Episode 288

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Trust. It’s always been at the core of running and leading your agency. If our teams don’t trust us, they don’t follow us. If our prospects don’t trust us, they don’t hire us. And if our clients lose trust in us, we lose them. The challenge is – how do you know if you’re trusted? You can’t just point blank ask. If an employee doesn’t trust you, they sure as heck aren’t going to say so. And even if you are trusted – how do you level up to an even deeper degree of trust with your team, clients, and prospects?

David Horsager has been studying trust for 20+ years. An author and international researcher, he has dedicated his professional life to helping people see and understand how building trust leads to business success.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, David and I discuss ways we can level up our trust. We talk about options for assessing and proving how much we’re trusted, and how to improve on any weak spots so that we can become more trusted leaders within our organizations and with our clients.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Leadership trust

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The eight pillars for assessing leadership trust
  • Ways the pandemic helped humanize some CEOs
  • What lack of trust costs you as a leader
  • How to build a better relationship with an employee where trust is lacking
  • How to handle topics that you can’t discuss in a way that builds leadership trust
  • Ways to kickstart some trust in an organization
  • The importance of the word “how?”
“Trust is bigger and different than you might initially think but it is always the leading indicator.” @DavidHorsager Click To Tweet “We trust those who do what is right over what is easy.” @DavidHorsager Click To Tweet “If you want to be trusted as a marketing leader, you’ve got to stay fresh and relevant and capable.” @DavidHorsager Click To Tweet “The #1 reason people wanted to work for an organization over the last year -- above all else -- was a trust in the leadership.” @DavidHorsager Click To Tweet “92% of people would trust their leaders more if they were more transparent about their mistakes.” @DavidHorsager Click To Tweet “Trust is the single greatest competitive advantage you can have.” @DavidHorsager Click To Tweet “It is the little things done consistently that make the biggest difference, not the big things.” @DavidHorsager Click To Tweet

Free trust assessment: https://www.trustedleaderbook.com/drew

Ways to contact David Horsager:

Additional Resources:

David Horsager:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute Community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to midsize agencies survive, and thrive, in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience, as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for coming back, if you’re a regular listen, and welcome if this is one of your first episodes. Today is going to be a really interesting conversation around trust. And I will tell you a little bit more about the topic and our guest in a minute, but first I want to remind you of a couple things.

Number one, we have several of our AE Bootcamps are coming up this summer, so our Advanced AE Bootcamp is in August and our regular AE Bootcamp … So Advanced AE Bootcamp is for people who’ve been in the business and working in an account service capacity, I would say, for five years or more. And the regular AE Bootcamp would be for people who are newer in the field, so a lot of junior AEs, account coordinators, project managers, whatever you may call them, but folks who’ve been doing it for four or five years, or less. So the Advanced one is in August, the regular one is in September, and you can learn more about them at the AMI website if you go to AgencyManagementInstitute.com and then under the navigation How We Help you’ll see the workshop listed, and you can read more about them. They’re both going to be done live in Chicago, so check those out.

Also want to remind you that Stephen Woessner and I wrote a book about a year ago, a year and a half ago I guess, called Sell with Authority. And we had planned, of course, a big book launch and took the wind out of those sales. But I do want to remind you the book is out there and you can buy it on Amazon; you can buy it off of the website, at the AMI website; but you also can get it through Audible. So we had planned on recording the Audible version in the spring of 2020 and, of course, we weren’t able to get into a studio to do that but now the Audible version is out there. And so if you are a listener of books rather than a reader of books check that out. And you’re not going to hurt my feelings at all if you move us up to two times, or whatever your normal listening speed is, you can play with our voices.

