The T factor

With this headline, you may be expecting something about our new president… you be the judge. The recent election has raised the issue of trust in leadership to a new high in awareness, but possibly a new low in understanding.

Enduring and high-performing organizations like the U.S. military, great companies and even strong families are based on strong, deep, aligned stakeholder relationships with buy-in to a recognized culture and its core values. Proven leadership practices rally the team around shared vision, purpose and values. The planning process engages the team, sets up operating accountability and performance-based compensation.

But the factor that enables success is a high level of trust — the T factor.

As leaders, we are responsible for the presence or absence of trust. In a culture of trust a two-way, symbiotic confidence undergirds all relationships. The team trusts the leader on whom they depend for specific things, and the leader trusts and depends on the team, individually and collectively, for what they must do.

A Christian leader who trusts Christ for all things, knowing that all things are possible through Him and that we are often shown to be strong through our weakness, supercharges this. This unwavering hopefulness — enabling leaders to be strong but humble — is infectious and grabs the attention of our stakeholders.

Trust can be defined as the confidence we have in those upon whom we depend. There are three imperatives for developing a high T factor culture:

Integrity — Acting with integrity, when what we do matches what we say, is foundational to building and maintaining trust across relationships. Integrity provides the predictability and stability necessary to cultivate long-term, high-trust relationships. The presence of dishonesty, cowardice or carelessness erodes trust and indicates the absence of integrity.

Given enough time, the dynamics of the marketplace will cause even great leaders to fail if they lack integrity.

Demonstrating concern for others — We must do more than acknowledge concern for the well-being of others, we must actually do things that show we care.

We must demonstrate empathetic involvement with all stakeholders, not just the power brokers. When people believe their interests are subordinated to “insiders” (e.g., owners or officers) trust is eroded and support for the innovation and change required for success evaporates with it.

Ability to achieve results — The time comes in all relationships where results are required. When we deliver what we promise, trust builds. Followers expect good leaders to lead them to success. Folks distrust incompetent or misguided leaders but will tolerate significant discomfort to be part of a winning team.

As leaders, trust is a two-edged sword. We must be leaders our followers can trust, but we must also develop trust in them to build a high-performance culture.

Worthy results are the product of both leadership and followership, and it’s the T factor that enables the team to stay the course. Priorities are what we do — the rest is just talk.


Ed Gerken is the Chair of C12 Group Central Ohio, part of the nation’s largest and fastest growing Christian Peer Advisory Group forum for business executives seeking leadership sharpening, best practices, peer counsel and coaching. Under Ed’s fourth-generation leadership, Norwalk Furniture grew to $150 million and formed a retail franchise of over 75 stores. He also was head of the U.S. distributor of a European manufacturer of truck-mounted lifting and handling equipment.