it – twice.

Put the wisdom of “Trust and Inspire” in your leadership practice. I promise you it will be many times more effective.  Order “Trust and Inspire” now.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

Building Higher Trust 66 Top Down or Bottom Up

April 8, 2022

In an organization, trust is normally generated from the top down rather than the bottom up. Sure, it is important for employees as well as leaders to be trustworthy, but the culture that allows trust to kindle and flourish is usually created by the leaders of the organization rather than the workers.

Blind Spots

It is astonishing for me to see the blind spots that many leaders have about how pivotal their behaviors are to how trust is manifest in their entire organization. If the top leader or leaders do not act with integrity and consistency, it creates loops of “workaround” activity in all of the other layers.  There gets to be a kind of pseudo-trust where people look the part and act the part on the surface, but it is only skin deep. Under the surface, the ability to hold onto trust is as leaky as a bucket used for target practice.

Psychological Safety

Of all the behaviors leaders display, I think one shines out as being by far the most powerful for sustaining trust, yet simultaneously the most difficult for leaders to master. That is the ability to create an environment free of fear for disclosing one’s opinions about the leader’s actions. In most cultures, people are punished if they express reservations about what the leader is saying or doing. Those cultures continually dampen the ability to sustain real trust, and you get the plastic variety that is evident in many environments.

Reinforcing Candor

In brilliant organizations, leaders encourage and reward sharing of scary stuff. I call this skill “reinforcing candor,” because it means the leader is not only open to criticism but actively seeks it. The few leaders who are able to understand the power of reinforcing candor have an easy time building trust and rebuilding compromised trust.  This trust is genuine and sustainable; it is not the faux-trust that is so common in most organizations.

If the generation and maintenance of trust is mostly a top down affair, the ability to destroy trust is more balanced. It is just as easy for employees to destroy what trust is there as it is for leaders to do it.  Acting in ways that show low integrity is the most common method of harpooning sincere efforts to build more trust. Leaders destroy trust when they are duplicitous and fail to follow through on promises. Employees trash trust when they act without integrity in numerous ways, like stealing from the company or spreading rumors.


The nature of trust is that it is always a relative thing. Trust fluctuates based on the situational context of current actions. One should not always expect to find high trust in any area, even the best ones. There are going to be peaks and valleys, and the smart organizations seek a good average and try to dampen out the spikes, both high and low.  It is possible for most groups to make great strides in the trust level if they simply work to understand it and improve it daily. Leaders should not become discouraged if there is a lapse in trust; rather, they should redouble their efforts to maintain it. 


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 



Building Trust 65 No Problem

April 1, 2022

My wife and I were out to dinner a while ago and ran into a very personable young waiter named Kyle.  This young man was still in college, and he was working to earn money and looking for his future. 

I really liked this waiter because he made great eye contact, and he was polite but not intrusive. He had one annoying habit that was a distraction from an otherwise stellar impression that he created.

No Problem

Every time he would do something, like refresh my water, I would say “Thank you,” and he would reply “No problem.”  For a while I just let it pass and did not think about it, but eventually I recognized that his response habit was hurting the impression he was making for himself.

Missed Opportunity

The statement “No problem” is really not a bad thing to say, but it does represent a missed opportunity to build trust with the other person.  Reason: the statement does not represent a proactive positive response to gratitude. Instead, it reflects a kind of throw-away line that I, the customer, really did not matter much to him. 

The effect is very subtle, so the negative impression is not severe, but a more upbeat response or at least some variety of response would work much better. 

Alternative Approaches

A simple “You’re welcome” would be better than “No problem,” but there could be hundreds of more creative and memorable statements the young man could have used that would further entrench the good impression we had of him.  Remember, he has plenty of time to prepare creative comebacks because he pours water for people every day.

For example, in response to “Thank you” after he poured the water, he might have said, “We double-filter all of our water before we serve it to our guests.”  He could have blown me away with a statement like, “We never serve water that is warmer than 47 degrees.”