So I’m hearing from a lot of people that the book is inspiring them to really get more intentional about their biz dev efforts. And, I’ll tell you, if there was ever a time when it was important to do that it is now. The agencies that read the book or attended the workshop that we teach every January, the agencies that did that prior to COVID hitting and really had started to put some of these things into play, they came out of COVID very quickly. They, like everybody, had a tough March and April but they came out of it smelling like a rose because they were intentional and consistent with their biz dev efforts. And so I’d highly recommend you check out the book. If you have read the book, and you found it valuable, one thing that would make my heart very warm and fuzzy is if you would go over to Amazon and leave us a review. As you know that has a lot of influence about whether other people see the book or are shown the book as an option, so would greatly appreciate you doing that.

All right, let me tell you a little bit about our guest today. One of the challenges, I think, that many agency owners have faced over the last year is the challenge of staying connected with the team, of being as transparent and honest as you could be in a time when you didn’t know the answers. No one knew how long we were going to be working from home, no one knew how long the clients were going to be dormant. There was so much we didn’t know and it’s difficult to create an atmosphere of trust when we don’t have a lot of answers.

And so we also know though that one of the things that many agency owners have told me is that over the last year they’ve really been able to build a different level of trust with their team because they’re communicating in different ways. And a lot of agency owners are telling me that they spent a lot of time in the last year just checking in on their team, how are they doing? How is their family doing? How are they coping? And I think that built a level of trust that maybe wasn’t in place prior to that.

So you and I both know how important trust is in any relationship, certainly with our employees, with our clients. And we certainly deal with trust all the time, in the marketing sense of helping our clients find the right audience and create that know, like, trust model that gets someone to try their product or service. So I wanted to talk about trust, particularly as it relates to us as leaders and how do we become a more trusted leader? And so there’s a gentleman who literally has been studying trust for 20 some years, it was the research for his master’s program and he has spent his life, his professional life, helping people develop and build trust, and helping them see how that translates to business success. And so I decided to invite him on the show. So David Horsager is our guest today. He just released a book called the Trusted Leader and he’s also written another book, all of this based on research that he does all over the world.

And so what I want to talk to him today about is how can we level up our trust? First of all, how do we know if we’re trusted or not? I think we all would probably say, “Well of course I’m trusted,” but how would we prove that if we had to prove it? And how would we assess that so we can figure out … Maybe there are some weak spots in where we are trusted, or how we’re trusted, that we could improve upon. So I want to dig into all of that with David and figure out how we can become even greater, even more influential trusted leaders inside our organization and with clients. All right? So let’s jump into that conversation.

David, welcome to the podcast.

David Horsager:

Hey, thanks so much Drew, great to be here.

Drew McLellan:

So trust is one of those words, I think, that everybody thinks they know what it means, everyone thinks they’re easy to trust, all of that. Before we get into the topic, which I am sure you’re going to help us understand is not quite so simple, tell us how you came to have this knowledge, how you came to write the book, all of that.

David Horsager:

I started my first business 21 years ago, 1999. I have to tell my kids back in the 1900s. I had moved back from Arkansas, actually directing an organization, to Minnesota. And nothing, $1.40 to my name, lived in an 86 year old’s basement with black mold, no windows, bathroom or kitchen. And I was being asked, because of this leadership development work that I had … This curriculum I had built to speak at some things, whatever. And I started to just see it differently at first, just not my research or anything but just a, “That’s not a leadership issue, that’s a trust issue. That’s not a sales issue, that’s a trust issue. That’s not a marketing issue, it’s a trust issue.” And that was just intuitive.

That, though, led to my grad work that became interesting at the time. I was one of the first to show how trust effects the bottom line more than anything else; how it really effects attrition, retention, sales; how it is the actual root cause, trust was always the root cause. And then we started using it in organizations from there and it worked. We saw tripling of sales. And then I started using it in my own life and it changed the way I parent. It really, probably the passion grew, because it changed me. It made me better. So that was the story.

Now out of the institute we have created one of the biggest studies on trust and leadership, that it’s a global study that comes out in North America. And that research, ongoing research, including my grad work way back that’s been re-validated by outside universities, that keeps fueling the passion because we get to see the new research and we get to see how it works, in everything from corruption issues in East Africa, to pro sports teams, to business.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So the new book is out now, right?

