Workday Podcast: The Top 3 Attributes of a Trustworthy Leader

The world’s most successful companies are led by those who’ve gained the trust of their workforces. Leadership experts Frances Frei and Anne Morriss discuss how to develop trustworthiness, and the steps businesses can take to develop more diverse leadership teams.

Audio is also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

If you watched the television show “The Simpsons,” you’ll recall Mr. Burns, the greedy and uncaring CEO who would steeple his hands as he devised his next devious plot (“Ex-cellent!”). Thank goodness it was just a cartoon—he’d never make it as a business leader in today’s world. 

Now more than ever, the most successful companies are led by executives who’ve gained the trust of their workforces. How do leaders develop that trust? It comes down to honing three key attributes: authenticity, logic, and empathy.

That’s the advice of Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, who joined me for an engaging conversation on the Workday Podcast. Frei, a Harvard Business School professor, advises executives on organizational transformation, including how to cultivate diverse and inclusive workplaces. Morriss is founder of the Leadership Consortium, which prepares women and people of color for senior leadership. Also, Frei and Morriss, who are married, co-authored the best-selling book “Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business” and the recently published “Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You.”   

Mr. Burns had no chance of gaining trustworthiness. But today’s business leaders—and those on the leadership track—will gain numerous insights from this podcast with Frei and Morriss.

Some highlights from our conversation are below, edited for clarity. You can find our other Workday Podcast episodes here.

  • “Authenticity begins with this: If I'm listening to you, do I have a sense that it's the real you speaking? If you put on a facade of some sort, I and the rest of the world can sniff that out super quick. If you're not authentic, we're not going to trust you. Similarly, you can be as authentic as you like, but if the logic that you're giving us doesn't make sense, we're not going to trust you enough to follow you. And then the last one is empathy: Do you believe I'm in it for you? There are many people who are authentic and have logic, but they're megalomaniacs. When you break any one of them [authenticity, logic, or empathy], trust comes to a complete halt.”—Frances Frei

  • “Confidence is a little bit overrated in business. Our message is to put yourself out there and create the context and relationships where you can actually go beyond your skis, trusting that you have a team behind you and with you, willing to support you when you stumble. Build the relationships that allow you to go further than you could ever go on your own. And that's about faith and grace and being okay with your own strengths and weaknesses much more than it is about an intrinsic idea of confidence.”—Anne Morriss

  • “I sadly see a lot of wasted effort [on diversity and inclusion programs]; things that are check-the-box and make us feel good. So you'll give HR a list and say, ‘Compliance-wise, go make sure everybody does these three trainings.’ I don't think that helps at all. If we'd stop doing the defensive compliance and instead do the optimistic—‘What's getting in the way of a woman or a person of color being in a leadership role, and let's change that within six months’—then that’s what works.”—Frances Frei

  • “When you really get down to the things that are in the way of women and people of color—or anyone who identifies as ‘other’ in any way—succeeding in your organization, it's usually very solvable problems. We see in company after company that what it really takes is a willingness to ask the questions, own the patterns, look in a clear-eyed way at the data, and then figure out what you’re going to do to fix it.”—Anne Morriss

More Reading