763: Stephen M. R. Covey Reveals How Great Leaders Inspire Teams

By April 28, 2022Podcasts



Stephen M. R. Covey shares why command-and-control leadership is ineffective (yet widespread) and how to get superior results as a trust-and-inspire leader.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two traits needed to build trust
  2. Why so many leaders today fail to inspire their teams
  3. The one belief that separates great leaders from the rest

About Stephen

Stephen M. R. Covey is cofounder and CEO of CoveyLink and of the FranklinCovey Global Trust Practice, and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Speed of Trust. A sought-after and compelling keynote speaker, author, and advisor on trust, leadership, ethics, culture, and collaboration, Covey speaks to audiences around the world. A Harvard MBA, he is the former CEO of Covey Leadership Center, which under his stewardship became the largest leadership development company in the world. Covey resides with his wife and children in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.

Resources Mentioned

Stephen M. R. Covey Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Stephen, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Stephen Covey
Hi, Pete. Excited to be with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited as well. I’m really looking forward to digging into your wisdom on trust and your latest book Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others. But just to warm it up, I’m thinking about my son right now, he’s four years old, and my dad, and how there were a few special moments in terms of memories that were really instructive and stuck with me. And since you and your father are both great when it comes to leadership development, is there a memory that comes to mind for you in terms of something that sticks with you and was really instructive and lasting?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, absolutely, several but I’ll share one of them, and I actually put this in the book. It’s in a story that my dad wrote about in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the green and clean story, where he was trying to teach his son how to take care of the lawn. Well, I’m that son, I was seven years old, and my dad was trying to teach me responsibility and teach me how to work and these types of things. And so, he basically, over a two-week period of time, he’s got to train me how to make sure that the lawn, our yard, we had a big yard, how to make sure that it was green and clean.

Now, this was back in the days before automatic sprinklers, which ages me, Pete, but this was I was just a young boy and he taught me, “Look, to get a green lawn, you got to water it. The key to watering it is you got to turn on the sprinklers but how you do it is up to you. If you want you could just use a hose or use buckets or spit all day long. It’s up to you. All I care about is green and clean.”

And then he kind of taught me what clean meant. He cleaned part of the yard, left the other part unclean. So, again, seven years old, so it was a two-week process. I actually distinctly remember it. And then he added one more piece. He built in an accountability piece. So, I had very clear expectations – green and clean – how I did it was up to me. I would judge myself. And here was the accountability, that twice a week that we would walk around together and I would tell him how I was doing against the standard of green and clean.

Pete Mockaitis

Stephen Covey
And so, he goes, “I’m not your judge. You’re your own judge. You judge yourself. I’m your helper. If I have time, I’ll always help you but it’s your job.” So, two weeks of training, and then he turns it over to me in the middle of the summer. And it’s this scorching hot time during the summer and I did nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s not going to be green.

Stephen Covey
I did nothing. I was over playing ball across the street. Sunday nothing, Monday nothing, Tuesday nothing, Wednesday. It’s five days, it’s scorching hot, the lawn is turning yellow by the hour almost, and we had a neighborhood barbecue over the weekend, and there was garbage just strewn all throughout the lawn. It was anything but green and clean.

And my dad, he later said, “You know, I was just about to just yank that job right back from him,” thinking, “Maybe he’s just too young. He’s seven. He can’t handle this yet.” But he didn’t. He stayed with it, and he said, “Hey, son, we’d agreed that we’d walk around the yard and you would tell me how it’s doing, so why don’t we do that?”

So, we started to walk around, and I realized, “This is not looking green at all. It’s yellow and it’s not clean. There’s garbage everywhere.” And I began to break down and cry, and I said, “Dad, this is just so hard.” And he kind of said, “Well, what’s hard? You haven’t done one single thing.” But what was hard was learning to take responsibility, it was me taking ownership for that job and taking it on as my own.

And I said, “Well, can you help me, dad?” He said, “I’d agree I’d be your helper if I have time.” I asked, “Do you have time?” He said, “I’ve got time.” So, I ran into the house and I got two garbage sacks. I came out, I took one and I gave him one, and then I started to instruct him and tell him what to do. I said, “Dad, would you go over there and pick up that garbage that’s fallen out because it makes me want to vomit?” So, he said, “I’m your helper. Whatever you say, I’ll do it. I’ve got time, I’ll help you.”

So, he started doing what I asked him to do. And it was at that moment, as I was directing my dad as a seven-year-old on, “Pick up this. Pick up that. Do this,” and he was doing what I was asking, I realized, “This is my job. I’m responsible.” And it was at that moment that, suddenly, I took responsibility and took over this job of making sure the yard was green and clean. I did not have to be asked the whole rest of the summer to do it a single time. I owned it. I took responsibility for it, and the lawn was green and it was clean.

Now, my dad used to always tell this story when he taught The 7 Habits about how this was the creation of a win-win performance agreement but, Pete, I was a seven-year-old boy. I didn’t know what those terms meant but here is what I did know as a seven-year-old. I felt trusted. I felt my father trusted me and I didn’t want to let him down.