David Horsager:

Trusted Leader just came out and really the purpose of that book … The Trust Edge 300 and some page book, my core work up until that point. That was a decade ago. Trusted Leader really came out because we saw people don’t see the root issue for what it really is and it’s always a trust issue or they think they have trust, or they don’t, and there’s nothing they can do about it and they absolutely can. And so through this parable this leader basically shifts thinking around trust and is able to come out of a tailspin with his company, meets a lady named Sunny that really is the guide. And that story, just a short beginning, it shifts thinking around this old word we think we know everything about. And then the last half of the book is, “How can I apply this? That eight pillar framework, how can I increase trust in my agency, my business, my family?”

Drew McLellan:

You said an interesting thing, which is that we all think we’re trusted whether we are or not. How do we know if we’re trusted?

David Horsager:

Well you could probably ask people but this is where all my measurement tools came from. We created six tools for measuring trust, showing gaps, and then solving for those gaps. So everything from an Enterprise Trust Index to everything, to a simple self-assessment, which we’re giving your audience access to. If they would like to just assess themselves then your show notes will show where to get that, if you’d like. I think it’s TrustedLeaderBook.com/Drew. But basically we measure trust against these, I call them pillars today, but this eight pillar framework, which without ego I believe you can solve every leadership and organizational issue against. It’s these eight that we’re measuring against and solving against, whether we’re an individual, a brand, or an organization.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So walk us through the eight pillars and how we would use them to assess our own trustworthiness in our organization.

David Horsager:

Sure. I want to say one other thing that you mentioned, first, because I think it might be interesting and that is we kind of think we know it all. I did even in the grad work. I thought, “Oh I know what trust is, whatever.” It’s different than you think, than some, not you necessarily but than I thought at least, in that we think today, “Oh transparency is trusted. Just be more transparent, right? Just transparency” … Well that’s not true. Some of your kids are so transparent on social media I don’t trust them for a second because confidentiality is also trusted, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

David Horsager:

Or we can think, “Trust, it takes forever to build trust. It takes a long time to build trust.” Well on 9/11, in the US, complete strangers trusted each other in a moment, if they were running the same direction. So it’s just I want people to start by thinking it’s bigger and different than you might at first think, and yet it is always the leading indicator, it is always … When I say leading versus lagging you think, “We got a leadership,” you never do, it’s always a trust issue. The only reason you follow a leader or not is trust; it’s not a sales issue, the only reason you buy or not is trust; it’s not a marketing issue, the only way to amplify a marketing message is increased trust. The diversity issues of our day, biggest Harvard study shows diversity on its own pits people against each other, unless you increase trust and that’s how we get the benefits of diversity.

So first we do have to shift thinking around trust and see it’s different, and bigger, than we think. It is the root cause. When we get that then we can start to solve it through these eight.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

David Horsager:

So here we go.

Drew McLellan:

All right.

David Horsager:

Okay, here we go. I can talk about each of these for a full day but I’m going to give, just for context, a brief.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

David Horsager:

So eight pillar framework, they are denoted or connoted by Cs. They are research funnels, so it’s not a motivational eight Cs message but for clarity they’re basically the eight Cs or the eight pillars of trust.

Number one is clarity. People trust the clear and they mistrust or distrust the ambiguous, or the overly complex. So whenever you over complexify something beyond what is needed you lose clarity, which loses trust. Number two is compassion, people trust those that care beyond themselves. If I don’t feel like you care about me at all, whether it’s your brand, your marketing message, or you as a leader, I don’t want to be accountable to you, I don’t want to buy from you, and so forth. Number three is character, we trust those that do what is right over what is easy. And, of course, we knew character would be important, honesty would be important, but it’s not everything because the fourth pillar is competency. I trust those that are fresh, and relevant, and capable. I might trust Drew to take my kids to the ballgame because of his character and compassion, doesn’t mean I’ll trust Drew to give me a root canal because of competency, so if you’re-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I would not trust Drew to do that.

