Trust is a superpower – does your board have it?

A guest blog by Grant Ashfield

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A few years ago I found myself working with a Board Team where the levels of trust were low.

The lack of it was thick in the air. People hid their mistakes and weaknesses from each other.

No one dared ask for help.

Board members avoided spending time together.

There was very little spontaneity and banter. I noticed how each person managed their words and actions. They wasted precious time and energy on self-protection. Being guarded was normal for them. Conflicts and discontent were disguised by fake harmony and humour.

Meetings were ineffective, rigid, stuck-up affairs, which everyone disliked, even dreaded.

The organisation craved leadership – but this Executive Team was unable to provide it.

The effects seeped into the business.

Politics and silo’s slowed everything down. The culture was inward-looking. Internal competition was the way to get ahead. Several of the company’s most talented people in key positions left.

This was a real wake-up call for the Chief Executive.

Something had to change.


‘Trust is the highest form of motivation’ – Stephen Covey


Trust is a precious commodity for a Board Team.

It boils down to the willingness of individuals to be vulnerable.

This is hard for Directors.

It means asking for help. Taking risks in giving feedback. It means admitting mistakes and weaknesses.

Being vulnerable is a special kind of strength. A superpower if you like. It transforms relationships. And it has a huge impact on group norms and team dynamics.

When you work with people who:

  • Offer and accept apologies without hesitation
  • Accept questions and input into their areas of responsibility
  • Tap into each other’s skills and experiences
  • Focus time and creativity on important issues, not politics and sideshows
  • Spend very little time protecting themselves and undermining each other

… life on the team is never the same again.

All the internal noise goes away. Now, it’s possible to do the real work. To be resourceful and innovative. To create value.

And what happened to the Board Team?

Over time, the Chief Executive came to see that he played a vital role in building trust.

At first, it was hard, but he showed courage. He took risks and was vulnerable without guarantees that others would respond.

He was authentic. He acknowledged the mistakes he’d made and apologised. He asked for the team’s support. Because he was consistent and sincere, people responded well.

He also showed empathy. He put his phone away. He started paying attention to the people around him. He concentrated on serving the needs of other people. Not himself!

The CEO’s actions allowed for new conversations to take place.

It also earned him the right to expect more from others.

This set the scene for change.

Now conversations on the team are different. People speak up. They tackle issues and they make better decisions, faster than before.

In the next level of leaders, there is more collaboration, less silo thinking, and much less politics than before. Critically, their attention has shifted to solving problems, not just talking about them.


What’s the lesson here?

  1. At the top, trust is not a nice to have… it’s a requirement to lead.
  2. Without trust, there is no Board Team… at least, not one with the credibility to lead, inspire and transform.
  3. Trust can be restored… but it takes a determined effort and some risk.
  4. One person willing to take the risk gets the ball rolling.
  5. Two people willing to move forward allows new and exciting things to happen!

Do you have the Superpower called Trust in your Board Team? 

Grant Ashfield

Grant runs a leadership consultancy in South Africa. With Alex, Renias and the team he’s devised an amazing interactive documentary package to help:

  • Revitalise your team – for the tough road ahead
  • Re-energise your leaders – and refocus on what’s important
  • Build team spirit – with interpersonal relationships and trust

Intrigued? See the video clip here, on the website of our sister company Maximum Performance.

Categories: Boardroom, Training

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