Another response might be, “I view your glass as bottomless.”  How about, “I’ll be watching to be sure you never run out.” 

Another tack might be to demonstrate respect by responding, “I am honored,” or “It is my pleasure.”

Making Impressions

The young waiter had to realize that he was serving expensive food to people who could afford it, so every night he was making impressions on people who could potentially influence his life. 

I took the time to compliment Kyle on his demeanor and also give him some coaching on his habitual response to gratitude.  He got the message and was truly thankful for it, because he had never given the matter any thought.  It was just something he had a habit of saying.


The response to a “Thank you” should be a great way to differentiate yourself from the pack, if you are in a customer service occupation. Don’t waste the opportunity with a throw-away line like, “No problem.”


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

Building Higher Trust 64 Measuring Morale

March 24, 2022

Can you measure morale accurately simply by walking into a room and observing people? I think you can, but it can be a bit tricky.

In my courses, I often ask participants to tell me the best way to measure morale. Most of them come up with the idea of an employee survey or some other form of lagging indicator, like turnover rate.

While both of these techniques are useful, I think there is a far faster and more accurate way to measure the morale of people in an organization, and you can do it while there is still time to take corrective actions. All you have to do is observe the individuals, and their body language will give ample clues as to their morale.

Recognize that interpreting body language takes a lot of practice, and it is not an exact science.  The best practice is to look for clusters of signals rather than interpret one specific expression or gesture as a fool-proof indication of a person’s emotion.

Here are seven ways to measure morale by watching what people do.


If a person is standing with one hip raised and a challenging look on his face, that is a sign of a poor attitude. It is often a hostile gesture where the individual has a chip on his shoulder and is daring you to knock it off.

If people are sitting in a slouched-over configuration, that may be simple fatigue or it may be they feel beaten down and fearful when managers are around.

If you walk into a room and people are sitting around a table leaning back with their arms folded, you can immediately sense these folks are dug in, grumpy, and not happy.

The most sensitive areas for posture are in the shoulders and the position of the spine. I once walked into a restaurant to meet up with a colleague for a chat. She was sitting in a booth with her back to me and did not see me approach. All I could see of her was the back of her head and the upper 6 inches of her shoulders. I accurately determined before seeing her face or hearing her voice that she was in crisis mode due to some personal situation.


When people are together, watch the gestures. If they are doing a lot of finger pointing as they speak, that is likely a hostile environment. If their hands are most often open with palms up, that means they are open to ideas and suggestions. 

Watch to see if the gestures remain the same when managers come into the room. For example, if people are having an animated conversation about some outside event but clam up both verbally and with gesturing when the manager walks in, it may be a sign of trouble. Check into it in order to get an accurate assessment.

Hostile or vulgar words or gestures are likely indications of poor morale. The best display of good attitudes is if the gesturing remains the same when a manager approaches. People are comfortable and not threatened by this leader. When groups of people “stiffen up” as a leader approaches, it usually means they are not comfortable with the leader for some reason. See if you can determine if this is the case.

Facial Expression

There are thousands of facial expressions that have meaning, and many of these are specific to the culture in which they are used. The eyes and mouth hold the most information about attitude. For example, when a manager is giving information, if people roll their eyes, the meaning is that they believe the manager is basically clueless and is wasting their time. If they are tight lipped, it is normally a sign of fear and low trust or obstinance.

The most positive expression for morale is a slight smile with bright open eyes and highly arched eyebrows. This expression indicates either interest or possible surprise.

Tone of voice

When people speak, their tone will give away how engaged they are in the conversation at hand. Apathy is easy to spot with a kind of roll-off of words in a low pitch that says “I don’t care.”

If the voice is stressed and shrill, that usually connotes fear of some type. Anger is easy to detect as the voice becomes choppy and the pitch and volume go up dramatically. People sometimes take on a sneer and mocking tone when they mimic other people.

Medium voice modulation with good diction usually means good engagement and attention.


