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‘Command and Control’ Leadership Is Dead: Stephen M.R. Covey

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“Being transparent is a fast way to build trust in any relationship,” argues Stephen M.R. Covey, co-founder and leader of Franklin Covey Global Trust Practice, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor. “The lack of transparency will move people toward distrust, and then to fear.” 

As a financial advisor, “trust is your greatest asset both to keep clients and get referrals,” maintains the popular speaker and author, whose new book is “Trust & Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others,” written with David Kasperson, McKinlee Covey and Gary T. Judd (Simon & Schuster, April 5).

Inspiring their trust in you is the key to making clients open to your recommendations and generating loyalty.

Client trust will come more easily if the advisor’s firm operates in a culture of “trust and inspire” versus the old-school yet dominant style of “command and control,” argues Covey, who wrote the bestseller “The Speed of Trust.”

“Command and control is a relic of the past. Trust and inspire is the new, relevant way to lead our world today,” a world that has changed dramatically, Covey says.

A trust-and-inspire firm motivates and energizes employees, who nowadays want to collaborate and contribute as much as they want to get paid.

In the interview, he lays out five common barriers to being a trust-and-inspire leader, as well as some essential approaches to influence people.

The notion of trust and inspire has been around for years, but most companies have stuck with the stifling, micromanaging command-and-control model, which millennials and Generation Zers are increasingly rejecting, Covey notes.

They expect to work with people who “aren’t dictating orders to them,” he adds.

Covey is the eldest son of Stephen R. Covey, author of the famed bestseller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Franklin Covey Global Trust Practice consults, trains and coaches companies and organizations. Clients include Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile and Zoom.

In the interview, Covey talks about how trust-and-inspire leaders boost productivity and performance, and what makes empathy together with performance “remarkably interdependent,” a point advisors might well consider in trying to understand where their clients are coming from.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Covey on the phone from Salt Lake City, where his firm is based.

He emphasized that one did not need to be naturally charismatic to inspire others. Inspiring people, he says, is “a learnable skill.”

Indeed, leaders can shift from the command-and-control mode to the trust-and-inspire mode by “rescripting themselves” because, after all, “we’re not just programmed; we’re programmers,” he says.

Here are highlights of our interview.

THINKADVISOR: You write that “the next few years will see a significant, much needed movement toward inspiring others as a strategic imperative.” Why?

STEPHEN M.R. COVEY: This is a form of competitive advantage for any firm.

When people are inspired, they perform better, have more energy, and their well-being is increased. They have a sense of purpose and get better results.

Do you need to have a charismatic personality to inspire people?

No. it’s a learnable skill. Everyone can inspire because when you inspire, you connect with people — your team or clients.

In financial advisory, what’s effective about advisors themselves feeling inspired?

When clients see that you’re inspired and aren’t there just because this is a job you’re being paid to do, they sense you’re on fire. 

Having a job helping people secure their retirement and making them happy lights the advisor’s fire.

When the client knows you care deeply about them, that inspires them.

Please talk about the five common barriers to becoming a trust-and-inspire leader, which you write about in your book. Let’s start with fear, and within that, the feeling “What if I’m not as competent as you think I am?”

The main way of overcoming that fear is by focusing on increasing your personal credibility in the four areas of integrity, intent, capability and results. That gives you confidence. 

People will be drawn to you. Clients will stay with you and will refer business to you because you’re so credible.

Credibility means believability.

When a financial advisor feels trusted and inspired, it manifests in how they interact with clients.

When clients see that you’re credible, trustworthy and acting in their best interest — not in your own — it will make you more competitive.

Another barrier is “I don’t know how to let go.” That relates to people who don’t delegate, I suppose?

Yes. It could be for an advisor having a hard time extending trust to people because whenever you trust someone to do something, you’re letting go.

Some people say, “I’ve got to do it myself because I trust only myself.”

Yes, sometimes there’s a little bit of risk in trusting, but there’s also risk in not trusting because we can only do so much ourselves. We’ve got to collaborate.

You can learn to let go and do it in a smart way: always with expectation and accountability around the trust.

We can build in control that way — not through hovering over and micromanaging. You can build in control through agreement of expectation and accountability. 

What about the barrier created when someone thinks “I’m the smartest person in the room”? 

They feel they’re the smartest one because they [operate with] command and control — and so they think they don’t need to trust.

The problem with that is you’re limited with just your own knowledge in a world in which human knowledge is doubling every 12 hours.

All of us are smarter than any single one of us. The idea of trust and inspire is to tap into the collective genius of the whole — everyone around us to help make all of us better and bring more capability to clients.

The fourth barrier is “This is who I am.” So what’s wrong with that?

Someone might say, “I’ve become who I’ve become because this is who I am: a hands-on leader.”