David Horsager:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, no. I will take your kids to a ballgame though.

David Horsager:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

David Horsager:

And listeners need to know, if you’re still selling the way you were 20 years ago I don’t trust you. If you’re leading the same way you were 10 years ago I don’t trust you. If you’re teaching the way you were five years ago I don’t trust you. If you’re doing marketing the same way you were three years ago I don’t trust you. So if you want to be trusted as a marketing agency, or a leader, or sales person, you’ve got to stay fresh, and relevant, and capable. And this is probably partly why people are listening to Drew.

But the next pillar is commitment, we trust those that stay committed even in the face of adversity. You think of anybody that’s left a legacy in history or your life, your first grade teacher, your mom, your dad, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Jesus, or Joan of Arc, and you’re thinking of somebody that’s stayed committed to a cause or to something beyond themselves and they’re trusted for it. So we have to feel a commitment.

The next pillar is connection, the ability to connect and collaborate with others. Each of these pillars has counterforces that we look for in organizations. So if I see siloing I know I’ve got a counterforce to this connection pillar, but in marketing you don’t say, “Am I connecting with the audience?” There’s a whole lot we could talk about here but the seventh pillar is contribution, that is … The number one word that came out of that research funnel was results. We trust those that contribute results. You can have compassion, you can have character, but if you don’t contribute the results I expect or ask for I’m not going to trust you, right? So compassionate surgeon, kind surgeon, go in for amputation, cuts off the wrong leg, we got a problem because I didn’t get the results I wanted.

Final pillar, and this is especially relevant to marketing agencies, the final pillar is consistency. We trust sameness, for good or bad. If you’re late all the time I will in fact trust you to be late, right? So consistency. The only way to build a reputation as an agency is sameness. The only way to build a brand, or as you help others build a brand, is sameness in some ways, sameness in feel, touch.

So that’s the eight pillars. Just to note we use this … They have to be contextualized for our work around the world maybe but they’re proven to work to solve the real issue around the world. As example people think they have an engagement issue, never do, the only way to increase engagement is increase trust. Net promoter score issue, the only way to increase referrals is increase trust. Or communication, “David you like C words, what about communication?” Ladies and gentlemen it is never a communication issue. Clear communication is trusted, unclear isn’t. Compassion is, hateful isn’t, and so forth.

Drew McLellan:

Let’s look at those eight pillars from a point-of-view of, “I own an advertising agency and I want my employees to trust me. I want to be a trusted leader.” So how do those show up internally in an organization, if what I’m trying to … Right now we’re recording this in early March of 2021, for anybody who’s not listening in realtime. And some of my agencies are still working from home. They haven’t seen their people, other than on a Zoom screen, for a year. Their culture is starting to disintegrate because they are not physically together in the same place. So a lot of the ways I think we build trust, in that in person interaction, has been lost for the last year.

So I think a lot of agency owners are asking themselves, “How do I make sure that my people trust me, I’m a trusted leader, because people want to stay at an organization with a trusted leader. It’s important for me to retain my good staff. It’s important for me … I’m asking them to do knew things, tackle new challenges, deal with new clients. So I’m asking them to follow me into battle,” which, again, I assume trust plays a part in. So how do those eight pillars show up when I own the joint?

David Horsager:

Well there’s a host of ways but let me just affirm one thing you said already Drew too and that is … This goes back to the data from last year’s study. Our study every year, if you want to see it for free, is the Trust Outlook, so TrustOutlook.com will give it all … Actually we give our research away for free, generally. But the number one reason people want to work for an organization last year, on the US side of the study, number one reason, ahead of being paid more, ahead of a more fun work environment with a ping pong table, ahead of more autonomy, number one reason? They want to trust their leadership more than anything else. So you hit it on the head there.

