Stephen M. R. Covey’s Trust and Inspire: Book Overview

What motivates people in today’s workplace? Is your leadership style as effective as it can be?

Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others by Stephen M. R. Covey says that it’s time for leaders to step up from traditional leadership to inspirational leadership to succeed in all areas of work and life. Covey explains why this is important and how to achieve it.

Continue reading for our comprehensive Trust and Inspire book overview.

Trust and Inspire Book Overview

In today’s world, workers must collaborate effectively and provide quality service and knowledge for their organizations to thrive—as a leader, this requires you to maximize employees’ creativity, innovation, and collaboration. However, you can’t achieve this with traditional leadership styles that rely on carrot-and-stick methods of motivation. Instead, you must evolve as a leader—to inspire employees to maximize the quality of their work by trusting them and encouraging them to achieve their full potential.

In our Trust and Inspire book overview, we’ll explain why the shift from industrial-era to modern-day work necessitates a leadership evolution. Then, we’ll explore the five core doctrines of inspirational leaders and the three commitments you must adopt to become one.

Covey is a writer, public speaker, and best-selling author who specializes in the role of trust in leadership. He cofounded the FranklinCovey Global Speed of Trust Practice, which offers educational materials, training, and public speaking events to individuals and organizations looking to maximize their performance by building and leveraging trust. Previously, Covey was the CEO of the Stephen R. Covey Leadership Center at Utah State University. Covey is also the author of The Speed of Trust and Smart Trust

(Shortform note: Stephen M. R. Covey is not to be confused with his late father Stephen R. Covey, a renowned business and leadership expert and author of numerous best sellers such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, First Things First, and The 8th Habit.)

The History of Leadership

In Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others, Covey argues that the fundamental nature of work has changed since the industrial era, necessitating a corresponding shift in leadership. We’ll explore the difference between industrial and modern work and explain why leaders must evolve to keep up.

Traditional Leadership Styles Are Tailored for Industrial-Era Work

In the industrial era, workers mainly performed manual tasks in which quality depended on speed and effectiveness. As such, leaders used extrinsic motivators (like threats and rewards) to encourage employees to work faster and harder. These leaders, whom Covey calls “command and control” leaders, weren’t concerned with employee engagement and inspiration because those things didn’t impact work quality. For example, factory line workers assembled products of the same quality regardless of whether they were inspired to do so because the process was streamlined and materials were uniform.

Inspirational Leaders Are Required for Modern Work

Covey argues that, unlike industrial work, most modern types of work aren’t streamlined or uniform. Therefore, quality work requires not just speed and effectiveness, but high levels of creativity, innovation, and collaboration. This is because most employees today perform either knowledge– or service-based work. Knowledge work, Covey says, requires continuous learning, idea generation, innovation, and collaboration, while service work requires the ability to connect with others.

Further, Covey explains that employees can only develop their creative, innovative, and collaborative abilities when they’re fulfilled by and inspired to improve their work. This is because employees who are fulfilled and inspired are more engaged, and greater engagement correlates with higher levels of creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

As such, traditional leaders can no longer effectively encourage quality work. Instead, leaders must evolve in order for their organizations to thrive—they must inspire their employees and help them reach their full potential. Covey refers to this evolved leader as a “trust and inspire” leader.

The Five Doctrines of Inspirational Leaders

Covey explains that inspirational leaders differ from traditional leaders in their mindset and beliefs about the world. While traditional leaders focus on controlling people, inspirational leaders focus on developing people. He says inspirational leaders hold five beliefs about the world that shape their leadership style.

Doctrine #1: Everyone Has a Higher Potential to Achieve

Inspirational leaders believe everyone has unique talents. These leaders have the ability to see people’s potential, and they believe that their role as a leader is to help people learn and grow to reach it.

Doctrine #2: People’s Needs Are Dynamic and Important

Inspirational leaders recognize that for people to reach their full potential and produce quality work, their fundamental needs must be fulfilled—physiological needs, safety needs, needs for love and belonging, and esteem needs. The best leaders even strive to help fulfill people’s need for self-actualization. They’re not only concerned with employees’ financial needs (a paycheck)—they also have genuine concern for employees’ overall well-being, including their mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Doctrine #3: Everything Is in Abundance

According to Covey, many people lack genuine care for others because they possess a scarcity mindset: They believe there’s not enough success, money, recognition, and resources to go around. This leads to jealousy and toxic competition. Inspirational leaders, by contrast, have an abundance mindset—they believe that there’s enough of everything for everyone and that cooperation brings out the best in everyone.

Doctrine #4: Service Comes First

Inspirational leaders believe their fundamental role is to serve others—especially those who follow them. They prioritize employees’ best interests over their own. Success for inspirational leaders means growing their employees into the happiest and most successful versions of themselves.

Doctrine #5: Change Starts With Me

Inspirational leaders believe they must serve as role models—to maximize people’s potential and well-being, they must first take the steps to maximize their own. They commit themselves to developing and demonstrating every characteristic they’d like to see in their employees.

The Three Commitments of Inspirational Leaders

Covey explains that inspirational leaders put their five doctrines into action through three primary commitments. We’ll explain each of the commitments, what they entail, and why they’re important. 

Commitment #1: Become an Upstanding Person

The first commitment of inspirational leaders is to be an upstanding person that others look up to. This requires you to be strong, be true to yourself, and understand others

Covey says that upholding this commitment is important for two reasons. First, becoming an upstanding person naturally makes you an inspirational role model for others because your characteristics make you credible and a source of moral guidance. Second, being an upstanding person means you model the characteristics necessary to reach your full potential—by being this person, you encourage your followers to do the same.

