David Horsager: An interview by Bob Morris

Dave Horsager is an author, business strategist, and keynote speaker. Through his book, The Trust EdgeHow Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line, and programs he shares the secrets of using trust to impact the bottom line. Combining humor, illustrations, and memorable stories with research and insight, Dave sheds light on the confusion and misconceptions surrounding the cornerstone of personal and professional success.

As a Certified Speaking Professional, Dave has delivered life-changing presentations on four continents, with audiences ranging from Fortune 500 executives to the armed forces and even professional sports teams. He’s built his reputation on two things – being easy to work with and delivering engaging, high-energy speeches every time.

When he’s not speaking or writing, Dave continues to research and consult through Horsager Leadership. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Organizational Leadership for Bethel University’s graduate program. He lives in St. Paul, MN with his wife, Lisa, and their four children.

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Morris: When and why did you decide to write The Trust Edge?

I had an epiphany in 2003 that the problems that organizations and leaders faced were not the challenges that they thought they were. In fact, they were trust problems. I wondered if the common uniqueness of the greatest leaders and organizations could actually be trust. I started to work with organizations with that premise in mind and began to see significant results. By 2007 I had finished all of my graduate research on the topic. For a decade our company has continued to research the impact of trust on brands, leaders and organizations, and we have helped 60-100 organizations a year gain what we now deeply believe is the greatest advantage of all time—The Trust Edge.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Horsager: One was how all of the Eight Trust Pillars need to be built for a person or organization to be most trusted. For instance, I might trust a person to watch my kids for the evening because of their character, but I would not trust them to give me a root canal because of their lack of competency at that specific skill.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Horsager: The book really is exactly what I dreamed in my mind. I wanted it to be designed beautifully, with the red color and tabs that you now see. I also knew I wanted it to be based in research but actionable and engaging with the bullet point lists, highlights, and engaging questions. This vision has served the message well to make it usable for our attention-span deprived culture that wants to gain ideas they can use tomorrow.

Morris: What exactly is “the trust edge”?

Horsager: The Trust Edge is the competitive advantage gained when others confidently believe in you.

Morris: In your opinion, what are the dimensions of trust? Why is each so important?

Horsager: The dimensions of trust are time and depth. They are both equally important. Trust is like a forest—it takes a long time to grow, but can be easily burned down with a touch of carelessness. It takes time to build the trust and depth to deeply root the trust. Deep trust is generally established over time. It can withstand adversity and is often born of personal experiences. To gain depth more quickly, one can incur transfer trust which happens when someone I trust recommends you. When that happens, I trust you more quickly.

Morris: I agree about the importance of being trustworthy, and being perceived to be trustworthy. How to increase significantly one’s trust in one’s self?

Horsager: The only way to build trust in one’s self is to make and keep commitments. Don’t make so many commitments. One of the biggest problems in America is New Year’s Resolutions. Many people make them and few people keep them. Quit saying you will do things that you are not committed to doing.

My story: A couple of years ago I made a commitment in front of my team that if I was not at my high school weight by May 1, I would give a manager $2,500. What if I would not have lost those nearly 50 pounds? Way more important than being out the cash is that I would have lost the trust of my team. Even worse I would have lost trust in myself! Those that cannot trust themselves have a hard time trusting others and building trusted teams.

Morris: You assert that “a lack of trust is your biggest expense.” Please explain.

Horsager: Ask Tiger Woods. One breech (or several breeches) of trust cost him millions. Your credit score is really a trust score; the more you are trusted by the lender the less you pay. A lack of trust is your biggest expense. As trust goes down, procedures and laws increase, even on those who can be trusted. As a result, millions of dollars that could be used for research, staff training, or benefits and incentives, are being spent on oversight and accountability processes to accommodate regulations.

Think about it, the trusted leader is followed, the trusted sales person is bought from, and for the trusted brand, people we pay more, come back and tell others.

Morris: How do you quantify the “high cost of suspicion”?

Horsager: Skepticism and suspicion create the opposite of trust and destroy motivation, teamwork, and results. Skepticism brings everything into question, slows processes, and promotes suspicion.
The chart above explains it well. Think of it this way, if you don’t rust someone or something, you spend far more time checking it out, not to mention stressing about it. How do you quantify time and stress? In business and life, time and health are two of the most valuable and expensive resources.

Morris: What are the greatest barriers to an organization’s efforts to become and then [begin italics] remain [end italics] trustworthy?

