Team Elements – Truth

by Ron Potter

Over the last couple of blog posts, we’ve been introducing and preparing ourselves to walk through the elements that make great teams. The first of these is Truth. Great teams can tell the truth. But Truth needs some special understanding.

To create a truthful atmosphere and dynamic teams must:

  • Develop and maintain Trust
  • Be able to share their Beliefs and Assumptions openly and without recrimination
  • Believe that every member of the team has a Valid Perception of the issue.


The leadership book is titled Trust Me: developing a leadership style people will follow.  In that book, I describe the eight elements that are required to develop and maintain Trust. Let’s take a brief look at each of the eight:

Humility – “I don’t have all the answers”

Humble leaders don’t flaunt or exercise their positional leadership. They’re always open to others and their idea regardless of where those ideas come from (see Beliefs and Assumptions plus Valid Perceptions later). Jordan Peterson in his book 12 Rules of life, An Antidote to Chaos points this out with one of 12 rules for avoiding chaos, “Assume That the Person You Are Listening To Might Know Something You Don’t”

Development – “I want us to grow through the experience”

Another aspect of great leaders is to develop the people around them. Not just those to report to them but all the people around them. Including their boss. As mentioned above, Jordan Peterson wrote his book about 12 Rules of Life needed to avoid chaos. My two daughters made a list of Ron Potter’s 12 Rules of Life. Their rule number 10 says, “You haven’t failed if you learn from your failures.” Helping people or the team learn and grow through the difficulties of life is the purpose.

Another powerful book is The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. The opening sentence of that book is “Life is difficult.” Peck, a psychiatrist, goes on to explain that if you don’t face and learn from the difficulties of life, the eventual outcome is mental illness.

Focus – “Let’s not get distracted”

I haven’t seen anything written on this, but there seems to be something magical about the number 3. When leaders are good at focus, they seemed to be concentrating on the three things that are most important for them to accomplish. Especially CEO’s who have tremendous demand on their time from many angles. They’re always being asked to speak to an industry group or meet with a customer or talk to an important constituent. All good things for a CEO to be doing. But the ones that have great focus will say, “That’s not one of my three focus points, someone else do that.” It’s a sure sign that humility is present because it’s often ego that says “Sure, I’ll do that.”

Commitment – “We’re looking for the greater good”

One author that I’ve enjoyed in recent years is Simon Sinek. Sinek talks a great deal about why, how, what. He says that all too often when asked what we do we respond with “what” we’re doing. People aren’t interested in that. Even people in the same company. The finance people are not interested in “what” the operations people are doing, as an example. But if you share “why” you’re doing something, now you begin to capture people’s hearts and minds. You must know why you’re doing something, and it must be for the greater good. Simon is quick to point out that making money is not why you’re doing something. Money is a by-product, not an endpoint.

Compassion – “I care about what you think and who you are”

I love adages because they’ve been around for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. Why do they remain that long? Because they speak to a basic and solid truth. One such adage says “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” You can talk, persuade, convince and motivate but if people don’t feel like you care for them as human beings, they will not be committed. They may be compliant, but that never gets the results you need to keep the company on top or keep the team at a high level of performance.

Integrity – “I will not hold back, I will share who I am and what I believe”

Another characteristic that leads to compliance rather than commitment is lack of integrity. Think about it for a minute. If you don’t believe someone has integrity, you’re not interested in being influenced by them. Lack of integrity destroys trust.

Peacemaking – “We want divergent perceptions leading to unity”

This has been a hard word to translate from the old texts. I’ve tried collaboration, but that doesn’t speak to the depth of peacemaking. Peacemaking is not the lack of conflict. Peacemaking encourages conflict, discord and different points of view. It’s the results of peacemaking that moves all of those different views to a united and committed outcome that the team completely embraces. To the world outside the team all they see is total commitment to the single solution, never being fully aware of the discord that was worked through to achieve the unified decision.

Endurance – “We will endure to a committed position”

When Wayne and I were preparing to write Trust Me we were reading the research by Jim Collins that eventually became his book Good to Great. In that book and research, Jim and his researchers described the kind of leader who was in place every time a company went from being a good company to a great company for an extended period. They termed the leader they described as a Level 5 leader, not to be confused with Level 4 Happiness. The two characteristics they attributed to Level 5 leaders were humility and an enduring will. Our first and last characteristic. I have seen a few leaders who are very good at enduring but in the wrong direction. I believe that if you add the other six (development, focus, commitment, compassion, integrity, and peacemaking) between the “bookends” of humility and endurance, you have a better chance of enduring in the right direction.

The other thing that I’ve observed is that every time I’ve been a part of a major change effort, it always feels like failure somewhere along the path. Enduring leaders stick with it.

How many of the eight-leadership element do we need?

Since Trust Me was written I’ve run a little experiment many times. After getting clear definitions of what each of the eight elements means. I ask teams the following questions:

“What kind of leadership style or culture will develop if we eliminate the first pair—humility and development. After they’ve filled out their flip chart with numerous descriptions, I ask them to start with a new sheet assuming humility and development are back but the next two—focus and commitment—are missing and so forth eliminating two elements at a time.

It’s been very revealing through the years is that I’ve always been very careful to set up the exercise with neutral words and tones, no good or bad yet I have never received a positive descriptor. Isn’t that interesting? Neutral set up but not a single positive response. By eliminating and two of the eight, it always leads to a negative culture and leadership style.

And then comes the most telling question when I ask each of them to tell me which culture or leadership style that they described would they want to work for? The answer is always “None of them.” Neither do their people. And so even if I said earlier that you don’t need all eight elements to start making a huge difference. If you completely miss or neglect to develop any of the elements, you won’t become a leader that people want to follow through thick and thin. You need all eight.

Truth Depends on Trust

Without building a foundation of great trust, a team will never be able to get at the truth of any situation. Start with trust.

In the next post, we’ll talk about some of the systematic approaches to getting at the truth once you’ve built the trust.

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