Trust is key to success

Trust comes from ownership, and in our workplaces, the degree to which trust each other is the central ingredient for success.

A few weeks ago, residents of Fukishima, Japan said they did not trust their leaders to tell them the truth about the amount of radiation their children were being exposed to.

And recently the Ohio State football coach is fired due to a breach of trust.

Consider that every time we step onto an airplane or eat food from a restaurant, we are putting our trust in others.

We get trust through ownership — of a service we develop, of the meeting we are in, of a team’s deliverable. People take care of what they own; they do not wash rented cars — usually.

But we have organizational systems and decision-making processes that preclude many from having that ownership: when leadership takes a hub-and-spoke approach to leadership, soliciting input on a decision, but holding onto the decision itself.

When the meeting’s agenda is not published in advance; and when the team leader simply tells people what to do on a project. The consequence of this approach to leadership is a loss of trust on the part of those who don’t own the decision, the agenda, or the task.

For some reason, we have evolved an approach to leadership that creates dependency rather than shared ownership. And yet we live in an interconnected world where shared ownership of decisions and their impacts are essential for success.

We are interdependent. We need each other to be able to see the full picture in any situation. No one person can possibly have all the answers or know the “truth”. In fact, NASA learned that groups make better decisions that individuals 98 percent of the time.

To have a culture of ownership does not mean everyone has to agree to everything all the time. It does mean that those who will be most directly affected by a decision, agenda, or task also own it.

When Residence Inn began as a business, all 1500 employees went away for a week to create their vision. They owned it. They were on fire. That’s a culture of ownership.

It is not difficult to build such a culture. It does, however, take leadership that understands what people need to succeed in an interdependent world. As Lao Tzu once defined leadership: “ A leader is best when . . . his work is done, his aim fulfilled and the (people) say ‘We did it ourselves.’”

This kind of leadership is selfless, based on principle, focused on the enterprise, understands people’s deepest needs for inclusion and significance, and engages the heart as well as the mind.

This is interdependent, connected leadership, collaborative leadership. It is about “we” and not “me”. And it all starts with creating a culture of ownership and trust.

Edward M. Marshall, Ph.D. is a Senior Partner for Organizational Leadership at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC. He can be reached at, or 919.265.9616.