But in many respects, they might be micromanaging and feel that’s what makes them so good.

Yet the world has changed, and [command and control] isn’t going to work with younger generations — millennials and [younger] — that expect to work with people who aren’t dictating orders to them but who are collaborative and trust them.

They want to be inspired by purpose and contributing, not motivated only by money.

Can an advisor who leads with “This is who I am” change their style to trust and inspire?

Yes. We’re not just programmed; we’re programmers. Maybe we’ve been command and control, but we can shift our style: 

We can rescript ourselves, create our own future of a better way to operate by becoming a trust-and-inspire financial advisor.

The fifth common barrier is “This won’t work here.” Please explain.

These people feel that trust and inspire isn’t going to work with their situation. They say, “This won’t work in our firm because we have a command-and-control leader.” 

But the thing to do is decide to be a trust-and-inspire model:

“I’ll model what a trusted and inspired advisor or managing partner looks like.”

And I can help mentor and coach others, and then see a ripple effect.

Is trust and inspire versus command and control a new concept?

In a sense, it’s as old as time. We’ve known about it for years, but we’re not doing it. We’re still a dominant command-and-control world.

Why isn’t that a good way to lead nowadays?

Clearly, we’ve moved into the knowledgeable age. Yet many are still rooted deeply in command and control, which tends to dominate in education, the military and most organizations.

People don’t want to be commanded. They want to be led. They want to be trusted and inspired. That’s a better way to lead, which we need to adopt today.

The world has changed dramatically through technology and disruption. The nature of work itself is changing. The workplace is changing. There are many choices and options.

What are the main implications of all that regarding leadership?

With all these forces of change, it’s important that companies build a high-trust culture that inspires people.

If I run a financial advisory firm and want to keep the best, most talented people, having a culture that inspires them is far more conducive for them to stay versus a firm that just wants them to toe the line and doesn’t trust them. 

That’s just ordering them in a command-and-control culture.

Does trust and inspire generate greater productivity as opposed to command and control?

There’s hard data from a study by Watson Wyatt [now Towers Watson] that high-trust organizations outperform low-trust ones by 286%. High-trust cultures are also more innovative and collaborative.

A Bain study shows that employees are 125% more productive when they’re inspired than merely satisfied.

Any other research that attests to the validity of a trust-and-inspire culture?

The neuroscience is really strong that in a high-trust culture, people are 106% more energized and less stressed. And there’s less burnout.

When there’s trust inside the organization, it ripples out to your relationships with clients and customers.

You write about ways to influence others. One important tack is to create transparency. Please elaborate.

As an advisor, to be trusted is obviously everything. Trust is your currency.

Being transparent is a fast way to build trust in any relationship. 

The lack of transparency will move people toward distrust and then to fear. 

If you’re open and transparent as an advisor, the premise is: “There’s nothing to hide here; there’s no hidden agenda, no other motive.”

Clients want to know [the amount and how] they’re paying for your services. If they feel you’re not transparent or open, they start to wonder and may project fears and worst-case scenarios that aren’t there at all.

You can’t be transparent about everything, because of confidentiality, perhaps; but the basic premise is to be as open and transparent as you can be.

Talk straight. In the long run, trust is your greatest asset both to keep clients and to get referrals.

Another way to influence people, you write, is to share difficult information. I assume that can apply to movement in the stock market?

Yes. The whole point is that you speak the truth. People may not always like what they hear. But they can learn that they can trust what they hear from you because you’re going to talk straight and not try to spin or sugarcoat everything and not speak the truth.

At the same time, you’re saying: “Try this out. The market goes through ups and downs.”

It’s important for financial advisors to empathize with clients, but many haven’t developed this quality. You write that empathy and performance are “remarkably interdependent.” How so?

That combination is very powerful for financial advisors: Really try to understand the client from their standpoint to get into their heart and genuinely connect with them.

Empathy means understanding; it doesn’t mean agreement. You may see the world differently. But if you want to have great impact with your clients and have them stay with you, be empathic to their situation.

This ties into listening to the client. Doesn’t it?

Yes. There are advisors who say, “I don’t listen; I just prescribe.” So, many clients don’t feel heard by them. 

They feel the advisor went through a rote list of questions and that the “listening” was, maybe, just waiting their turn for giving a solution and saying, “We think this is what you need.”

But the client doesn’t feel that the advisor really understood them, their goals, objective or their fears and worries because they just went right to a solution.

When clients feel understood and that you’re empathic to their situation, they become open to you and your advice.

And, you’ll design solutions that fit their needs exactly because you have a better understanding.

They’ll stay with you, and you’ll perform better because you have loyal clients who are also referral machines.

Pictured: Stephen M.R. Covey