When people make jokes at the expense of the other people, it often is thought of as just kidding around. The fact is, there is always some kind of truth underlying every dig. If people are mocking a manager for always showing up late to the meeting, it may cause a chuckle, but it often reveals that people believe the manager has no real respect for them.

Some groups are world class at making jokes at the expense of team members. I maintain this is a sign of poor rapport that will show up as a lack of good teamwork. This poor behavior can be stopped easily by just coming up with a rule that we will no longer make jokes at the expense of others.

At one company where I was teaching, the rule about not making jokes at the expense of others was the third behavioral rule on their list (I always have groups create such a list.) It was easy to extinguish the bad habit because we just allowed people to hold up three fingers whenever anybody violated the rule. The poor behavior, that had been going on for decades in that organization, was extinguished in less than one hour.

Word choice

When people honestly engage in positive conversation and make constructive observations or ideas, it shows high morale. If they undermine the ideas of others or management, it shows a lack of respect that has its roots in low morale.

If the leader asks for a volunteer and you can hear a pin drop, that is a different reaction than if three hands go up immediately. People with high morale spontaneously volunteer to help out the organization. They respect their leader and truly want him or her to succeed because they know if the leader is successful then good things will happen for them.


In a culture of high morale, people have a tendency to praise each other and seek ways to help out other people.  When morale is low, everybody is in it for themselves and will discredit the ideas or desires of other people to preserve their own status.

Leaders who know how to build a culture where individuals spontaneously praise each other for good deeds can foster higher morale by that emphasis alone, as long as the praise is sincere..


These are just seven ways you can identify the morale of a group, simply by observing what people are doing and saying.  You can go to the trouble of a time-consuming and suspect survey, but you do not need to in order to measure morale. 

Measuring turnover or absenteeism will be an accurate long-term reflection of morale, but by the time you get that data, the damage is done. You may have lost the best people. By observing people every day and making small corrective actions along the way, you can prevent low morale and build an environment of higher trust. In that kind of culture, productivity will go up dramatically.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 



Building Higher Trust 63 Trust Hallmarks

March 17, 2022

For several decades I have believed that organizations that show high trust hallmarks outperform weaker organizations by huge margins. 

While there are hundreds of examples of what high trust looks like, in this brief article I will share five things you will observe in an organization that specializes in high trust. 

What people say

One good barometer of trust is to monitor what people are saying to each other in normal conversation. If you just walk around your place of work for a couple of hours and listen to how people talk, you will get a quick view of the level of trust.

Mark an X on a card every time you hear a conversation about pursuing the goals or vision of the group. Mark an O on the card every time you hear a conversation that is basically badmouthing other individuals within the group.  If, at the end of your visit, you have more X’s than O’s, then you are likely witnessing a high trust group. If it is the other way around, then trust is low or totally missing.

How groups deal with challenges

All groups have challenges from time to time. Groups with low trust are stopped in their tracks, because the interpersonal problems make it very difficult to figure out what is wrong. They spend most of the time arguing about what the real problem is. Groups with high trust can resolve challenges quickly and easily because they communicate honestly.

High trust groups deal with the root cause of problems rather than analyzing symptoms. They also frequently come up with more creative solutions to problems, because they are not fearful and are free to explore out-of-the-box ideas.

The level of people development

In high trust environments, the leaders are vitally interested in developing all employees to be the best they can be. High investment of people is a hallmark of high trust groups.

In low trust organizations you can find leaders who are less interested in training people for a few different reasons:

1) They are so busy trying to survive that they have no time to devote to training,

2) They are afraid if people are well trained they might be overtaken, or

3) There is so much apathy that nobody really feels like development would be helpful.

Making ethical decisions

The study of ethics is very interesting because many leaders are convinced they are ethical, yet they find ways to shade things somehow when nobody is looking.  They rationalize that bad things should be OK “under these circumstances.”

We see this all the time in scandals that seem to come up like crocuses in the Spring. The important part of being ethical is not what you do when people will see it, but what you do when nobody would know if you were cheating. For example, if you are hiding some expenses to inflate earnings, it shows a corrupt leader.