There’s a whole lot of things you can do. It’s worth also pausing though and thinking about the good of the pandemic. I mean, one thing that happened was trust went up for some CEOs that were humanized. Where all of a sudden instead of being up in the tower they’re seeing the kid run behind them in the undies and the cat jump on the computer screen, and all of a sudden introverts voices are being heard much more than they ever were because they’re willing to share through Zoom rooms compared to when they’re in extrovert-only boardrooms. So there are some good things, but you’re right. So I’ll give you a couple ideas.

One idea, for leaders, born in the research last year. 92% of people would trust their senior leader more if they were more transparent about their mistakes. So it’s not transparent, it’s transparent about their mistakes. So these days I get to sometimes sit next to presidents of countries and presidents of companies, and you see a whole lot of this scared together, they’re going to be-

Drew McLellan:

Posturing, yeah.

David Horsager:

Yeah, imposter syndrome. Exactly, thank you. Imposter syndrome, where they’re scared to death they’re going to be found out and they’re trying to hold it together, and this is … Especially in agencies we like to look good, right? We like to look perfect, everything’s good, everything’s perfect. When, in fact, people would go to bat for them more, they would surround them more, they would go into battle with them more if they were more transparent about their mistakes. We tend to connect not on what we’re great at, “I was an all-state football player, I was a homecoming king, I was” … You don’t care. But we connect on our mistakes, where we’ve made challenges.

I can just jump into a quick story here maybe. So my daughter, oldest daughter, now she’s college but when she was, I don’t know, 13 or something I remember the first time I saw this data. And she didn’t see when I was starting our first company and we had nothing, and she didn’t see some of these things, right?

And I still remember this, we’re out for a walk and she looked up at me, and she said, “Dad you wouldn’t understand.” I don’t know if we were talking about boys or grades but, “You wouldn’t understand, you’re perfect.” And I thought, “Oh no, I’ve got a problem.” And that’s okay for a three year old to say that but you know, and I know, that’s a huge problem if you’re 13 and I started … She’s seeing me now jump on the plane with this person, or get picked up in that Sedan, and everybody else knows all the things I’m doing wrong. She just had this limited view. So I intentionally started sharing with her, when we would go for our walk every week, some place I blew it, some mistake I made. What happened to our relationship? It just changed forever, that’s all.

And so that little shift of starting to share, “Hey here’s where I’m not” … It seems like everybody else can see everything I’m doing wrong. As you know if you want to get critiqued for a living write a book or lead anything, right? Or do a podcast, I’m sure. But basically that’s one idea and we could … There’s a whole lot of things you can do as a leader. Maybe one other, off the top of my head really quick, is if you’re leading in change right now, first of all, you have a huge opportunity to build trust in crisis. It’s faster than any other time. Building trust is not the fastest in first interaction like many believe. George W. Bush was the most trusted president the week after 9/11, how he dealt with the crisis. You’ve got people mad at you; you’ve got people throwing chairs in boardrooms, or frustrated, or upset with something about your work; how you respond in crisis you have a massive opportunity to build trust faster than any other time.

But with your team, which you’ve just asked about, the time for the why is in change, and transition, and crisis. You don’t lose trust in change as much as people think, you lose trust when you don’t communicate the why for pivots. People understand change but if you don’t communicate the why, over communicate the why, for change, for pivots, for why you’re doing things differently, that’s a big quick way to lose trust.

Drew McLellan:

But that also gets back to your clarity thing, right? So when a leader just says, “We’re making a change,” but doesn’t help the team understand why we’re making that change-

David Horsager:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

… then everyone starts to make up their own stories, right?

David Horsager:

Absolutely. And I’ve seen it happen.

Drew McLellan:

Sure, me too.

David Horsager:

We have a massive company in Minnesota that did not communicate the why in the midst of massive layoffs and they lost trust for a decade.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. One of the things I know you talk about is the expense of lack of trust, so I want to dig into that, but first let’s take a quick break, and then we’ll come back, and talk about that.