So, I was too young to be worried about allowance or status, but I didn’t want to let my dad down. He was important to me and he trusted me, and I felt it and I responded to it. I was inspired by it. I rose to the occasion. I developed capabilities I had no idea I had at age seven and I took responsibility for a huge yard, and it was green and clean.

Now, that was a defining experience in my life because, first of all, my father built such a relationship with me that his whole purpose was one of love and caring, trying to teach me, so I received it differently because of that. But it’s interesting. I experienced, as a seven-year-old boy, a trust and inspire leader, a trust and inspire parent who was believing in me, and he saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself at that time as a young boy but he didn’t…when he gave me trust and I didn’t follow through, he didn’t take it back and just say, “Oh, too young, can’t do it.”

Or, he didn’t hover and micromanage me, and say, “Now, look, here’s how you have to do this job, and do it precisely the way I say. You got to get out there and water.” No, he gave me the responsibility, he trusted me, and then he let me do it. And I learned, and I grew, and I came out of it better. My dad, later, was also asked, “How did you not just take it over and just either micromanaged him or just take the job back?” And he said, “Because I reaffirmed my purpose, which was to raise kids, not grass. So, getting the grass green and clean was a bonus. That was a nice thing but it was more important that I raise a child that learned responsibility and a work ethic.”

And so, I used that little story as a great example of how if this kind of extension of trust can work for a seven-year-old boy, I bet it could work for a 27-year-old or a 47-year-old or a 67-year-old. We all long to be trusted and inspired. It’s a better way to lead, and we respond to it, and I did as a seven-year-old. So, it’s a great story. It’s a fun story. My dad gives his side of it in The 7 Habits, and my side of it is that I was seven years old, what do you expect?

But really, it’s that I felt trusted. I didn’t know what a win-win performance agreement was but I did know that I felt the trust of my dad, and I didn’t want to let him down.

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. Thank you. I love it. And a great way to set up a conversation, talking about trust. You’ve done a lot of research and teaching and writing on this topic, is there a particular insight or discovery that you find particularly surprising and powerful when folks really grab onto it when it comes to trust?

Stephen Covey
Yes, there is one. I don’t know that this one is going to be surprising per se but it is extremely powerful. It’s not necessarily surprising but it happens all the time. So, it’s surprising that this is still an issue because it’s pretty self-evident. And it’s simply this, you could have two trustworthy people working together, both trustworthy, working together and yet no trust between them even though they’re both trustworthy if neither person is willing to extend trust to the other.

In an organization, you could have two trustworthy teams or departments working together, both trustworthy, and yet no trust between them if neither team or department is willing to extend trust to the other. So, to have trust, the noun, the outcome, yes, you need to be trustworthy, and that is earned, we earn that, but we also need to be trusting to give that. So, trust is both earned and given.

I get asked all the time, “Stephen, is trust earned or is it given?” And my response is, “Yes, absolutely it is earned. We’ve got to demonstrate our character, our competence, our credibility. We’ve got to be trustworthy but it’s not enough. It’s necessary but insufficient. We also have to be trusting.” And what I find, as I worked with organizations all around the world, that maybe the bigger factor in those two halves, and they’re halves, I think the bigger factor is that we’re not trusting enough as leaders. We don’t extend enough trust to our people and to others.

That’s a bigger issue than if we’re not trustworthy. Now, we can work on both halves of the equation. We need to work on becoming more trustworthy but, as leaders, we especially need to work on becoming more trusting. And, at some level, that’s not a surprise. But what’s a surprise is that how we’ve almost ignored that piece, and we focus so heavily on the trustworthy side and not near enough on the trusting side. And I want to bring that to the fore, that, as leaders, we got to become more trusting. We gotta be extending trust.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so, since we kind of say the word trust a lot, how about we do a little bit of defining of terms? What do you mean, precisely, by trust? And what are some ways that we extend trust or we show that we are trusting?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. So, by trust, I simply mean confidence. That’s the most simple definition I can give. In fact, Pete, in many languages, trust and confidence are the exact same word, like in Spanish, in French. I have personally presented now in some 55 countries on site, in person, and in about, I’m going to say, over at least half of those countries, where they have a different language other than English as their native tongue, in at least half of them, trust and confidence are the exact same word.

So, in English, we have two words for it. So, think it means confidence. Now, the opposite of trust – distrust – is suspicion. So, confidence versus suspicion. That’s the most simple definition. Now, where does that confidence come from? I suggest it comes from two sources. It comes from having both character and competence. Character and competence, both are vital. If you have one but lack the other, you will not sustain the trust.

This makes a person credible. It makes them trustworthy if they have both character and competence, and that is something that we earn. So, we earn trustworthiness through demonstrating character and competence but then we extend trust, we give trust by being trusting. And I think the opportunity here is to find the ways, as a leader, as a colleague, as a partner, that you can extend more trust to people.

And when you extend the trust, I’m not advocating that you just blindly trust anyone and everyone. That’s not smart in a low-trust world because not everyone can be trusted or there could be that the context matters. If there’s really high risks on the trust you’re extending, or the credibility of the person is either unknown, or is known to be low credibility, low trustworthiness, then you’re going to be very limited or careful or cautious on how much trust you extend.