Exposing hypocrisy

When leaders talk a good game but really do not act in ways that are consistent with the words, there is a falsehood that is obvious to everyone.

One current example that is evident in many companies is they state a value of trusting their employees when they are working remotely, but they use tracking software so they can identify the number of keystrokes made per hour.  

People notice the hypocrisy quickly, so the value becomes something we say but not something we back up with actions.  We look good on the outside but we are missing integrity underneath.


These are just five of the ways you can witness the hallmarks of trust in an organization. Stay alert and you can add dozens of additional items to my list.  Since high trust groups outperform low trust groups every time, make sure your group is operating on the high side always.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 



Building Higher Trust 62 Engagement and Empowerment

March 11, 2022

Engagement and empowerment are two words that we hear in organizations and OD circles. These words are often confused. I have heard the terms used interchangeably, which is a mistake.

The best way to demonstrate the difference between these words is to contrast two scenarios. I will focus on a specific job (customer service representative) for the description, but you can easily extrapolate the concepts to any job once the distinction is clear.

Engaged but not Empowered

Here the customer service person is fully on board with the goals of the organization. She knows her job and wants to help the customer. Unfortunately, the organization constrains her by numerous rules that tie her hands from fully providing great service.  For example, she may not be able to issue a refund until the customer returns the incorrect merchandise.  She may have to get “approval” from her supervisor to authorize a shipping waiver.

Empowered but not Engaged

In this case, the customer service rep has the power to do anything she thinks is useful, but this particular person does not follow the business goals. She really does not care if the organization does well; all she wants to do is make the customer feel great. In this case, she might overcompensate the customer to the detriment of the organization.

It is obvious that neither of these conditions is the best situation for the employee and the organization.  We need to have employees who are fully engaged in the business and fully empowered to accomplish their tasks. Consider this 2X2 matrix to take all possible combinations into consideration.

  Let us take a look at the impact of these two words on the viability of an organization.


In “Smart Trust,” Stephen M.R. Covey reported on some research showing that in the average company there are only two engaged employees for every one disengaged employee. In this case, much of the inherent power of the individuals is leaking out and not available to the organization.  Contrast that situation with world class organizations where there are nine engaged employees for every one disengaged employee. You can see the huge difference, and that difference goes quickly to the bottom line.

Having people engaged in the business means having them truly understand the vision for the organization and fully comprehend their role in making that happen. Beyond understanding, to be fully engaged, a worker needs to be fully committed to accomplishing her role, not just involved in the work. Someone once said that the difference between involvement and commitment is like the difference between eggs and bacon. In the case of the eggs, the chicken was involved; in the case of the bacon, the pig was committed!


Empowerment is more closely related to trust.  Employees bring their own internal level of empowerment and confidence in their abilities to do their jobs. Managers can increase empowerment through clear communication and a trust-building management style. Unfortunately, managers can decrease an employee’s empowerment and confidence level through negative communication or too many restrictions.

The extent to which people use their personal power for the benefit of the organization, and the level of freedom they have to do things right, will determine the level of empowerment experienced by the organization.  In OD circles, we use the term “maximum discretionary effort.”  The goal of empowerment activities is to solicit maximum discretionary effort from all people.  How can we accomplish that in the real world?

The secret sauce to create a culture of higher empowerment is trust.  As trust increases, people naturally feel more empowered because they can make decisions based on a firm understanding of the goals, but they can accomplish those goals in their own unique way.

In the environment of the past couple years, the ability to build and maintain trust is much more difficult. Many people are feeling frayed by the numerous pressures they face every day. It is more important that leaders show empathy and demonstrate they really care about their employees.  It is about how they do what they do and how they say what they say that matters in these times.


Try to avoid mixing the concepts of empowerment and engagement. They are two very different things, although they sound almost the same.  Seek to obtain both of them through the liberal application of trusting behaviors, and you will experience the best effort that people have to offer.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

Building Higher Trust 61 Be Consistent

March 3, 2022

One critical skill for leaders to have in order to build trust is consistency. People need to see you operating from a set of principles that are 1) easy to understand, 2) easy to remember, and 3) easy to observe.

