The Trusted Executive
It’s fair to say that, in my role as the Chief Executive of a leadership development charity, I have read more than my fair share of leadership books. The good ones have left me with a new idea or perspective that I have bought to my work; only the very best have changed the way that I think about leadership.
“The Trusted Executive” by John Blakey is one of the very best. It’s not the first time that trust has been extolled as the essential trait of leaders, but this book places the development of trust in the wider context of increased transparency, globalisation and public expectations, especially from a millennial generation raised on social media.
Blakey argues that the traditional model of business success, built on competence and authority, has broken down. Access to information and better choices means that consumers and employees are more demanding. In this world, executive leaders can no longer afford to view their staff as “untrustworthy agents” who must be carefully managed; instead they must become stewards of a shared enterprise, whose goal must be more than simply profit.
The second part of the book looks at the behaviours that are required to build trust in leaders. Blakey suggests that there are three pillars: ability, integrity and benevolence that will, in the future, underpin successful businesses. Within each pillar, he identifies three leadership habits, each of which are illustrated with real-life examples, interviews with business leaders and a self-checklist.
Indeed, the self-checklists are particularly memorable. There is often an opportunity for a fair amount of contented self-satisfaction and validation in reading such lists, but not these ones. They pose a series of questions that ought to make any leader, whether in the private, public or not-for-profit sector, sit up and take notice of their own practice.
However, with characteristic generosity of spirit, Blakey reminds us that the journey to becoming a trusted executive is not something that can be achieved easily or quickly. Instead, it is a lifelong quest - and one fraught with difficulties. However, once we have taken the “red pill” (a reference to the classic sci-fi film “The Matrix”) and accepted that trust is our objective, we will have made a significant first step to a different style of leadership.
Finally, it’s refreshing to read a leadership book that wears its expertise and research so lightly, without a shred of pomposity or arrogance. “The Trusted Executive” is, in one sense, an easy read since its conversational style is so engaging, but it is not an easy read in that it will inspire in you a quiet determination to hold yourself to a new - and higher - standard: that of the trusted, and trustworthy, steward.
Heath Monk is CEO of the Future Leaders Trust