Horsager: I don’t think that there is one specific barrier to overcome. Rather, there are multiple barriers that each organization needs to identify as a barrier and then begin the process of overcoming each.

The 12 biggest barriers are:

1. Conflicts of Interest
2. Rising Litigation
3. Low Customer Loyalty
4. Media Coverage of Scandals
5. Speedy Social Networks
6. Technology
7. Fear
8. Negative Experiences
9. Individualism
10. Diverse Thinking
11. Instant Gratification
12. Focus on the Negative

Morris: You identify and discuss eight “pillars of trust” in Part II. Which seems to be the most difficult to earn? Why?

Horsager: I think that the most difficult pillar, but also the most important pillar, is Consistency. Without consistency, a demonstration of character once really isn’t character at all. None of the pillars can stand without being consistent over time. Making and keeping commitments and doing the same thing regardless of circumstance consistently over time is how we will build and keep trust.

Morris: Which of these “pillars” is most difficult to [begin italics] sustain [end italics]? Why?

Horsager: Again, Consistency.

Morris: What is an organization’s vision and why is it so important?

Horsager: An organizations vision inspires, unifies and gives a powerful focus. Vision helps a company create a strategy. Vision isn’t a replacement for strategy; it’s the reason you have one. A simple mission statement gives clarity of purpose. I have one for my company, my family, and my personal life. In each case the mission statement gives me direction and helps guide my priorities which guides daily decisions.

Morris: In your opinion, what are the most appropriate ways to show appreciation of people who “go the extras mile”? Please explain.

Horsager: Sincerity is most important. People can smell insincerity miles away. Writing a hand-written note, making a phone call to him/her, or giving a special gift can all be significant ways to show appreciation. Acknowledging the person publically can be valuable too.

Morris: Again, in your opinion, what are the defining characteristics, the most reliable indications, of [begin italics] character [end italics]?

Horsager: True character and a trusting character are demonstrated through humility, principle driven decision making, pure intent, self-discipline, and self-created accountability. Those that had the character pillar were noticed for doing what they ought to do in spite of what they felt like doing.

Morris: Why specifically is consistency so important to an organization’s authenticity?

Horsager: If consistency is missing, the pillars fall. Character once in a while is not character. Commitment only when you are winning is not commitment. On the other hand, consistent clarity builds a trusted message. Consistent compassion reveals trusted character. Trust increases or decreases with every interaction. Just one inconsistency can change people’s perspective. Ultimately, the Eight Pillars of Trust come down to action. One can talk about having all the eight pillars, but trust is only earned by consistent actions.

Morris: How about to an individual’s authenticity?

Horsager: Of course the most deceptive person is the one who appears trustworthy but is not. People are pretty good at discerning authenticity.

Morris: Much has been said and written in recent years about the importance of having a mentor. Here are three separate but related questions. First, what are the defining characteristics of a great mentor? How best to select one? How best to [begin italics] become [end italics] one?

Horsager: To be a great mentor is learning to mix listening and encouragement with a candid challenge. They also demonstrate trust, openness and honesty.

Some good ways of finding a mentor is to check if your company, church, or organization has a formal mentorship program. Identify people you respect and admire. Determine what you need, look for someone with those skills, and make sure you have shared values. Remember, while ongoing mentor relationships are invaluable, you can be mentored in one meeting.

Being a mentor does not mean you act like you know everything or that you will fill your mentee with your great knowledge and wisdom. It is about listening, encouraging, sharing experiences that relate, and asking good questions.

Morris: You insist in Chapter 8 that sacrifice “is the commonality of great leaders.” In your opinion, which great leaders best exemplify that?

Horsager: Leaders from George Washington and Mother Teresa to my dad and my football coach all exemplified sacrifice. Take Martin Luther King, Jr. He endured 30 arrests, physical assaults, and threats against his family, because of his determination that men should live as equals. He, like the strongest leaders in history, demonstrated an unwillingness to give in when things were tough, and so they were able to unite others towards their cause. Their commitment and sacrifice revealed devotion and loyalty.

Morris: All organizations need effective leadership (i.e. those who demonstrate [begin italics] initiative [end italics]) at all levels and in all areas of operation. What about commonality of sacrifice throughout an entire enterprise?

Horsager: I have seen CEOs (e.g. Whole Food’s CEO) and pro quarterbacks (i.e. Peyton Manning) sacrifice pay and they gained the trust of their companies and teams. On the other hand, I have seen leaders horde the rewards and lose the trust of their teams very quickly.