But, generally speaking, we need to be more trusting, not less, and find the opportunities to extend that trust, always creating expectations, always creating the process for accountability, like my dad did with me on green and clean. He had expectations, “I want the yard to be green and clean,” and accountability, “Let’s, twice a week, you tell me how you’re doing against the standard of green and clean.”

So, here’s a great opportunity right now that companies have had over the last two years coming out of this pandemic. People have started working from home, working from anywhere, remote work, hybrid work, intentionally flexible work, and that’s continuing, and it’s going to continue in some format going forward.

Actually, a lot of organizations really do a great job at demonstrating to their people, as they’re working from home, “That we trust them,” that they trust their people. And it’s explicit, it’s clear that they come in, they say, “Look, we trust you. Here’s the expectation, here’s the accountability, but you need to know we trust you.” And people feel it and they receive it, and they’ve actually accelerated and grown the trust through this difficult circumstance by being deliberate and intentional about the trust that they’re extending to their people.

On the other hand, I’ve seen some other companies with the same setup, where the people working remotely did not feel trusted at all. They felt they’re now just being micromanaged from a distance because there was no choice or option in the matter, and some companies put in place surveillance software and the like, all in the name of productivity to make sure that people were actually doing their job, and it just conveyed and screamed distrust. And so, yeah, they were working remotely but they still did not feel trusted. And rather than increasing the trust, they actually decreased it.

So, what’s happened in the last couple of years has been a great opportunity to actually increase the trust and generate the reciprocity by demonstrating that you trust your people, or maybe have it go the other direction because you’re actually demonstrating through your behavior, your actions, that, “I don’t trust you and I’ve got to micromanage you.” It’s just done differently now because it’s remote.

And, going forward, as people come back, and we come up with a new way of working in this new world, what matters more than the precise mechanics of what it’s going to look like, some hybrid combination of remote and on site, intentionally flexible work, what matters more than the actual structure is our leaders are actually leading with a trust-and-inspire approach with their people where they actually trust them with whatever model they come up with.

Or, are they trying to still operate from a command-and-control model that leads out with distrust with whatever they come up with? That matters more than the actual structure. There are many right answers. What matters more is the paradigm, the mindset of trusting your people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into that contrast quite a lot shortly. Maybe, first, I want to dig in just a little bit, so in terms of trust is confidence, and someone is trustworthy if they have character and competence. And so, I’m interpreting that to mean character, they have virtue, they’re not going to lie to you or steal. They’re not only looking out for number one all the time.

And competence is like they’re good at the things that their job demands of them. And, thusly, when someone has that, I trust them and that I have the confidence that if I give them some bit of responsibility, they are going to have the smarts to do the job sufficiently, and the ethics to not, I don’t know, skim off the top or do something shady along the way in executing it.

Stephen Covey
Not cut corners.

Pete Mockaitis

Stephen Covey
Yeah, you got it exactly. It’s both halves. And too often, we’ve equated trust with just character, and I say, no, it’s equal. Equal parts, character and competence. And a big part of this show, How to be Awesome at Your Job, it’s all about trying to make sure that we can become really good at our job because we know what we need to do. And that’s building the capabilities around what’s needed to do, and the expectations so we know, as well as then delivering on that, performing and delivering.

And so, the confidence is both kind of capabilities and results that, “I’ve got the skills and the talents and the expertise and the knowledge and the insight to stay relevant in a changing world, and I have a track record of performance, of results, that gives people confidence that if you give me a job, I’m going to get it done. Look at my track record. But I’m always learning and getting better and improving, the things that you’re doing with this podcast of, How to be Awesome at Your Job, because I’m learning about the capabilities that are needed to succeed at a job.”

So, that confidence is half as vital because someone could be an honest person and very caring and selfless, but if they can’t deliver or they don’t come through, they don’t do what they say they’re going to do because they’re not capable of it, even though they’re honest, I’m not going to trust them. And the reverse is true. If someone could deliver, get the job done, but if they’re running people over in the process, or violating the values and the beliefs of the company, cutting corners, I’m not going to trust them either, so I’ve got to have both.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. And it’s interesting, at How to be Awesome at Your Job, we have quite the contrast, I think, in terms of getting a feel for, “What is awesome at your job and true excellence look like versus mediocre, ho-hum, like okay?” So, likewise, with character, I’m thinking that, could you paint a picture for what excellence in character looks like versus, yeah, mediocrity? Because I think most of us are not…we’re not sociopaths. We have some level of guilt and conscience. We’re going to obey applicable laws.

And, yet, even with that, like sometimes I still don’t trust folks because it’s sort of like, “Hmm, I don’t believe you care about me and/or I think, if given the opportunity, if there’s ever a tradeoff between a little bit more expediency and profit, and my needs, wants, wishes, you will choose your expediency and profit.” And so, I don’t know, how do you think about what is a picture of real excellence look like in character?

Stephen Covey
In the character?