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All right, I am back with David and we’re talking about the importance of trust inside our organization. Based on the fact that we are marketers for a living I think we all know the power of trust and the importance of trust on behalf of our clients, on behalf of creating that know, like, trust model that leads someone to buy our clients product, but today we’re focusing a little more in on our own organizations and the importance of having trust inside those organizations. So before the break I had said that David has a belief about the expense of the lack of trust and I wanted to dig into that a little bit. So David can you talk to us a little bit about what it costs us, as business owners, when we don’t have trust inside our own organizations?

David Horsager:

Absolutely. I often say trust is not a soft skill, in fact a lack of trust is the biggest cost you have, the biggest expense you have. Everything of value is built on trust. What do I mean? Well you could go see all of my research and all that but let’s be simple here, let’s just take anything. What’s a lack of trust cost? So let’s take the lock business. The only reason I put a lock on anything is because I don’t trust you, right? So that lack of trust, what’s the cost? Well I got to buy the lock, that’s money. The biggest cost though is time. Now I’ve got to open it. Now I have to open this and there’s a huge cost of time, and money, every time. Write a text to someone you trust, how long does that take? It’s done. Now, try to write a text to someone you don’t trust, how long does that take? “How they going to take this? How they going to take that? How they going to take this?”

Where I grew up there was Mr. Olson’s veggie stand and he ran his little veggie stand on trust, where there was money right out there in a bucket. This is out in the middle of nowhere Minnesota, the poorest county in Minnesota with eight miles from a town of 500 people, so it’s out there in the middle of nowhere. But he was known for his veggie stand, nobody manned the stand. He had the money right out there, and the veggies there, and you just make your own change and pay what you owe. What’s the efficiency, where you can have trust? Well he doesn’t have to employ anybody to be there, he saves money, and he doesn’t … He saves time, people can just grab and go, grab and go, grab and go, grab and go. Plus he created loyal customers through this little trust stand or some would say honor system.

So we can go into the research but here’s what the research basically would say and that is every time trust increased … And when I started looking at this in my grad work I was just looking at what’s unique to the most successful leaders, brands, organizations, global governments? It kept coming back to trust and then I found the impact. And so whenever we would increase trust then attrition lowered. It was the lever that effected everything more than anything else. Then retention increased, then time got shorter. Anybody you trust you can just say it, boom it’s done. If you don’t trust them, “How we going to do this? How we going to do that?” Take the US loss of trust in our government, an average bill that went through Congress used to be two and a half pages, now it’s over 1,000 pages because we don’t trust each other, so you’ve got to say this, you’ve got to say that. Can’t go on intent anymore, right? And the cost is enormous. People don’t even know what’s in bills today.

Trying to take the complex and make it simple here, and it’s just that attrition goes down, speed goes up. If you want to speed up agile you have to deal a trust, you want to amplify a marketing message you have to deal with trust, you want to increase your leadership reach you have to deal with trust. Sales, it’s not that I like … People say we buy from people we like. I’ve got friends I like a lot, I wouldn’t go into business with them in a million years. I buy from people I trust. It’s always something … Or it might not be the people I trust, it’s the product I … I might even buy from someone I don’t like that much but I trust that product, so there’s always a trust component.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Like is the first step but it’s know, like, trust, right?

David Horsager:

Exactly. Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

David Horsager:

Yep. And if you have trust in the way we talk about it you’ll almost always be liked.

Drew McLellan:

I’m curious, I want to flip it around, what if I have an employee that I don’t trust? How do I increase trust … How do I forge a different kind of relationship with that employee that I’m not so sure is in it for the benefit of the agency or I’m not quite sure they’re, anything from being honest about their time sheets, to taking care of clients that I want them to, to responding to emails as quick as they should? How do I build a better trusted relationship with an employee who I don’t have that trust with?

David Horsager:

So first of all let me say this, because we have to take something off our backs, and that is just because I