Requirement #1: Be Strong

The first requirement of becoming an upstanding person is to be strong. Being strong means doing, and advocating, what’s right—putting your ego aside, recognizing when you’re wrong, and valuing others’ opinions. For example, this may mean admitting to others when a decision you made backfires, or standing up for someone who’s being bullied. Covey explains that being strong also requires you to be brave—putting yourself out there can be intimidating.

Requirement #2: Be Authentic

The second requirement of becoming an upstanding person is to be authentic. Being authentic means aligning your actions with your values and words and expressing your genuine thoughts and feelings. Essentially, be your true self without putting on a mask for anyone. Covey explains that many people struggle to do so out of fear that they’ll be judged. To overcome this, embrace your vulnerability—accept that you’re not perfect and be OK with sharing your imperfections, despite what others might think.

Requirement #3: Understand Others

The third requirement of becoming an upstanding person is to understand others. Understanding others means realizing people’s feelings and experiences from their perspective and doing so without judgment. Understanding others increases your ability to work effectively—people will be more open and collaborative toward you, which will enable you to develop effective and creative solutions.

Commitment #2: Extend Faith to Others

Covey explains that the second commitment inspirational leaders uphold is to extend faith to people. Extending faith means not only seeing that everyone has a higher potential, but also believing that they have the ability to achieve it. Extending faith also requires leaders to give employees autonomy rather than micromanaging.

Covey says that extending faith to employees is important because it allows them to reach their full potential and maximize performance. Expressing your belief in someone’s abilities to perform at a high level, and granting them autonomy to do so on their own, inspires them to meet—and even exceed—your expectations. Further, having confidence in others is contagious: Your choice to believe in others will gradually ripple outward, increasing collaboration and strengthening relationships throughout the organization.

Covey says that effectively extending faith relies on two foundations: setting clear expectations and practicing accountability. 

Foundation #1: Set Specific, Mutually Agreed-Upon Expectations

Covey explains that employees can only meet your expectations if you’re specific about what they are. Otherwise, misunderstandings are likely to arise and both parties may end up disappointed.

To ensure a positive outcome, first, nail down specifics—what does “success” or completion of the task look like? What are the deadlines? What resources are available?

Then, discuss these expectations with employees and come to a mutual agreement. Genuinely consider any amendments employees may want to make. For example, if you want a task to be completed by Monday but the employee thinks Wednesday is better, accept the request as long as there are no major issues with it. Mutually agreeing on expectations provides employees with a sense of meaning behind their work—they’re doing things because those things are important and make sense, not just because you said so.

Foundation #2: Create an Accountability Plan

To ensure expectations are met, Covey says you must hold others accountable for progress and results. It’s unrealistic to tell someone what you want and expect that it will be perfect without checking in throughout the process. If things veer off track or an employee needs help, you want to be available to provide guidance.

Further, Covey emphasizes mutually agreeing upon accountability methods. Your methods of practicing accountability may compromise your extension of faith if the employee feels micromanaged. To avoid this outcome, co-create an accountability plan with the employee to instill a sense of autonomy and accountability.

Commitment #3: Foster Connection

Covey explains that the third commitment of inspirational leaders is to foster connection—connection to their source of inspiration, among their followers, and between their followers and a larger vision. Connection provides people with meaning and purpose, the building blocks of inspiration. Employees who feel connected are inspired to reach their full potential and to use that potential to produce quality work for the organization.

Connection #1: Connect to Your Source of Inspiration

Covey explains that, to inspire others, you must first identify your own source of inspiration. To do this, ask yourself what’s most important to you and why. 

For example, if you run a laundromat, reflect on why this business matters to you—why did you want to start it? Maybe it’s because your family couldn’t afford a washing machine when you were a child, and you were embarrassed by wearing dirty clothes. Your underlying inspiration might stem from the desire to provide affordable laundry services to people so everyone can feel confident and dignified with clean clothes.

Connection #2: Connect to Others

The second level of connection you must foster is connection with others. To connect with others, Covey argues that you must practice empathy and kindness. Empathy is understanding people’s feelings and experiences from their perspective and doing so without judgment. Kindness is a step past empathy—you use your understanding of others to assist them based on their needs.

Covey cites two reasons for empathizing with and showing kindness to others. First, showing care for someone makes them more receptive to you and therefore more likely to be inspired by you. Second, connecting helps you identify an individual’s personal sources of inspiration. You can then link this to the organization’s larger purpose, motivating the individual to produce superior work to achieve it.

Connection #3: Connect to Something Larger Than Yourself

The final level of connection Covey says you must foster to be inspirational is connection with  something larger than yourself. This requires you to nurture connections among individuals in the group and among individuals and the group’s larger purpose. Doing this inspires people by infusing them with belonging and purpose.

On a smaller scale, building connections between group members fosters camaraderie and establishes a shared identity and sense of belonging. This inspires collaboration and excellent performance among individuals because they want to uphold their roles in the group and make their team members proud.

More broadly, providing an overarching vision for the group makes members feel instrumental in achieving something meaningful. Covey explains that this sense of being part of a larger purpose inspires people, as it fulfills our innate need for belonging and meaning.

Stephen M. R. Covey’s Trust and Inspire: Book Overview

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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