Trust, transparency is the foundation of leadership

Nashville Business Journal

March 15, 2019


Good supervisors demonstrate daily that they can be counted on for help and advice. Showing that kind of support leads directly to a culture of trust — from leader to learner — and often translates to a better peer-to-peer working environment as well. 

In fact, trust among a team can mean the difference between a successful leader and one who struggles along but always wonders why. When the people you’re paid to guide believe in you and trust what you say, your odds of success skyrocket. The opposite also holds true: If your team does not trust you, your success will also have limits.

Confident leaders know that it takes hard work to build a trusting environment in which all players work well together. But it’s worth it. Here are a few ways to start nurturing the best possible atmosphere at work.  

Be honest and transparent in all dealings. Treat every team member with the same degree of respect that you expect for yourself. Unfortunately, one boss I had demonstrated a style that didn’t work — only sharing on what he deemed a “need to know” basis. Holding back or changing the rules too often is a quick path to losing the commitment of your people. 

Commit to being a no-secrets leader. My predecessor frequently reiterated that Tractor Supply was a “no-secrets” company. It was a simple yet powerful statement because it opened up for discussion every important topic. Transparency is the path to understanding and being open can lead to fresh problem-solving and operational improvements. Consider letting your people know that you are unequivocally a no-secrets leader.

Share your plans and goals with your team. When your employees know which direction you are heading, they are best positioned to get you across the goal line. Share your mission and your values so people know the real “you.” This will help build authentic bonds that yield the greatest successes. Even if you are a private person by nature, work toward an attitude of sharing everything. 

Keep operating standards consistent. That means all parties should have logical, clearly understandable day-to-day directions. Baseball players need to know that the strike zone never changes. Employees need to understand measures of performance and be able to judge their own productivity. Operating standards should contain no after-the-fact surprises. 

Become a listening expert. In a fast-paced world, leaders need to discipline themselves to take the time to really listen to employees. Ask probing questions on important topics. Remember that sometimes the real message may be under the surface. And if you receive feedback you don’t like, the first response should always be “thank you.” If you’re always on the defensive that may be last time you receive honest feedback.

Recognize every success. Wise words from my former mentor: “Recognition is the No. 1 motivator.” A thoughtful pat on the back goes further than you realize. Celebrate every success, even small ones, in whatever way makes the most sense in your professional environment. 

Teach and coach. Do everything you can to help your people build skills and become more productive. Teaching will earn the lasting respect and admiration of your employees. I’ll bet when you are old and gray you will take more pride in the human talent you helped develop than in any other single business accomplishment. 

Building trust in your team is the foundation of leadership success. When your people understand you and believe in you they will work with you to help achieve your goals. So, put aside some time to build a strategy for developing trust in your organization. It will pay off. 


Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company 
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Comments and Discussion:


Posted Mar 20, 2019 at 6:37 PM by Glen Craig
Joe great article! As always a way to see where you stand.


Posted Mar 20, 2019 at 4:37 PM by Rob Roder
Well said Joe. The fundamentals are always simple in theory, yet how often are these basic premises overlooked? Thanks for sharing.

management and leadership

Posted Mar 20, 2019 at 10:58 AM by Anthony J. Seitz
Another excellent article!! Just what we have come to expect from Joe Scarlett!

This is what makes a great leader

Posted Mar 20, 2019 at 9:41 AM by Jim Childers
Joe this is a great article and I can speak from actual experience you lived and breathed this. You are a great leader and a great mentor. You made huge impact in my career. Please keep sharing your wisdom it is appreciated.

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