Pete Mockaitis

Stephen Covey
Beautiful. Love it. And, by the way, you identified, beautifully, the two components of character – integrity and intent. And integrity is honesty, truthfulness. Like you say, that someone might say, “Well, I’m particular and I follow the rules and the laws,” but compliance alone is necessary but insufficient. Someone could be legal but not ethical.

But here’s the big opportunity to what you just identified, that the real test of integrity, of doing the right thing, is when there’s a cost or consequence in doing so. Until then, I haven’t fully been tested. What do I do then when there’s a cost or consequence in doing the right? Do I still do the right thing? Another test of integrity is when nobody is looking and may never look. Do I still do the right thing?

So, integrity is, yes, it’s honesty and truthfulness, but it’s also congruence, an authenticity, that we are who we say we are, do what we say that we value, we walk the talk, the say-do ratio is aligned. And then, also, it takes humility and courage to have integrity. Humility, that there are principles that govern, courage to do the right thing when there’s a cost or a consequence, or when no one is looking. And that’s a deeper drive towards excellence.

So, someone could comply, someone else could act on commitment to do the right thing and make judgment calls doing the right thing even when there’s a cost or a consequence, and maybe when there’s degrees of this, where someone could get away, and say, “I was legal,” but maybe the right thing goes above and beyond that. That’s a higher standard, higher expectation of excellence.

And just like how I put competence in the two halves, I put competence in the half of your capabilities, and your results, your track record of performance. I put the character in the two halves – your integrity and your intent. So, the second half of character is your intent, and that is your motive. Do you care? And you mentioned this. Do you care about the people that you’re serving? They know and feel that you care about them. Or, do you not care?

Caring matters in terms of how people feel, in terms of trusting the person. If someone doesn’t think that another person cares about them, they often will tend to withhold the trust, wondering, “Do they really have my best interest at heart?” That’s the motive, caring. The agenda is to seek mutual benefit, that’s win-win. Especially, partners working together, collaborating, in charge of different departments, they just feel like, “Do I feel like you’re truly seeking mutual benefit and trying to do the best for all of us? Or, is it just are you just being self-serving and only acting in your best interest alone, and not really looking at mine? You might not say that but that’s what I feel and experience.”

And if I feel that, that you’re self-serving, I tend to withhold the trust. Or, if you’re only acting in your best interest and not in a shared best interest, I tend to withhold the trust. So, that’s your intent, which is the motive of caring and the agenda of mutual benefit. So, there’s a standard of excellence there for both integrity and intent that you can go much higher than kind of the mere threshold level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Excellent. Thank you. Well, now, let’s talk about sort of the big idea behind the book Trust and Inspire. So, you say there’s trust and inspire, and then there’s command and control. How would you sort of expand upon the differentiation between the two?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. Well, here’s what the data shows, that most organizations today, in spite of all our progress and our management thinking, are still operating in some form of command-and-control style, about nine out of ten.

Pete Mockaitis

Stephen Covey
Yeah, the data is surprising. And, in some form, now here’s what’s happened though, Pete. They’ve become, it’s a far better version of it. It’s not necessarily the authoritarian command and control of the industrial age that was more accepted but it’s more of what I call an enlightened command and control. It’s more sophisticated. It’s more advanced. It’s a better version. A kinder, gentler version of it. We’ve brought mission into it. We brought emotional intelligence into it. We brought strengths into it.

Pete Mockaitis
Psychological safety.

Stephen Covey
Yeah, we brought a lot of good things into it but what we haven’t done fully yet is shift the paradigm, the mental map of how we view people, how we view leadership. We’re still trying to, basically, contain people as opposed to unleash them. We’re still trying to control people as opposed to release them. And we don’t see the greatness inside of people. We see it inside of some who we deem high potentials and not inside of others.

So, the idea that everyone has greatness inside, “I’m sure I’m not ready to buy that,” some people might say, or at least their style has not matched that belief. And so, we haven’t shifted the paradigm. We’ve incrementally improved within a limited applied paradigm, mindset. And that will take you so far, and it’s a better version of it.

So, we made a lot of progress but, in spite of all our progress, we still fall short of really shifting the paradigm to a trust-and-inspire approach, where I start with the fundamental belief that people have greatness inside of them. So, my job as a leader is to unleash their potential, not to contain or control them. I start with trust and inspire. I start with the belief that people are whole people. They have a body, heart, mind, spirit. They’re not just economic beings. They’re a whole person.

So, my job as a leader is to inspire, not merely motivate. You see, motivation is extrinsic, carrot-and-stick awards, external. Inspiration is intrinsic, internal. To inspire means to breathe life into someone, into something or someone, and so it’s inside of them. I light the fire within, and that’s a better thing. And when people are seen as whole people, yes, they have a body, they want to be paid; but they have a heart, they want to connect; and they have a mind, they want to contribute and develop, and use their talent.

And they have also a spirit, with the idea of meaning, of purpose, of mattering. That’s the whole person, and that can inspire people instead of just merely motivating them. So, these are some of the beliefs. Also, another belief is that there’s enough for everyone, an abundance mentality. So, my job as a leader is to elevate caring above competing because there’s many organizations in which they’re competing internally all the time with each other because they’re operating on the basis of scarce resources.

