Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu taught that the most successful armies act as if they are one body, and that all parts of the body act in unison with a single directed energy. A similar kind of corporate unity of thought and action is the Holy Grail of today’s organizational leaders. How can we achieve Sun Tzu’s ideal of unity and loyalty in business? The answer is trust – and trust has to flow in both directions.

Every battleground is dependent on your soldiers and the morale you create as a leader. You need to unify your team towards one common goal or vision. Morale is the capacity of a group’s members to maintain belief in an institution or in an organization, particularly when you face opposition, hardship, or competition. The wise general will have built a culture of trust with his team before he takes it into battle. There are three types of trust:

  • Capability trust is being able to delegate. If you can’t delegate, your employees will feel untrusted and, consequently, disrespected – and you’ll be overwhelmed.

  • Contractual trust is being able to keep agreements and make sure you’re able to manage employees’ expectations. If you change the rules on the fly, your employees aren’t going to feel secure – and will be looking for a chance to bail.

  • Communication trust is sharing the right type of information and providing constructive feedback to your team. If you don’t share information with them, your employees are going to wonder what you’re hiding – and why you don’t trust them enough to reveal it.

Employees are the backbone of a company. If they feel threatened, ignored, or disrespected in any way, they are likely to resort to doing just enough work to stay hired. In turn, the quality of your company’s services, of your company’s products and intensity of their production will suffer. So how do we, as leaders, create this critical bond of trust?

Leaders take responsibility. A great leader is ready to jump on grenades: When something goes wrong, great leaders need to step up. They don’t use the royal ‘we’; they use the word ‘I’. They need to get personally involved and they need to say to the employees, ‘I can help. I need your help’. That creates what I call the ‘we’ with a real meaning.

A great example is Anne Mulcahy, a leader who who was forced into power on the battlefield and came through with a strong focus on her employees. A former chairperson and CEO of Xerox, she was named CEO of Xerox in the middle of 2001 and chairman in early 2002 and was selected as CEO of the Year by Chief Executive Magazine in 2008, retiring in 2009. Shortly after Mulcahy took over the helm at Xerox in 2000, as the company was facing possible bankruptcy, she stood up and fought back, saying, ‘Xerox’s business model is unsustainable’.

Effective communication was the single most important component of Xerox’s successful turnaround strategy; she was often heard to say, ‘I feel like my title should be chief communication officer because that’s really what I do’. She emphasized the importance of listening to employees. She said when she first became CEO she spent the first 90 days on planes, travelling to the various offices and listening to anyone who had a perspective on what was going wrong or right at the company.

If you spend as much time listening as you do talking, that’s time well spent. In addition to soliciting honest feedback, trust, honesty and confidence are critical to effective communication, especially during times of crisis.

You have to give people the sense that you know what’s happening and that you have a strong strategy to fix it. Beyond that, you have to tell people what they can do to help.  Like trust, respect has to flow in both directions: Respect for ourselves guides our morals, and respect for others guides our manners. Anne’s no-nonsense, no-holds-barred approach left her with a dedicated workforce uniquely aligned around a common set of objectives. The two-way bond of mutual trust she established was critical to her success.

Give your team your trust and respect; listen, share, delegate, and be the first to take responsibility when things go wrong. They’ll reward you with loyalty to you and your cause.