Positive conspiracies! (On trust)

This is the fourth in a series focused on the characteristics that, in combination, allow rare BOLD leaders to accomplish what others struggle to do: drive innovation and transformative change. In other words – they move their organizations forward beyond whatever exists today into exciting opportunities. They do this effectively, bringing others with them, achieving meaningful results. I’ve included personal reflections about some of my own change experiences and what I’ve learned along the way.

This is a post about trust. Very often when we talk about leadership and trust, the focus is on whether followers have trust in their leaders. That is (probably obviously) very important. It’s also well covered in much literature about the qualities of effective leadership.

This piece is about the opposite. It is about the precious sharing of trust when you are a BOLD leader driving some transformative change. BOLD leaders have a natural ability to give and earn trust, but that doesn’t mean they give it with abandon. Let me explain.

Years ago, growing out of the many early lessons learned through challenging change assignments, I coined the phrase, “positive conspiracies.” Conspiracies imply covert actions by a (usually) select group of people. What binds them together are a few things: a common belief in something bigger than themselves; a strong commitment and willingness to take action to effect the change they want to see; a commitment to each other; and a dogged persistence, even in the face of great opposition. We tend to think of them as negative, loony or fringe. But they don’t have to be. They can be positive.

Transformative change in any organization requires those same conspiratorial qualities: shared, strongly held beliefs; a willingness to take action to get meaningful results; the mental and emotional capacity to deal with ambiguity and failure; and unwavering commitment to the ultimate goal.

BOLD leaders understand that not everyone is capable or in a position to lead and drive change and some flat out do not want change. This may sound harsh, but it is reality: waiting to enroll everyone in the change actions wastes time and squanders opportunity.  Giving trust in these situations to any and all is self-defeating. It can and often does have the negative effect – if trust becomes seen as superficial or not sincere, a value on a poster, it actually becomes a detractor and makes change much harder.

Who you trust, deeply, to lead and drive the needed changes is selective and well earned.  Positive conspirators are those people the BOLD leader knows to have the capability and capacity to effect change and who will stay true to the mission, even when challenges are great and times are uncertain. Ideally, if a large-scale transformation, this positive conspiracy is full of people from many roles and many parts of the organization who find each other and commit to the work willingly.

A few months back I had the opportunity to visit with an impressive group of leaders in one organization who had their own term for positive conspirators: “People Who Get It.” That is exactly what they are. Positive conspirators get it. They don’t have to be cajoled or enticed; they don’t have to be sold and resold on the mission; and they don’t require a lot of oversight. They get it and they get to work. They can do this in great part because they have the unwavering trust and support of their BOLD leader.

Importantly, positive conspirators will also create the ripple effects of finding others who will sign up for the change, expanding the circles naturally until the momentum overtakes the naysayers and the positive change becomes unstoppable.

Questions for your consideration:

If you are tasked with or volunteered to lead a major change effort, who are your “positive conspirators”?

Who are the people in your organization that “get it” AND whom you trust? What actions can you take with them to form a “positive conspiracy”?

Does your organization suffer from vague declarations of trust, broadly shared? If yes, what can you do to help shift that cultural norm?

As the first Aveusian to work in the U.S., Asia and Europe, Chris has a unique perspective on how leaders drive material and positive outcomes in today’s global marketplace.