And while scarcity might be a sound economic principle, it’s a lousy leadership principle. Abundance mentality is a better way to lead, elevate, care than about competing. Leadership is stewardship. It’s a responsibility, not a right. So, my job as a leader is to put service above self-interest. And another belief is that enduring influence is created from the inside out. So, my job as a leader is to go first. Someone needs to go first. Leaders go first.

So, these are, collectively, a paradigm of a trust-and-inspire leader. They see people and leadership more completely than more of a fragmented narrow view of, partially accurate, but incomplete map of people in their ship. And until that paradigm shifts, we’re going to stay deep in command and control, a better version of it, an enlightened version of it, but we’ve got to shift the paradigm. And we’re so deep in command and control, we’re not even aware of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s actually exactly what I was curious about in terms of like the trust and inspire sounds awesome. It’s like, “Yeah, that’s where I’d like to work, and that’s what I’d imagine leaders would like to believe is the case in their organizations.” So, when you said the data reveal that about nine out of ten companies are still in command and control, not to get too deep into the weeds on the research process, but I got to believe, if you just asked, “Hey, are you more of a command-and-control or more of a trust-and-inspire organization?” they’re like, “Oh, I’m a trust-and-inspire organization.” People would, self-servingly, want to click that and be shifted there. So, how do you make that determination when you are doing the research on that matter?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. Well, again, we’ve come from different sources in different forms, and some of our own research in which we asked, “If you were to assess the predominant leadership style of the organization,” not what they profess but this is people assessing it, what they experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, gotcha.

Stephen Covey
So, it’s not the senior leadership. If you asked the senior leaders, I think it’ll almost be the other way around. Most of them would say exactly what you’re saying, Pete, “Of course, we’re trust and inspire.” But if you ask the people, “How do you describe the management style of leadership?” and you get far more into command and control.

Also, there’s a beautiful study by LRN, a consultancy that focuses heavily on ethics and things like that, a superb firm that looks at these archetypes of what they called blind obedience, informed acquiescence or self-governance, kind of three different archetypes. And, again, almost everyone is in some form of what would be, in my words now, command and control, either the blind obedience or the informed acquiescence, that they move a lot.

There’s a lot more now in informed acquiescence, so it’s a more transactional type of thing versus a blind obedience, but very few that are into self-governance, which is another capture away for this idea of trust and inspire.

And, again, you’ll see a lot of, again, there’s been progress, but we’re so immersed in a command-and-control world, even to this day, that it’s right in our language. You look at span of control, chain of command, rank and file, recruitment. These are all military terms, and command-and-control is a military term. It’s kind of coming from this mindset, and you see it in our systems and structures. Structures tend to be more hierarchical.

Now, there are some shifts again, of course, we’re seeing in traditional hierarchies and the like. You see it in systems of forced rankings, and your high potential is identifying different things, and performance appraisals and reviews. You see it in all kinds of paradigms of bosses and subordinates and all kinds of different things. So, it just shows up in a variety of ways.

I call it fish discover water last. We’re so immersed, we don’t even recognize it, and we see this command and control is so all around us, we’re often not even aware of it. But another thing is this, that we kind of know all this, that command and control doesn’t really work today as well as it maybe did in a different era, and I don’t think it worked that way that great before either. But to know and not to do is not to know.

And so, it’s one thing to say, “Yeah, we’ve got to lead with trust and inspire,” but it’s harder to say than to do it because people have a hard time letting go. They have a hard time truly empowering. They have a hard time truly extending trust, and abundantly extending trust because they’re worried that they’re going to be held accountable, “What if it doesn’t work? Or, what if I’ve been burned before? Or, what if I don’t know how to do this? What if I can’t let go? Or, what if this is who I am? I built my whole career being this kind of leader, and now you’re asking me to change because we’ve got a different mindset of the new generations coming up and the like?”

And so, it can be really a challenge for people. But one last thought is that old paradigms can live on almost indefinitely, like bloodletting, 3,000 years old. Egyptians were doing it, then Romans, and then it went through the Middle Ages, and then as late as in the 1600s, that’s when the people discovered the germ theory, another thing that said, “Bloodletting is bad map. The map is not the territory. Bloodletting is not it,” and yet it continued for another 250 years being the common practice, or at least a common practice, among many, even though it had been disproven 250 years earlier.

So, old paradigms can continue to lead on, and we’re seeing much of that. Command and control is like a native tongue, and trust and inspire is like an acquired tongue. And when the pressure is on, and if I’m hammering, I accidentally hit my thumb with the nail, I’m going to cuss out in my native tongue because that’s just second nature. So, all these factors are just really why we remain somewhat still a little bit trapped in a command-and-control style of leadership, and we need to shift the style.

