Matter of 'Trust:' Book offers blueprint for leadership success

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

“Trust Me.”
The two words served as a recurring punch-line in the comedy classic “Beverly Hills Cop,” but management consultants Ron Potter and Wayne Hastings had a different design in mind when they wrote a book by that title a decade ago.

The subtitle to the 244-page book, “Developing a Leadership Style People Will Follow,” is testimony to the tricky nature of the subject. “Trust,” after all, is a five-letter word that has an uncanny habit of repeatedly tripping up people in their personal and professional lives.

The political and business worlds are littered with those who have fallen from grace for failing to appreciate the depth and scope of its meaning. Potter and Hastings, in their consulting and business endeavors, have seen some of the casualties firsthand. Trust, they have discovered, may be easy to define by dictionary standards, but it has become increasingly difficult to live by if you’re charged with running a company that marches to a singular profit beat.

The message in the book, Potter and Hastings rightly claim, is “both timely and timeless.” It is what served as the impetus for the book, first published in January of 2004 by a division of giant Random House, Inc., and now available through Amazon.com (Trust Me Potter).

“Americans are looking for leaders they can trust,” Potter said at the time of the book’s release a decade ago. “This is true if you are a CEO or anyone in a leadership position. People want to know that they can trust you.”

“A ‘Trust Me’ leader focuses outside themselves to the other people around them. They hold firm under pressure and have a focus, bordered by passion and achievement. They also have integrity. Integrity is one of eight attributes found in a ‘Trust Me’ leader and the concept is so compelling people naturally want to follow leaders who have it. It seems to make perfect sense. People are most willing to follow someone they can trust. They want to know the person will be straight with them, be consistent, follow through with what they say, and be true to a set of values,” said Potter.

The message, as one might suspect, is rooted in biblical principles and holds true to the abiding faith of the book’s authors. The qualities of a “trusted leader” have an octagonal shape, according to the authors.

Humility, development, commitment, focus, compassion, integrity, peacemaking, and endurance. Each element, which individually serve as chapter titles in the book, is grounded in the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.

Weaving a Christian theme through a book on management would appear to be a chancy proposition for authors reaching out to a secular audience, but Potter and Hastings have remained steadfast in their beliefs, keeping their focus on the guiding principles of effective and enlightened leadership.

Take chapter one, for example. In their opening offering, Potter and Hastings neatly retell a story that continues to transcend time.

“Two thousand years ago, a sizable group of people were desperately looking for a new leader,” they wrote. “They were caught in an unfortunate trap, living under a cruel local and national dictatorship. They were looking for someone who would lead them away from tyranny toward peace, harmony, and better personal circumstances. Lower taxes would be nice too,” they quipped.

“Then a remarkable young man came on the scene. Many thought he was the one who could lead such an overthrow. This young leader assembled a team. As is often the case, the team leaders started fighting among themselves, scheming for the top positions in the coming ‘new order.’ Like many aspiring leaders, they assumed that being in charge meant climbing the ladder, fighting for an exalted position on the company organizational chart, assuming power, taking control, gaining privilege, enjoying prestige, and having others serve them.

“One day the young leader asked for some time with his team members,” the authors continued. “Would this be the day he announced his plan to lead the rebellion against the oppressors? Would he hand out the choice assignments in the new regime?

“He took his men aside and said in so many words, ‘Listen, guys, true leadership is different from anything you’ve seen or heard. It’s not about skill, power, or control. It’s about developing a style that produces trust.’”

That leader, of course, developed quite a following.

Count Potter and Hastings among the modern-day business disciples. To such a degree that they felt moved to “have taken a little liberty and restated the principles” of the Beatitudes in “business” form:

Humility: “Favored are those not full of themselves” – leaders who are open and teachable . . . and invite the same qualities in others.

Development: “Favored are the realists” – leaders who accept the truth and know how to train others to seize the benefits of adversity, loss, and change.

Commitment: “Favored are the steadfast” – leaders who know that reaching a greater good requires a firm grip on the right values, causes, and goals.

Focus: “Favored are those desperate for excellence” – leaders who do the right things at the right time in the right way.

Compassion: “Favored are the caring” – leaders who serve the needs of everyone in their organization.

Integrity: “Favored are those with unshakable ethics” – leaders who hold high moral values regardless of personal cost.

Peacemaking: “Favored are those who calm the waters” – leaders who remain steady in storms and build teams that stick together.

Endurance: “Favored are those with fortitude” – leaders who overcome personal doubts and setbacks to courageously stay the course.

Certainly words to live by, whether in a position of authority or not. Potter and Hastings have made them the bedrock of their careers in the management and leadership development fields.

Potter, I gladly disclose, has been a friend for nearly 20 years. He is someone I greatly admire for his keen intellect, strength of character, and concern and compassion for others. In many respects, he has served as a role model to me and undoubtedly many others with whom I’ve enjoyed sharing his book and the wisdom that flows from it.

Those are points beyond debate. You can “Trust Me” on that.

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