Morris: What is a “fan base” and who needs one? Why?

Horsager: A fan base is simply a community. People crave to be a part of something bigger. A fan base shares your message with others and becomes your best marketing agent. If you can create community, commitment and trust will grow.

Morris: How to expand and strengthen one?

Horsager: To expand and strengthen a fan base, start by being unique. Invite customers into a community with the feel of club membership. Communicate often. Give value with every communication by giving deals, helpful hints, ideas, or furthering the sense of community. Offer more accessories or enhancements that complement the original product. Give fans special treatment.

Morris: In your opinion, what are the most expensive avoidable distractions and how best to eliminate them?

Horsager: Anything that keeps you from doing the most important things you should be doing. The most common distractions are often mobile devices, internet and television. In the workplace, it can be so easy for someone to spend time on Facebook or surfing the net when they are paid to be working. Set the expectations in your organization up front. Another way to eliminate this problem is to get your employees focused on doing the most important things every day, and then celebrate accomplishing goals and benchmarks. Acknowledging and appreciating the hard work of others goes a long way in creating loyalty and trust, which will result in less time spent being distracted.

Morris: Many of the companies annually ranked by Fortune among those most highly-regarded and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable and having the greatest cap value in their given industry. What do you make of that?

Horsager: They are likely the most trusted in their industry and they have created cultures of trust. As trust increases, so does output, morale, retention, productivity, innovation, loyalty and revenue.

Morris: Obviously, it can take a decade to earn trust that can then be lost in ten minutes, or less. How best to [begin italics] regain [end italics] trust, once lost?

Horsager: First, apologize sincerely, then make and keep all new commitments. The only way to rebuild trust is to make and keep commitments. Then accentuate the eight pillars.

Morris: Business relationships that are multinational and multicultural can be difficult to establish and even more difficult to sustain. In your opinion, how best to earn trust through global interaction?

Horsager: Be humble, be teachable, and be observant. Research customs ahead of time and find out what is expected in that culture. Learn to listen and be quiet. Most cultures are not as loud as our American culture. Lastly, be thankful. Gratitude speaks volumes in any language.

Morris: What are the unique challenges posed by social media insofar as being trustworthy and trusting others are concerned?

Horsager: There is a level of anonymity which slows down and decreases trust. The only way to “be” a trusted company online is to implement the Eight Pillars in every area of your organization.

Morris: Here’s a follow-up question: How best to respond to those challenges?

Horsager: I have 15 tips for the challenges that are posed by social media.

1. Be simple and clear.
2. Be informative.
3. Make it easy to connect with you.
4. Show real people.
5. Be a member of credible groups and show their logo.
6. Show your history.
7. Use true client testimonials.
8. Include a FAQ section.
9. Respond quickly.
10. Confirm it.
11. Keep in touch.
12. Avoid too much advertising.
13. Update often.
14. Have and display a strong privacy policy.
15. Offer a generous return policy.

Morris: The Samuel Johnson quotation in Chapter 16 is among those that caught my eye: “He who waits to do a great deal of good at once, will never do anything.” Your take on it?

Horsager: That is similar to something my good friend and brilliantly successful salesperson says: “Small acts are better than great intentions.” Many people are constantly getting ready to get ready. This reminds me of what another friend of mine, Mark LeBlanc says, “Done is better than perfect.” Get started and do the most valuable doable action you can right now.

Morris: Must one’s “trust edge” be continuously sharpened? If so, how?

Horsager: Every time I research or speak on The Trust Edge, I am reminded and reignited to keep sharpening my “trust edge.”  We need reminders. We need to keep getting better or we will lose our edge.

Morris: Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read The Trust Edge and to institutionalize the book’s core principles throughout the given enterprise. Where to begin?

Horsager: Start with yourself. Then create a Trust Edge culture through training, incentivizing trust pillars, and aligning your strategic plan and priorities with the eight pillars. Or call us and we can help.

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in The Trust Edge, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

Horsager: Start with the clarity pillar. Be clear about your vision and priorities. Jim Collins said, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” Then communicate your top values to everyone and teach managers to make decisions based on what will do the most to move those values forward. Everyone should learn how to do DMA’s (Difference Making Actions) and 90-Day Quick-Plans which we teach so that all people execute the most important things every day.

Dave cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:



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