That’s why I like to use the word style. This is a meta style. And trust and inspire, you said it, Pete, it sounds better. We all like that. We all want to be trust and inspire. It’s like me and my dad. He didn’t hover over and micromanaged me. He trusted me. He inspired me. And it’s aspirational, we all like that. And I’ll bet some of us have had a trust-and-inspire leader in our life, at least one, maybe many. But at least one whether it be a family member, or someone at work, or a mentor, a coach, who believed in us, had confidence in us, extended trust to us, maybe believed in us more than we believed in ourselves.

So, I ask our listeners, when you had someone like that, a trust-and-inspire leader in your life at some point somewhere, whether at work or at home, or in the community, what did that do to you? Did you need to be managed or did you self-govern? And how did you respond to that? Did you need to be motivated with a carrot stick or were you inspired? Did you rise to the occasion? Did you want to prove justified and give it back, and just feel gratitude, and you perform better? So, that’s the idea.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m curious, you’re right. It does sound awesome if you’re to have that kind of vibe, the trust and inspire, and it does seem, in some ways, almost too good to be true in terms of like a large organization can really work and operate that way without chaos somehow taking over. So, could you give us an inspiring example of a team or an organization that made the leap, they were running in a command-and-control kind of a way, but then they did some specific things such that they are now operating in a trust-and-inspire kind of a way, and it’s worked out okay?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, absolutely. There’s many. Here’s one of them. Microsoft under Satya Nadella. When Satya Nadella got in as CEO, Microsoft had been kind of fading. They’re still huge because they had so much market share but they no longer had the same great culture that people wanted to be a part of. They were starting to lose people quite a bit. They were not innovating and they kind of rested upon their laurels in the past. Not innovating.

A cartoonist in Seattle drew a cartoon of the Microsoft culture in which he depicted silos and pyramids with people from within pointing guns at each other. It was seen as this cutthroat culture that was internally competitive, and the way to get ahead was to take out your fellow Microsoft person there within the company.

I call this the two epic imperatives of our time that we have today. They were not, at the time, winning in the workplace. They did not have a culture that attracted, retained, engaged, and inspired the best people. They were losing too many. And they were also not winning in the marketplace through collaboration and innovation. They’re starting to fade.

In come Satya Nadella, did many things, but among those things, it really was a leadership style. His style was different in kind. He was a trust-and-inspire leader. He modeled, he trusted, and he inspired. Their words for this were model, coach, care, and those were the things they expected of their leaders, and, again, Nadella modeled it.

He modeled humility and courage. He modeled authenticity and vulnerability. He modeled empathy and performance. But, also, this, he adopted a growth mindset, the work of Carol Dweck, not just for him and for their management but for everyone, to see the greatness out of everyone, to have a growth mindset not just for yourself but for everyone.

Because of that growth mindset, they now said, “Let’s trust people. Let’s not manage them. Let’s coach and let’s extend trust.” And you always extend the trust with expectations and accountability so you don’t have that chaos we talked about, or you don’t lose control because you build it in to an agreement and through context and through culture as opposed through more rules or through micromanagement. You can still have control without being controlling.

And they trusted and then they inspired both by caring, which is a big focus for them, and connecting with people through caring at an interpersonal level, and connecting to people at a team level through belonging and inclusion. And that inspires people when they feel like you care about them and they have a sense of belonging. But, also, by connecting to people, by connecting people to purpose and to meaning and to contribution, making a difference, mattering. They did all these things.

Long story short, under him, now they’re really winning in the workplace. They’ve got a high-trust culture that inspires, they’re not perfect, but it’s a cooler place to work than it has been, and they’re winning in the marketplace. They’re collaborating and innovating. They’re a cloud powerhouse. They recreated themselves and they’re innovating again, and their stock price went from, I think when the Dow came in, it was 38, today, it’s about 300, and so dramatic turnaround. They modeled, they trusted, they inspired, led by Satya Nadella and his leadership style.

Here’s another one. Cheryl Bachelder, what she did at Popeyes. A complete turnaround of Popeyes. They’ve had four CEOs in seven years before she came in, they’re just spitting them out. She had advisors say, “Don’t take this job.” There was distrust completely between the franchisees and the home office, and they didn’t trust each other at all. It was contentious.

She comes in. Long story made short, she modeled, she trusted, she inspired even when some people said, “You can’t trust.” She said, “No, we’re going to trust,” and dramatic turnaround. She took their stock price from 11 to 79, doubled their market share from 14% to 27%. They began to innovate, they began to win in the workplace, and they built a high-trust relationship between the franchisees and the home office when it was fractious and contentious before in the old model, and now they also are collaborating and innovating. It was a trust-and-inspire approach to leadership, not a command-and-control. Involvement. Listening.

And Eric Yuan at Zoom is a trust-and-inspire leader but he was that way from the beginning. That was not a turnaround. That was one from the beginning with trust and inspire. So, examples are everywhere. You can become a trust-and-inspire leader in a command-and-control company, so you don’t have to wait for the CEO. You can do this. You can lead out with this.

But I’ll give you one distinction on this, that this is the one piece I wanted to add to it. Command and control, the idea’s that you manage people and things. Trust and inspire, you manage things and you lead people. See, we need great management. I’m not against management. We need management. We need great management. Management of things. And things include systems and processes and structures and technologies and inventories and financials. You manage things but you lead people.