Earlier in this series, I wrote about the relationship of  Trust and Consistency. In this article, I will expand the topic to cover more information on how abiding by the values builds higher trust.

Relationship to Values

The best way to demonstrate consistency is to have a visible set of values that are easy for people to observe.  Values are a fundamental underpinning for any organization. Spend time with your team generating a set of 4-6 values that are easy for people to remember. Sometimes you can find an acronym that helps people remember the values.

For example, my personal values spell the word LIGHT. They are Loyalty, Integrity, Generosity, Honesty, and Trust. Because of the acronym, I can always remember my values.  Now comes the tricky part.

When Values Do You the Most Good

When following the values is easy, you just act them out in real time. It helps sometimes to verbalize why you are taking a specific action as a result of one of your values.  On the flip side, the values do you the most good when following them is challenging. If following the values would be expensive or time consuming, then to follow them would show constancy of purpose.  It also demonstrates to your people that you really do mean the values.

Example of Inconsistency

I was once in the lobby of a manufacturing plant and read a chart on the wall of the organization’s values.  The number one value was “People are our most important asset.” 

I thought to myself how impressive it is to value people over other assets.  However, as I interfaced with several managers, I noticed that they were planning to lay off about 20% of their workforce the following week.  It turned out there was a down cycle in volume, and they could save a lot of money by getting rid of people. This was proof positive that people were not their most important asset.

Unfortunately for them, the employees saw that their leaders said one thing but did something else.  It did not take long to figure out why morale in the plant was low and productivity was miserable. There was no trust.


When you take the time to establish values for an organization, you must always follow them. It is particularly important to follow the values when doing something else might be easier, more convenient, or more profitable. Values do you the most good when following them is difficult.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Building Higher Trust 60 Practice Humility

February 25, 2022

The relationship between trust and humility is a strong one, even though we think of the two concepts as completely different things. In this brief article, I will describe some interesting ideas that demonstrate the synergy between these two ideas.

The concept of humility revolves around the principle of self-worth.  The antithesis of humility is another word beginning with the letter “h.”  It is hubris. The Free Dictionary defines hubris as “An ancient Greek word meaning pride or arrogance, used particularly to mean the kind of excessive pride or conceit that often brings about someone’s downfall.”

Good to Great

In Good to Great, author Jim Collins wrote extensively about humility as one of the two universal characteristics of what he called “level five leaders.” The other characteristic is passion. Jim says that the concept of passion creates energy to get amazing things done and humility creates the ability to relate well to people and give them the credit. When you combine those two characteristics in one person, you create a highly effective leader and an atmosphere where trust grows spontaneously.

When people operate as level five leaders, they generate trust because they do not hog the credit for the good work that is driving performance.  They are not ego-centric. Collins uses the “window/mirror” analogy to explain the difference.

Window/Mirror Analogy

When things are going well in the organization, level five leaders look out the window and express gratitude for the many people who make it happen daily. When things are not going well, level five leaders see a mirror and recognize themselves as the problem. 

People who are not level five leaders do exactly the opposite. When things are going well, they see the mirror and are happy to take the credit. When things are going poorly, they see the window and look out at all the problem people in the organization that are goofing up.

By refusing to let an over-inflated ego take over in the good times, leaders cause satisfaction and empowerment in people. In that condition, trust will grow easily.

Collins wrote Good to Great over 20 years ago, and the world is a very different place now. Back then we had no idea the working environment would be radically different for more than 3 years in a row. However, the concept of the window/mirror analogy has stood the test of time and is still valid, even in a hybrid working world.

Why Many Leaders Operate by Command and Control

It is a shame that many people who become leaders did so by being managers first.  These managers often learn that to be efficient they need to use a “command and control” mentality.  When they move on to become leaders, they take that mindset with them.  The command and control philosophy of leading does not foster high trust because people resent all the bluster and lack of empathy.

