Trust Is Key Leadership Practice

Would you follow the leadership of someone who is consistent, has a consistent message, who keeps confidentialities? Or a micro-manager who manipulates, cannot make a decision, is emotionally volatile?

The second (and last, really) good point Simon Sinek makes in his book “Start with Why” is the value of trust.

He uses two stories from the airline industry–Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Gordon Bethune of Continental (now United). He also uses the examples without the irony of time.

Kelleher posited the notion “that it is the company’s responsibility to look after the employees first. Happy employees ensure happy customers, he said. And happy customers ensure happy shareholders–in that order.”

Bethune shared that notion. When he became CEO in 1994, he said, “I could see Continental’s biggest problem the second I walked in the door. It was a crummy place to work. You can’t have a good product without people who like coming to work.”

And Bethune succeeded. (Note: I fly Continental/United, in fact I’m Premier Platinum this year.) The company’s performance improved dramatically and it was a good enough place to work that a loyal passenger like me noticed.

But… The board of directors eventually decided that they needed a cost cutter CEO and moved Bethune to retirement and brought in a finance guy (I call them “bean counters”) Larry Kellner. It didn’t take an entire year for him to begin to reverse all the policies and attitudes that made Bethune successful. He was succeeded by a mergers and acquisitions attorney Jeff Smisek when the board moved toward a merger/acquisition with United–a failed airline that was as bad as Bethune’s “crummy place to work.” And Smisek drove employee attitudes further down. Although neither could succeed in making it as bad as United.

Trust takes time to build. It can be destroyed in an instant.

When you are building a team in your church, parish or organization, better to study Bethune and Kelleher (same story with Sam Walton and his successors, by the way).

And for Biblical inspiration, study Nehemiah. He was a leader.

2 Responses to “Trust Is Key Leadership Practice”

  1. Eddie Habibi Says:

    Loved the blog on trust. Kelleher has been a role model for me since I started PAS in 1993. I proudly tell our customers they come second, right after our employees. There can never be sustainable customer satisfaction without strong employee satisfaction. And if you don’t believe that, look up NW and Pan AM airlines.

    Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team does a great job expressing the value of trust in an organization.

    Great work Gary. Keep it up


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