The moment we start to manage people as if they were things, we’ll end up losing a lot of those people. They’ll go elsewhere because we’re trying to be efficient with people. You can be efficient with things but not with people. Be efficient with things, effective with people. Manage things. Lead people. The danger is we get really good at management and we’re starting to manage people as if they were things. That’s kind of the mindset of command and control, they treat it that way. Even the name managing people, the very wording, the language is a command-and-control mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, like people don’t think, “I want to be managed. Like, that sounds great.” I guess we want, even I who, I’m self-employed, at times I would like a great manager, but I guess what I really mean is a leader in terms of someone who really sees what I’m doing well and not so well, and giving me kind, honest, enriching feedback that pushes me to greatness. But, yeah, that doesn’t feel like management per se.

Stephen Covey
Yeah. I like to put it this way, Pete. People don’t want to be managed; they want to be led. They want to be trusted. They want to be inspired. So, again, you can call them your manager if that’s what they’re called but they manage things, lead people, and people respond to that. They still want their help. So, maybe the one piece on this that maybe for our listeners that they might think, “Well, this trust and inspire sounds good but I feel like I’m going to lose control, or it may not be as strong enough for our world and such.”

I want to distinguish and say this. Trust and inspire is not the opposite of command and control. The opposite of command and control is advocate and abandon. Command and control is kind of like excessively hands on, really hands on. Advocate and abandon is like completely hands off to where I’m not even directing, I’m not leading anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “Do what you want. I’m out of here.”

Stephen Covey
Yeah, “Do what you want.” Like, a holacracy or just no structure, no vision, no expectations, no accountability. That’s not what we want. That’s not going to work. Trust and inspire is a third alternative that includes trusting and inspiring people but also builds in the control into an agreement, into context, into the culture.

Like, at Netflix, they call it freedom and responsibility. They don’t have policies on most things – vacation policies, sick days, all these things. They trust their people. They call it freedom but it’s not a wild loose freedom. It’s freedom and responsibility. It’s a third alternative. They build the control in through context not through controls like most organizations have that say, “We’ve got to control people with systems and structures.” They do it through context, through agreements, through responsibility that goes along with the freedom, through a culture that does that. So, that’s the idea.

And so, trust and inspire is a third alternative. My dad, with me, on green and clean, he actually had built in accountability. He was still holding me accountable but I was holding myself accountable through the agreement we had created together. So, the point is you can be in charge and have control without being controlling. You can be strong without being forceful. You can be compelling without being compulsory.

A trust-and-inspire leader can be authoritative without being authoritarian. They can be decisive without being autocratic. So, the point is, this is strong. This is not weak, kind of like, “Yeah, maybe for a few things but you don’t know my industry. We’re a command-and-control industry with heavy regulation and compliance.” You can still be trust and inspire in these contexts because it’s not weak; it’s strong. It just does it through different means.

It involves people. It creates agreements. It creates contexts versus rules, regulations, policies, procedures, controls. And that’s kind of the big breakthrough. This is a third alternative that is very strong.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Stephen, if folks are like, “Yes, I want that,” and they’re either an individual contributor or they’ve got a small team, what do you recommend as some of the very first steps to getting some of that trust-and-inspire goodness flowing?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. I’d go back to start with your paradigm, how you see people, how you view leadership. Look at those fundamental beliefs. You see greatness inside of people? And if you do, then are you working to unleash that greatness not contain or control it? Most people feel like they have a lot more they can give to their organization than they’re allowed to give. They had a lot more creativity and talent and ability to influence things than they’re allowed to give, and, yet, people are under greater stress to do more with less, and there’s this gap there because we’ve not unleashed our people well enough.

So, start with that, the paradigm. See the potential, communicate the potential to people so they can come to see it in themselves. Develop the potential, grow people, develop capabilities, and this is a big part of what you’re doing with this podcast, is, “What do I need to work on? What do I need to do? What do I need to know? What skills do I need to develop?” Give those people those chances. Develop them and give them opportunities. And part of that includes trusting them so they have an opportunity to learn and even to make a mistake and to fall short like I did on green and clean.

So, you develop the potential and then you unleash it, you tie it to what you’re trying to accomplish and achieve so they can use what they have for the betterment of the mission, the purpose, the organization. And so, I call that see, communicate, develop, unleash the potential that’s inside of people, and you see the greatness. And so, your job, you’re like a gardener trying to cultivate the right conditions for the seed to flourish.

The power, the life is in the seed, it’s in the people. You’re trying to create the conditions for the seed to emerge, to be cultivated, versus a mechanic where it’s all mechanistic. No, it’s organic. You’re a gardener.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you.

Stephen Covey
That’d be the first thing. Start with the paradigm. Have a growth mindset not just for yourself but for everyone on your team.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now let’s hear about a couple of your favorite things. Can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Stephen Covey
This is kind of a mantra that’s in the form of a quote that I learned from my father, and it’s what I’ve adopted for myself, and that is simply this, “Seek to bless, not to impress.” It’s a whole approach of how to work with people and add value to others. So, I do this any time before I give a speech, Pete, as I go into an organization. I come back to, “What’s my motive here? Am I trying to impress people with who I am or am I trying to bless, to serve to make a difference, to add value?”

