Q&A with CEO & President, Michael Stewart, and COO, Gary Johnsen

Q: Recent articles suggest we’ve lost trust and confidence in our leaders. What is the significance of this for organizations and their employees?

Gary: When we read in the headlines every other day that leaders are lying to us, saying one thing and doing another and leading lives that we can’t rely on, you begin to believe that if they’re going to lie to the public, then they’re going to potentially lie to you. If they’re going to lie to you, then they don’t have your best interest in mind. If employees feel like their employer doesn’t have their best interest in mind, they’re not willing to go the extra mile, and in fact, they probably have one foot out the door already. 

Michael: Often leaders don’t understand the level at which they have to act consistently to create trust. They believe that as long as they get the big things right everything will be good, but that’s not true. Trust is about the nuances; it’s about consistent actions. Trust works on a continuum, and you have to ask yourself whether you’re gaining points or losing them. If you aren’t conscious of the way you’re acting, people will think things are happening behind closed doors—that you aren’t being transparent, or worse, you don’t have their best interests at heart. Causing question opens up this chasm of disbelief.


Gary: Our research shows that what separates effective from ineffective leaders is attributed to what we call beneficial relationships, or the ability to get relationships right. The nuances that Michael was just talking about—if you don’t get those nuances right, it doesn’t matter how aligned people are or how smart they are. Relationships are the key to creating the right culture and building trust.

Michael: You can have the best and the brightest people, great products, the best market, the best strategic plan, and great opportunities in the market, but if you don’t get trust right, you can’t execute that; you can’t reap the full rewards. You might be able to see short term results, but if you don’t have that trust, you’re not going to reach your full potential; you might not even reach half of that potential.


Q: What does trust do for a team and its organization? 

Gary:  When people trust, they’re able to be themselves. They’re able to become more creative; they’re able to think; they’re able to problem solve. If you’re worried about whether or not you’ll have a job tomorrow or whether you’re leader is going to cross some type of a boundary or lie to you—those are the distractions that keep you from being creative and innovative and from getting your job done to your fullest capability.

Michael: Trust is so important now because we’ve moved away from an industrial economy. People don’t just show up for the job and do it the same old way. Now the importance of knowledge workers—of bringing your thoughts and ideas and knowledge to bear—is critically important. You’re not counting on tactile skills; you’re counting on people bringing their brains, and to do that, you have to have that brain fully engaged. The knowledge of mankind is doubling every six years. Because of that, you have to count on people to think clearly, to act upon their ideas and to feel the freedom from retribution for acting on those ideas at the speed of light.  Trust opens up the brain to perform. It doesn’t get cluttered with distractions, with other noise. It doesn’t put up filters that create distrust.


Q: How is trust reciprocal? What if I feel like my boss doesn’t trust me?

 Michael: If you feel like your boss doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to put in the effort. You’re going to do just good enough to not get fired; you’re going to paint within the lines and do exactly as the boss tells you to do. You’ll be a yes-man. There will be no creative thinking, and there will be no other points of view. You will turn your brain off when you leave the workplace. You’ll want to absolutely avoid anything to do with work because it is seen as a painful place. Most people will detract from something painful.

Gary: If you don’t feel trusted by your leaders and your boss, you’re going to make the culture toxic by complaining and gossiping and taking the focus off of your work. You may even have a foot out the door looking for another job. One thing we know about productive employees is that they feel challenged. Employees who feel challenged—who are assigned challenging projects and who have the opportunity to grow their skills—are going to be the most productive. If you have a boss that doesn’t trust you, there’s a very high chance that you’re not going to get challenging projects—you’re going to get the bottom of the barrel and become dissatisfied.


Q: Describe the basic virtues of an effective, trustworthy leader. 

Gary: First, a trustworthy leader is someone who knows what they know. They are a subject matter expert in what they know. Conversely, they also know what they don’t know. They’re able to ask for help; they’re able to say this is what I’m smart in and what I’m not so smart in. When leaders can admit their shortcomings and limitations, they build trust. It’s humbling. It’s all about knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know and being okay with that. Second is reliability. An effective leader keeps promises. What you say is what you do, and what you do is what you say—you follow through. Third, a trustworthy leader maintains a sense of empathy—of really understanding his or her employees and customers, and deeply understanding the market. Fourth, an effective leader has a reduced sense of self-orientation. It doesn’t always have to be about “me,” but rather, a leader listens to you.  It’s about listening, being genuinely concerned, and asking the right questions. That level of concern creates trust.

