Dr. Mike Armour is a bestselling author who chatted about his book “Leadership and the Power of Trust: Creating a High-Trust, Peak-Performance Organization.”
He is the managing principal of Strategic Leadership Development International, which he established in Dallas in 2001. Since then he has coached nearly 800 executives, managers, and entrepreneurs. And he has trained thousands more on four continents.
Dr. Armour is known for astute insight into corporate culture and interpersonal dynamics, skills which he has honed during a lifelong career in demanding leadership roles.
He has been the founder of a highly-successful private school, a university dean, a college president, a Navy captain, the CEO of an international humanitarian organization, a Congressional candidate, and a key executive in a variety of non-profit and faith-based organizations.
For over a decade he worked with educational leaders in Russia and Ukraine to strengthen character curricula in schools and universities. Later he conducted extensive leadership training across nations of East Africa.
Mike holds degrees from five colleges and universities, including a PhD from UCLA. His books have been published in some two-dozen languages, and his leadership podcast is followed internationally.
Building high trust takes time but Dr. Armour breaks down the five things that people must feel in order to trust and which fourteen arenas in which leaders must develop trust. He gives the reader the structure and key items for any leader first-time or seasoned- to build upon what works for their company culture. Let’s talk first about what trust means in an organization.
How do you see your book relating to the current workplace trends?
Anecdotal evidence from a few early surveys, indicates that the pandemic shutdown had adverse effects on team trust and unity. Prior to COVID, workplace trust among American workers had trended downward for at least two decades.
The shutdown seems to have aggravated this trend. In the wake of COVID, therefore, the intentional pursuit of trust-building leadership is even more urgent than it was prior to the pandemic.
Your book talks about five things that people must feel to trust. Can you tell us what a couple of those are and is one more important than another?
To trust fully – not just within the workplace, but in any situation or relationship – people must feel five things: they must feel safe, informed, respected, valued, and understood. Trust is on slippery footing when any one of these is absent. But if I had to pick one as more important (which I’m not inclined to do), feeling safe is the most essential one.
This goes back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Our deepest need is to feel safe. Until that need is met, we have little energy to devote to higher needs.
Feeling safe in this regard is multi-faceted. It obviously includes feeling physically safe. But it also embraces emotional and psychological safety.
Just because a job entails few physical hazards or threats to safety, a worker who feels vulnerable emotionally or psychologically in that work environment will not be prone to trust the organization, their co-workers, or their management.
How can leaders turn around the “silent distrust” in their work culture?
Silent distrust is frequently the elephant in the room. To combat it, leaders have to recognize it, name it, and put it “on the table.” Because it is the elephant in the room, people typically feel a sense of relief when it’s finally okay to talk about the elephant openly.
However, the way the leader approaches this dialogue is pivotal in overcoming the problem. When these types of distrust are put on the table, the leader must bring it up and discuss it in a non-judgmental tone, in collaborative dialogue with all who have strong feelings on the matter.
Coming back to the five things people must feel in order to trust, those who are part of this dialogue must be engaged in such a way that they feel safe to voice their points of view on the underlying trust issue and to be specific about places where they feel they have not been kept properly informed.
Likewise, in the course of the ensuing dialogue, they must feel that others – and especially the leader – treated them with respect, valued their input, and made a genuine effort to understand their concerns and recommendations.
What is the ideal “High-Trust, Peak Performance Organization”?
I don’t think in terms of an ideal high-trust, peak-performance organization. Rather, I believe that each organization must define for itself what it means to describe itself in that matter. Peak performance in an emergency room is notably different from peak performance on a manufacturing line, which is likewise different from peak performance for a professional sports team.
As a consultant and advisor, I help my clients identify the hallmarks that they believe would denote peak performance for their organization. Then, I respect their definition and help them build the culture and systems which would expedite the achievement of that status.
What advice would you give to a person stepping into a leadership role for the first time?
Learn to ask questions, lots of them. Not in an interrogational manner or in an accusatory tone. But in a genuine effort to hear what people have to say and how they feel about vital elements of their work. When we’re new to relationships, we build trust much faster by being a good, inquisitive listener than by trying to come off as the person who has all the answers and is eager to pronounce them.
Truly listening – and taking frequent opportunities to do so – also communicates genuine care and concern for the people to whom we’re listening. And one of the top determinants of whether people trust their organization is whether they sense that their manager cares for them personally.
His bestselling book “Leadership and the Power of Trust: Creating a High-Trust, Peak-Performance Organization” is available on Amazon by clicking here.