“Trust me”: two words PMs and CEOs should never have to say

Mrs May today is saying in a speech that unless MPs support her Brexit deal that the outcome will not only be catastrophic, but undemocratic.

She may or may not be right about the former but the latter is open to challenge.

The danger is that she appears to have fallen into the behaviour trap, like many CEOs, who say “trust me on this” as a statement and not, as it should be framed, as a question: please, will you trust me on this?

I don’t hear any “please” in her voice as many directors who don’t hear a “please” in the voices of their CEOs who say “trust me” when they really mean: JFDI!

The problem is that JFDI doesn’t work with adults. It barely works with children. It certainly didn’t work with mine, whenever I tried it on.

The fact is that leaders have to earn trust. And when, in times of crisis, they need people to follow them and trust their judgement that trust will, almost invariably, be present.

But it takes time to build that trust. And it must be tried and tested through several experiences where those who are led feel a) that they are always heard b) there is a negotiated shared purpose c) there is an unshakeable confidence that the needs of those who are being led will not be trampled upon.

Once, a client of mine, a senior business executive, who had been an officer in The Royal Marines explained that during his training his troop called him “Sir” for many months until one day they called him “Boss”.

Why are you calling boss today, he asked.

Because only today do we trust that if you send us into harm’s way, we believe that you know what you’re doing and you will take care of us as best you can.

So whether you are Mrs May, a CEO or military leader, don’t say “trust me”. Don’t say anything. Just lead well and they’ll follow.



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