 Michael: What does a leader do at the core? Sure, it’s about being honest, but it’s a lot more than that—it’s about being transparent about that honesty. A lot of people may feel like they’re direct, and they may feel like they’re honest, but they’re holding things back.  They may not be telling the full story or coming clean as far as context and perspectives. People sense that. Trustworthy leaders believe in the goodness of others. They believe people truly have positive intent.

The other piece involves emotional intelligence and self-awareness. It’s recognizing that your reactions actually do have impact and understanding what that impact is and owning that.  Effective leaders feel an innate sense of responsibility in their role as a leader.  They believe that what they do actually matters, and that people actually pay attention to what they say, and more importantly what they do. It’s about feeling the importance of their role and what it really means for others.

Leaders absolutely need to be goal-oriented and driven. They need to hold people accountable to high standards; but it’s not just what leaders encourage, it’s what they tolerate. It’s about setting goals and achieving the goals themselves, it’s not just about delegating to other people, it’s about jumping in when people need help. It’s about adjusting what their goals are and monitoring them on a consistent basis. It’s not about being the smartest person in the room; it’s about demonstrating a passion for learning new things. I think really good leaders are constantly looking for new information, new ideas, new things, and or people that can add to their perspective. It’s because they are humble about what they know and don’t know. They’re constantly seeking new knowledge. It’s out of a sense of responsibility to know—to drive the ship.


Trusted leaders demonstrate long-term consistency. Character is built over a very long period of time. You can’t change your mind every six months; you can’t have a whiplash effect. You have to be genuinely consistent, repeatable, and sustain your words and actions, and not just over a year, but over several years.  If you’re constantly moving back and forth and not being conscious of the change you’re creating or espousing or doing with your team or organization, you’re not going to build the core foundation of character.




Q: I’m interested in building a more trusted work culture. What can Work Effects give me?

Gary: Work Effects has the diagnostic tools that can help you figure out from a leadership perspective, from a cultural organization perspective, and from a performance perspective, what you’re doing well and what you should leverage more. We have the diagnostic tools that can quantify and qualify your strengths and gaps. We not only have ways in which to easily display the data, but we’ll help you understand what the data really means—drawing out the key insights. Lastly, and most importantly, we’ll help you really move the needle. It’s one thing to know your car is low on oil, but what do you do about it? We stick with you, and we believe very passionately that our action planning, support, and accountability will deliver results. We do a follow-up diagnostic in 6 months to a year, and we can demonstrate where there has been positive movement.

Michael: Our metrics don’t create the change, but they help us pinpoint the one, two, or three areas that are most critical—that need to either be leveraged or addressed. That gives us the ability to start looking deeper into your organization, into each of the departments or individuals.  We’ll get you emotionally onboard for wanting to change. As soon as you get that emotional component—that pull of the heart if you will—of the individual, the team, or the organization, now you have some gas in the tank; now you have something to work with. We pinpoint the root cause; we get you energized about wanting to change. Then, it’s about having the right resources and the follow through.  We stick to you. We don’t let you off the hook. That’s the hard part. We absolutely have to build trust with our clients otherwise they’re not going to be able to build trust from the inside out.



Q: What is Work Effects commitment to me in a business partnership?


Michael: We’re flexible and adaptable to different organizations and what they have. We have speed to market. Everyone talks about service; we deliver service. We anticipate customer issues long before they recognize they even have them. We can put those decisions before them and help them make those decisions ahead of a crisis. 

Gary: We understand global organizations companies and have built diagnostics around global companies. We have cultural competence, and we know how to work with different cultures around the world. We can translate our work, our solutions, and our diagnostics into multiple languages. We’ve done it and proved we can do it. With a global economy it’s important that we can reach beyond the boundaries of the United States. We’ve shown we can do that and do it very well.

Michael: We’ve been doing this for decades. We know where organizations get the most value. Rather than spending a lot of time, energy, and money customizing everything under the sun, we really figure out what is most critical for customizing and making it contextually relevant for an organization. Then they are able to divert some of the resources that could be spent on customizing and actually spend them on following through to create real change. We’re not about producing activity; we’re about producing results.


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Trust & Capacity Model

Trust is the basis of the four building blocks of a successful organization. Without it, the organization will fail. With it, success is measured exponentially. Getting to the root causes of workforce issues is a key to organizational competence regardless of industry. Knowing this, Work Effects has created the Trust & CapacityTM model with trust as the core driver to engagement, workforce capacity and stakeholder success.

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