How to Gain More Humility

If humility is one key that leads to higher trust, how can leaders increase their humility? I believe the best way to change such a basic characteristic is to get a mentor or coach who is a really humble person.

It takes time to wean out the thought processes that lead to excessive pride and ego. You have to reverse years of practice where the person is feeling dominant and smug. The only way to do it is to get a great role model and have that person coach you on what to do differently.

You also will need lots of encouragement when you start showing baby steps in the direction of a more humble existence. It may take years to reverse some of the old bad habits.


In these times of turmoil and difficult choices, the role of humility should not be a “nice-to-have” concept.  Having true empathy for what people are going through is a needed concept to help people survive and thrive as individuals and as teams.  Supporting each other is the best way to keep people engaged and empowered.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Building Higher Trust 59 Be Ethical

February 18, 2022

There is a firm relationship between ethics and trust.  No doubt when you read the title of this article you thought, “That’s obvious.” The issue is actually more complex than meets the eye.

Of course, you should always be ethical. There is no dispute about that.  The issue becomes how do you go about determining what is ethical and what is not.


I have taught ethics in three graduate schools, and I am the Chair of the Board of Directors of a not-for-profit organization called “Elevate Rochester” that gives out ethics awards to highly ethical organizations in our area. All my leadership work contains ethics because it impacts trust.  My professional life revolves around the topic of ethics.

Key Point

One thing I have learned is that ethical problems in the real world are sometimes not so easy to spot.  Sure, if you are embezzling money from an organization, it is not hard to figure out that you are operating unethically. Occasionally the unethical path is so obvious that you would be a fool to miss it, but that does not stop some people from doing unethical things.

The more common and insidious ethical dilemmas are not so easy to see. They often show up as two different paths that are considered by an organization. Each path has some advantages and some disadvantages associated with it. 

For example, suppose you discovered that there was a flaw in a product that you sold to a customer five years ago. The customer used the product every day and did not complain about it at all.  The customer was not aware of the flaw, but there was a very slim chance that the flaw could cause an electric shock sometime in the future. The question is whether you tell the customer about it or not.

One consideration is that the product guarantee was for one year.  This is five years down the line, and the customer has had no problem with the device yet. A recall would be very expensive, and it would impact the reputation of your company.

The leadership group is busy arguing among themselves which is the better path to take. They focus on the risks and rewards of each option and do not even recognize when they are dealing with an ethical problem.

Sometimes it is helpful to have a “devil’s advocate” on the team to challenge marginal decisions.

Situational Considerations

The decision process always involves the situation we are in at the moment as well as the future.  The argument might sound like this. “Ordinarily we show the sales by line of business because that is the convention, but since the lines of business have been scrambled by the reorganization, nobody will be able to figure out the reporting, so we should just show the sales as one large lump in this situation.” 

By making that decision, the leaders have neglected to mention the advantage of being able to hide poor performing units by showing only total sales.   They have crossed the ethical line without even being aware of it.

Crossing the Ethical Line

Most ethical situations are the result of prior decisions that are not unethical but are somewhat different from the normal pattern. Once we make an unconventional (but legal) decision, it is easier to do the same the next time and add a little more flavoring to the stew.  We end up walking off the ethical cliff by making very minor adjustments to what we already declared as legal in the past. 

The baby steps toward the edge of the cliff are so small that nobody notices them or challenges them until it is too late. A good example of this phenomenon was the fall of Enron in 2001. Through a series of moves, Enron fooled regulators with fake holdings and off-the-books accounting practices. When the truth became known, there was no way to save the company from bankruptcy.

The Antidote

There is an antidote for this creeping disease. It is trust.  If the leaders have built a culture of high trust that includes psychological safety, then people will know it is safe to say something when the leaders might contemplate doing something that leans toward unethical behavior. If you have 100 people working in the organization, then you have 100 voices that will challenge a decision that is off-color. You are protected by your own people.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind