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Tips from 3 Top Leadership Experts for Building Trust Post-Pandemic

This month, ConantLeadership hosted the first ever BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit, a meeting of the top leadership minds and luminaries in the business space, inspired by the insights in the book, The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights.

On the first day of this landmark event, Stephen M.R. Covey, renowned expert in workplace trust and author of The Speed of Trust, and Mette Norgaard, Founder of Strategic Leadership and Learning and bestselling co-author of TouchPoints, came together in conversation with ConantLeadership Founder and author of The Blueprint, Doug Conant, to talk about how to build trust in times of turbulence.

Enjoy the following smart tips for building trust post-pandemic, compiled from these three top leadership experts.

(And you can watch the full video of this summit session on trust here.)

Doug Conant, Amy Federman, Stephen M.R. Covey, Mette Norgaard

Clockwise from Top Left: Doug Conant, Amy Federman, Mette Norgaard, and Stephen M.R. Covey

Support Healing—But Also Growth

This past year has been so unprecedented and tiring, people have grown weary of the word “unprecedented” itself. Covey calls it a “white water world” evoking the tumultuous rapids of extreme sport, describing the environment as, “churning with change, disruption, and turbulence,” exacerbated by a pandemic but also by technology, a transformed global workforce that is increasingly remote, and by a world that has gone from “multiple choice to infinite choice.”

Norgaard backs Covey up, remarking that the past year “literally has been biblical,” complete with an actual plague, “the western ranges going up in flames,” along with “so many hurricanes that there weren’t enough letters in the alphabet to cover all the flooding,” compounded by racial and social injustice and a polarized election process in the United States. It’s understandable, says Norgaard, that “a lot of us, with all this amplification, are just exhausted.” Given the harrowing predicaments of the past 12 months, all three experts agree that leaders must be a supportive force for healing—but also for growth.

Leaders must continue to show up for their constituents with a people-first approach that acknowledges the shared hardships of the past year, while also taking care to affirm and celebrate the innovations and accomplishments that have arisen in response to the constraints of the pandemic.

Norgaard points out that there has been an abundance of experimentation “which has been very fulfilling and fun and invigorating for some of us”—and has ushered in an age of virtual productivity and remote work to a degree that would have seemed inconceivable just a short while ago. She emphasizes that it’s important to highlight growth and resilience in this time as well as recovery: “We spend a lot of time talking about the post-traumatic stress of this year, but the fact is that there is also post-traumatic growth and frankly, biologically, we are more put together for post-traumatic growth because if we look at evolutionary science, those who survived were those who grew.”

So as part of your trust strategy, ask yourself: How can I support resourcefulness and resilience in addition to rejuvenation as we emerge from these storms we have weathered together? Norgaard urges leaders to remember, “it will be hard, we all need a hand, we all need someone at our back, we all need support,” but if we shine a light on the wins and advancements, as well as the warts, we can all come out of this having learned and grown too.

Lead with Extreme Clarity

The experts panelists all agree that in an “attention economy” where so many competing priorities are vying for people’s time and energy, leaders must be precise with their word to earn confidence and build trust. Being exquisitely clear is a way of honoring employees’ time and being careful with their attention when you have it. Because workers are harried and spending even more hours doing their jobs than they were pre-pandemic, they need to know who you are, what the goals and expectations are, and to feel safe and reassured that everyone is on the same page. Norgaard advises, “in these times, we don’t just need clarity, but we need extreme clarity, and we’re going to need even more clarity as we move forward.”

To be clear with people, it’s important you are anchored in who you are as a leader, what you believe, and what you expect, so you can then communicate that with precision and credibility (and the 6-step Blueprint process helps leaders build a leadership Foundation that captures all these crucial elements). To lead with clarity, Covey advises leaders to do the inner work necessary to be able to ask and answer, “What are your leadership beliefs and what are your principles and what are your practices?,” so that you are fully empowered to “be authentic and true to what you have decided, who you are, and what you’re about,” and people can have faith that you are in command not just of the organization but of yourself. Clarity projects confidence.

Conant adds that extreme clarity must also extend to your principles and that the Blueprint process helps you “find out who you really are,” so you can more fully have “the courage of your convictions” when it matters most. When urgent societal, environmental, and social justice issues come to the fore, leaders must be firmly anchored in a point of view so “they can lean into these discussions and stand up and be counted” unmistakably. This is a crucial component of earning the trust of all your stakeholders.

Declare That You Care

As Covey has been talking to groups and leaders throughout the pandemic, he’s asked them “when we get through this crisis, will the level of trust inside your organization be higher than it was before, lower, or the same?” Many assume trust will have gone down but that’s not the case. He urges that “if we’re intentional about this, we can actually increase the trust,” because “right now, there’s a great opportunity to show people that you care,” and ultimately, “caring builds trust.”

The first step to demonstrating care? Covey says it’s “declaring your intent,” because your actions “flow from your intent,” so making a declaration against which people can compare your actions is a great way to hardwire accountability into your trust agenda and is “a great practice to ensure no one is second-guessing you or your motive.” So it’s wise to get clear on some tangible ways that you will put people first, communicate your intent to deliver on those tangibles, and then take action in alignment with your promises.

What’s heartening is that the more you give and deliver on trust, the more you receive it back. All three experts agree that trust is reciprocal and self-reinforcing. Covey explains, “right now is a great chance to tell our people and to show our people that we trust them as they’re working from home,” outside the conventional environment and oversight of an office. “And when you give trust,” he says, “people receive it and they return it, so we can build it faster in today’s environment if we’re deliberate and explicit about it.”

Conant builds on this, asserting “it’s hard to expect associates to care about the agenda of the enterprise if, as a leader, you don’t demonstrate you care about their agenda as a human being.” He stresses this is particularly true in the long-term: “Over time, you damn well better care about them if you expect them to care about your agenda.” Covey adds this is key not only to building trust that endures but also to doing so quickly in crisis: “During hard times, showing that you care, demonstrating empathy, compassion, understanding, connecting with people—that human dimension that honors people—that all builds trust exceptionally fast.” Leaders would be wise to seize this unique moment to dispel any doubts about their commitment to people. The experts are unanimous: Tell people you care, then show it. Repeatedly.

Amy FedermanAbout the AuthorAmy Federman is ConantLeadership’s Director of Content and Editor in Chief and co-author with Doug Conant of the WSJ bestseller, The Blueprint.

For even more trust insights, explore the full video recording of this summit session here, engage with our suite of written leadership resources here, or start your Blueprint journey by getting your signed copy of the book here.

Ready to step into your full leadership potential?  Apply to our signature leadership development program, The BLUEPRINT Boot Camp by ConantLeadership, a 2-day leadership intensive offering elite level, highly interactive training with Doug Conant and a community of your leadership peers. Learn more about this premium tier of transformational leadership development here or set up a complimentary consultation call here.


Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

The Blueprint

The Blueprint

6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights

By Douglas Conant with Amy Federman

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