Leading with Trust

Be Like Mike – Duke’s Coach Krzyzewski’s Most Important Leadership Trait

“In leadership, there are no words more important than trust.
In any organization, trust must be developed among every member of the team if success is going to be achieved.”
Leading With The Heart ~ Mike Krzyzewski

This past Tuesday Mike Krzyzewski became the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history when Duke defeated Michigan State 74-69. This was Coach K’s 903rd victory in a 35 year career that has included four national titles, 11 Final Four appearances, and just four losing seasons.

In a post-game interview with ESPN’s Rece Davis, Coach K was asked the following question: “What’s the single most important characteristic for a coach to have to achieve the things you’ve achieved?”

Mike Krzyzewski’s answer is simple, yet profound, and is one that leaders everywhere should take to heart if they want to maximize their leadership influence. Here’s what he said:

“I think you have to be trustworthy. You have to take the time to develop a relationship that’s so strong with each individual player, and hopefully with the team, that they will trust you. They let you in, and if they let you in, you can teach. If they don’t let you in, you’re never going to get there.”

When Coach K references his players “letting him in,” he points to the heart. It’s not just a casual, conversational gesture. He’s making a specific point about tapping into his players’ heart – the emotional core of who they are as a person. Coach K intentionally focuses on developing a trusting relationship with each of his players because he knows without that absolute level of trust, he won’t be able to teach them how to transform their potential into performance.

The same principle applies to leaders in any organization. In order to achieve success, you have to take the time to establish meaningful, trust-based relationships with your team members. If your people don’t trust you, they won’t be receptive to your coaching on ways they can improve their performance. If your team can’t trust that you’ll have their back when they fail, they won’t take the necessary risks needed to move your business forward.

Conversely, trust enables your team to confront the brutal facts of their performance and find ways to get better. Trust allows individuals to set aside their personal ego for the betterment of the team and commit wholeheartedly to pursuing a common goal. Trust is what allows leaders to tap into the hearts and souls of their team members and achieve greater levels of success together than they could ever reach individually.

Beyond the career milestones, and he’s had plenty, leading with trust is Mike Krzyzewski’s most enduring legacy. In that regard, we should all try to be like Mike.

We vs. Me – Lessons from USA Women’s World Cup Soccer

The USA Women’s World Cup soccer team had an amazing and entertaining run through the 2011 FIFA World Cup tournament. Despite their heartbreaking loss today to Japan, their tournament run was filled with dominating performances, miraculous comebacks, and several nail-biting contests.

I found that one of the most interesting aspects of their journey was the intense focus on teamwork versus reliance on a single individual to carry the team. This team clearly understood the value of “we” versus “me.” This stands in stark contrast to the narcissistic attitude that seems to prevail in not just sports, but in much of our culture today. Bill Taylor recently wrote an excellent article, Great People Are Overrated, that discusses our faulty perception that a superstar performer will help an organization be more successful than having a whole team of talented contributors.

Practicing a “we” mentality builds trust and commitment with those you lead. When team members know that their leader cares about them as individuals, will get in the trenches to co-labor with them, and help secure the resources the team needs to succeed, they will devote themselves to following the leaders’ vision and accomplishing the goals set for the team.

Here are a few tips for building trust and commitment with your team that will lead to the fostering of a “we” versus “me” mentality:

  • Communicate your leadership point of view – Your team members want to know what motivates you as a leader. They want to know your core values and how they guide your decisions, because after all, your decisions have a direct impact on their experience at work. Team members also want to know what you expect from them and what it takes for them to be a success in your eyes. Communicating your leadership philosophy and expectations establishes a fair playing field for the team.
  • Share information openly – Hoarding information breeds mistrust. Keeping your team members informed of organizational strategies and decisions, sharing data about the team’s performance, and regularly fielding the team’s questions and concerns lets team members know that you have nothing to hide and you trust them with the same information you’re entrusted with as a leader.
  • Get to know your team members as people, not just as employees – Every team member wants to be known as an individual, not just as another cog in the machinery of the organization. All of your team members have stories that accompany them to work: caring for an elderly parent; a child who has run away from home; a spouse who recently lost a job; or maybe something as routine as having a terrible commute into the office. Leaders who routinely take the time to engage their people in conversations and listen to their concerns, hopes, and dreams will build trust and commitment.
  • Verbally recognize good performance – Ken Blanchard likes to say that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” Praising team members for good performance is the fuel that keeps that cycle in motion. Praisings don’t have to be saved up until performance review time. Dish them out whenever you notice praiseworthy performance! Specifically tell team members what they did right, why it’s important, how it makes you feel as their leader, and express your trust and confidence in their continued good performance.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the acronym T.E.A.M.: Together, Each of us Achieves More. Fostering trust and commitment through a “we” mentality will help leaders transform a collection of individuals into a true TEAM that achieves more together than they would separately.

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