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Leadership Requirement #3 – Authenticity/Trust

Leadership Requirement #3 – Authenticity/Trust
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Part III— Authenticity/Trust —of our series on the four essential attributes found in leaders of sustainably successful organizations.

The final two Guiding Principles vital for leaders are Authenticity/Trust and Love/Caring.

Authenticity/Trust is about consistently and responsibly doing the right thing. Love/Caring is about demonstrating that we value the health and welfare of each other and the organization. Requiring these two in all leaders and the organization’s shared Guiding Principles is not an option—human nature demands it. This week, we dive into Authenticity/Trust, and in our next post, we will examine Love/Caring.


The 9/11 attacks on the U.S. provided us with an example of corporate leadership being vulnerable, open, and trusting to survive. After the 9/11 attacks, airlines saw a steep drop in business as people stopped flying. Like their competitors, management at Southwest Airlines, led by Herb Kelleher, faced tough questions: “How do we reduce our costs by 40% to stay in business? People are not flying; what are our options?” Southwest’s management asked employees to craft the answer. Team member solutions addressed the budget needs without laying off employees. Not only did they survive, but when people began to fly again, the trust in their team enabled Southwest to thrive. Southwest got back to profitability faster than any other airline. Research by Kim Cameron, David Whetten, Jody Hoffer Gittell, and others illustrated the direct correlation between team ownership in problem-solving and recovery.

Southwest remains in business today, while several competitors from 2001 who chose top-down authoritarian decision-making are out of business or were absorbed by other airlines. Kelleher understood that trusting in and building trust with your people is critical for sustainable success.

When We Lose Trust

After twenty-one years at Michigan Athletics, where trust was a fundamental requirement to being involved in any part of the Athletic Department, I was two years into being co-owner of a start-up company; we manufactured leather for suppliers to the automotive industry. It was an ugly time in the automotive industry when purchasing agents for manufacturers were rewarded for painful concessions from suppliers, and they seemed to enjoy beating us up in pricing negotiations. I had a confrontation with one of the purchasing agents who told me, “Your entire shipment of leather, every square foot, has defects.” They had already received a 15% discount to begin using our product when, at the end of our long conversation, he said, “OK, give us another 10% discount, and we will use it.”

If “every square foot is defective,” how could he use it? I knew I was in the wrong business; I had no interest in partnering with people willing to sell their integrity for personal gain. I left to start the best job I have ever had, coaching leaders to become peak performers for the long game.


Early in one of our client engagements at FS/A, the CEO was replaced with the VP of sales. This client was a manufacturing company, and the difference between sales and the technical aspects of manufacturing could not have been more significant. The outgoing CEO was an authoritarian who demanded that his reports do precisely what he wanted done. The new CEO had the humility to acknowledge his lack of technical knowledge and experience, and he pulled the leadership team together to ask, “What do we need to do?”

The transformation of the organization was dramatic. Not only did the organization’s leaders feel respected for developing better solutions, but this change led to the front-line operators creating better solutions for their problems.

A leader, or for that matter, any person who is authentic and vulnerable, earns trust and builds teams that will follow them anywhere. None of us has all the answers, and those who pretend they do are only fooling themselves. Their team knows better. We all desire to be valued and to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. Authentic leaders enable team members to contribute to the team’s success.

When leaders genuinely care deeply about the team’s success and are willing to be vulnerable, they acknowledge that they do not possess all the answers needed for sustainable success. In response, team members feel needed and responsible to ensure the organization’s sustainable success.

#Leadership #Curiosity #ServantMindset #Authenticity #Trust #Love #ShiftFromMeToTeam #SustainableSuccess

November 16, 2023