And if I find that I’m in my head and focused on, “I sure hope I can impress them and dazzle them with a great speech or be seen as really smart,” then I’m putting self-interest above service, and I’m putting my head above heart and not reaching people. But, instead, if my motive is one of caring, and my motive is one of serving, and my motive was one of blessing, not impressing, so I’m really focused on them and helping them succeed, not me looking good, then I find I actually do a better job.

It’s just a simple phrase that I constantly check with myself. And I had to course correct all the time because it’s natural to want to impress but a better way to impress is to focus on blessing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Well, hey, I think we feel blessed and impressed with this conversation, so one makes the other happen.

Stephen Covey
Oh, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Stephen Covey
Well, I’m biased, I love my father’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I’m in there as green and clean. And I liked how Jim Collins said it about that book, that what the browser did for…it became the user interface that made the internet accessible, because the internet had been around since 1969 or something like that but it was not accessible, it was not usable except for extreme scientist types, but the browser made it accessible.

He describes The 7 Habits, Jim Collins did, as the user interface for human effectiveness. It made it accessible. And it was that for me, and I think it’s that for many others. So, my dad brought together the ideas and languaged it and sequenced it to make it accessible, practical, tangible. And so, that’s, I think, a big contribution. That’s why it’s maybe my favorite book.

I like my own, too, but I’ll let you talk about Trust and Inspire not me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. And is there a particular nugget that you have coined or shared with audiences or your books that gets lots of Kindle book highlights or re-tweets; it’s the Stephen M. R. Covey quote that you’re extra famous for?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, there’s a few. One is that “The first job of a leader is to inspire trust. And the second job is to extend trust.” That’s what leadership is – inspiring trust, extending trust. Another one is, “Treat people according to their potential rather than their behavior.” So, you’re aware of their behavior and informed by it but if you treat them according to their potential, they tend to live up to it far better.

And, finally, one last one, that while we tend to judge others on their behavior, we tend to judge ourselves on our intent. What if we could know another’s intent? I think we’d see them and judge them differently. So, those are a few quotes or expressions that people repeat.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Stephen Covey
You can go to TrustandInspire.com. We’ve got a website for this book, Trust and Inspire. You can get the book. It’s available on bookstores everywhere and, obviously, online through Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com. And then you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn, I’m @StephenMRCovey. I’d love for you to follow me and dive deeper into what I’m calling the new way to lead in a new world.

A new world of work requires a new way to lead – trust and inspire. It’s aspirational, it’s what we want. You said it, I agree. It’s what we want when we’ve experienced it. It’s hard to not feel gratitude toward that and want that. So, my challenge for our listener, I’ll go full circle on this, is I ask the listener to think about maybe someone in your life who was a trust-and-inspire leader for you and what that did to you. So, I’m going to do a 180 on this and say for whom, listener, could you become a trust-and-inspire person? Who could you become that person that would look at you and say, “Pete trusted and inspired me, and here’s what it did to me”?

So, we’ve maybe had someone that’s done it for us. What if we could do it for another? And if you can do it for one, you can do it for many. This is a better way to lead in a new world of work. I think trust and inspire is part of the solution to the future of work. It’s not enough to just deal with the structure and the methodology. It’s the mindset. It’s the style of leadership. And don’t let your style get in the way of your intent.

I think most people’s intent is trust and inspire. I think most of our style, much of our style still falls in command and control. Our style is getting in the way of our intent. And we can change that, we can re-script ourselves, we can learn the skills to lead in a way where we’re very trusting, while also building in control into the trust, into the agreement that we’re building. It’s having control, not being controlling, and that’s possible. We can get good at this.

So, I hope our listeners will find that, the tools, the resources, the book Trust and Inspire to be helpful. I love the subtitle because the subtitle tells it all, which is, “How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others.” This is a book about people and about leadership. Whatever your role, you can apply it as a parent because you want to see the greatness in your children; or as an aunt, or uncle, or grandparent, or godparent. You could apply it as a friend in the community. It’s about unleashing the greatness inside of others. That’s what great leaders do. Trust and inspire.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stephen, this has been such a treat. Thank you for all you do and for your trust and inspiration. And keep on rocking.

Stephen Covey
Well, thank you, Pete. I feel the same about you. You’re a trust-and-inspire podcaster that’s really trying to focus on helping your listeners succeed, become truly awesome at their job because they know what to do, and you’re helping them succeed. So, commend you and commend what you’re doing here. Wish you every success and also all of our listeners.

One Comment

  • Ed Nottingham, PhD, PCC says:

    Pete, as always I appreciate you and your great work! I love your podcasts, have learned so much from them, and always share on our internal Fortune 100 SharePoint site. This interview with Stephen M.R. Covey was particularly informative and valuable. I downloaded the transcript (deeply appreciate this option) and went back, read it, and highlighted those components that I found most valuable. Thanks you for everything!

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