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E137 | Why Building Trust Will Build Your Organisation with David Horsager

If there’s a problem in your organisation, but you can’t put your finger on what it is, have you considered it might be a trust issue?

Today’s guest studied trust as an undergraduate and 23 years later, David Horsager, CEO of Trust Edge Leadership Institute, has dedicated his career to researching trust, looking at the data, and seeing how trust is built with individuals, in companies, in countries, with brands. 

Every year he publishes an annual trust survey in the US and this year he’s got a new book coming out called Trusted Leader, which provides a framework for building trust so that you and your organisation can perform at your best.

In today’s episode, David talks about what the 8 pillars of trust are and how his publisher wanted him to make it a more catchy number, but how he wouldn’t be swayed to change them, because that’s what the research revealed – the data says there are 8 things that underpin how we trust each other. 

And, says David, trust is usually where the issue lies. When companies say they have a sales problem, they really have a trust problem – there’s something about the character or the clarity of their message that’s not getting through to clients. When a leader can’t bring his team with them. It’s a trust issue, etc. 

As well as delving into the 8 pillars, David also shares some case studies, some observations and some hints and tips along the way. This is a fantastic conversation. And we’re sure you’ll enjoy it as much as we did. 

Below, listeners will find links to some assets that David has made available to fans of this podcast. 

On today’s podcast:

  • The real issue in an organisation
  • Researching trust
  • The impact of trust on sales
  • The 8 pillars in Trusted Leader
  • How to bring about change in your organisation


Delving Into The 8 Pillars Of Trust with David Horsager

David Horsager, CEO of Trust Edge Leadership Institute has dedicated his career to researching trust and how it affects the bottom line. 

“We use [the research] to develop trusted leaders and organisations around the world, everything from global governments to pro sports teams to corporations.”

If you think you have a problem in your organisation, but you can’t put your finger on it, have you considered that it might be a trust issue?

“I kept finding and now keep finding that a lack of trust is the real biggest expense, the core issue of leaders and organisations, it’s never, you’ve heard me joke about this, but I mean, it’s never a leadership issue at the core.”

  • You follow a leader because you trust them. 
  • It’s not a sales issue, unless it’s a commodity, it’s a trust issue. 
  • It’s not a marketing issue, per se, it’s a trust issue with your marketing message. 
  • It’s not a diversity issue, you can only get value out of diversity if you increase trust. 
  • Do you want more innovation? You have to increase trust in the team to get them to share ideas. 
  • Do you want more learning in a classroom? Increase trust in the teacher, the content or the psychological safety of the room. 

Most people, says David, don’t deal with the real issue. 

“We keep seeing that when you increase trust, you increase output, morale, retention, productivity, innovation, loyalty. You decrease suspicion, scepticism, time to market it. If you can deal with this lever, I would argue that trust is always the leading indicator, everything else lags.”

Researching trust

When David and his team began researching trust, there was very little else out there. There was the psychological, Oprah type stuff, he says, but nothing like in business or how trust affects the bottom line. 

“In one of the first companies we went into, attrition dropped by millions, and they attributed this to trust work. And then we started using it and someone said, ‘Well, we tripled sales using it’. And then we had people say, ‘that saved my marriage’. So we said it works personally and professionally.”

Trust and sales

How does trust impact sales?

“Where you have a lack of trust with a potential client or a client or customer, it’s always costing time and money. So if you increase the level of trust, all of a sudden the sales speed up, they get more loyal.”

And to debunk the myth that people buy from people they like, that’s not true, says David. 

“The number one question everybody’s asking about you is not do I like you. The actual question everybody’s asking about you and your salespeople in your team is, can I trust you? It’s not, do I like you? Trust is way higher than being liked. And if you can answer that question, then sales go up, and results go up.”

Trusted Leader

David’s book, Trusted Leader, gives tips and takeaways that everyone can go away and use tomorrow to gain trust as a leader. 

The 8 pillars are: 

  1. Clarity. “People trust the clear mistrust or distrust the ambiguous or the overly complex, or complexified is just as big of a problem as ambiguity.”
  2. Compassion. “We trust those that care beyond themselves. So if I feel like you don’t care at all about me, I don’t tend to trust you. I don’t want to be accountable to you.”
  3. Character. “We trust those that do what’s right over what’s easy. People think they can’t do anything about this after 14 or 16 years old. And it’s not true.”
  4. Competency. “ I might trust Dominic to take my kids to the ballgame because of his character and compassion. I may not trust you though, to give me a root canal, because of competency.”
  5. Commitment. “We trust those that stay committed in the face of adversity. So if you think of anybody in life or history, that’s left a legacy, Mom, Dad, first-grade teacher, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Jesus or Joan of Arc, you’ll find somebody that was trusted because they were committed to a cause, often beyond themselves.”
  6. Connection. “The willingness to connect and collaborate with others. The myth of genius basically shows nothing great has ever been done alone. It’s a historical myth that Darwin invented evolution on his own, that Edison invented the light bulb on his own.”
  7. Contribution. “The number one word that came out of that research funnel on contribution was results. We trust those that contribute results.”
  8. Consistency. “The only way to build a reputation is by doing the same thing consistently. The only way to build a brand is consistency, sameness.”

“I believe without ego, that you can solve every organisational leadership issue against these 8, it doesn’t mean it’s easier. It just means when you have this language, you can solve against those. And we’ve seen it globally.”

Getting started 

How do these 8 work together? 

You could say you’ve got a strong clarity of vision, but you don’t have clarity because you’re not sharing your vision consistently every week, says David. Because you lost consistency, you also lost clarity. 

And working against these 8 pillars starts from the top down. If you can create trust at the top, there’s a chance it will cascade throughout the culture and throughout the organisation. 

All 8 of these are ranked relatively equally, says David, there isn’t one more important for trust than any other. To be a trusted leader, you really do want to have all 8 though, as a brand, as an organisation. 

“If you want to start somewhere, you want to see results quickly. You could just start with clarity as an example, in a specific way, not every kind of clarity, you got clarity, what clarity of expectation, clarity of vision, clarity of benefits, but you could start there and you’ll start to see this model work.”

Here’s the thing to bear in mind, he says, organisations don’t change, only individuals change. Once an individual starts to change, then a team follows, then a company, then a country. 

“It takes a leader to change, or to start to change the leadership team, and then the team to change to start to change an organisation. So we went very tactical on specific, quick takeaways you can use tomorrow morning, under each of these pillars.”

But realistically, in your organisation, you’re not going to make any progress until the CEO decides they’re going to do something for themselves. 

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