Trust and Inspire Leadership: The 5 Fundamental Beliefs

How do your beliefs shape your leadership style? What do you believe to be true about yourself and the people you lead?

In Trust and Inspire, Stephen M. R. Covey says that as a modern leader, you must inspire employees to maximize their work quality by trusting and encouraging them to achieve their full potential. He contends that the foundation of this type of leadership is a set of beliefs.

Keep reading to learn the five fundamental beliefs of Trust and Inspire leadership.

The 5 Fundamental Beliefs of Trust and Inspire Leadership

Covey explains that Trust and Inspire leadership differs from traditional leadership in the mindset and worldview that the leaders hold. 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.

(Shortform note: Many of Covey’s ideas about the shift from industrial-era to knowledge-era leadership are consistent with the long-standing Complexity Leadership Theory (CLT). Part of CLT is the emphasis on the need to shift from controlling people to developing them. However, Covey’s idea that this shift hinges on a leader’s personal belief system is unique. CLT makes no mention of leaders’ personal beliefs—in other words, while Covey focuses on changing leaders (who they are as a person), CLT focuses more narrowly on changing leadership methods.) 

Fundamental Belief #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.

(Shortform note: Covey says you must be able to see people’s potential but doesn’t offer advice for developing this ability. One approach to determining an employee’s potential is to observe their behavior in three areas. First, how do they use their intellect—for example, do they try to anticipate changes and setbacks? Second, where do they put their energy—for example, do they focus on making things easier for themselves, or for the organization as a whole? Finally, how emotionally intelligent are they—for example, are they able to persuade or empathize with others? While these metrics target leadership potential, they may also hint at general potential by uncovering an employee’s interests and talents.)

Fundamental Belief #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. 

(Shortform note: The “trust and inspire” model focuses primarily on how to fulfill people’s more complex needs, and consequently, it doesn’t explicitly address how leaders can meet more basic physiological and safety needs. To fulfill employees’ physiological needs at work, provide clean restrooms, drinking water, breaks for meals and snacks, and a comfortable environment. To fulfill their safety needs, provide furniture that reduces risk of injury and enact policies that ensure employees are safe when working.)

Fundamental Belief #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.

(Shortform note: The concept of abundance and scarcity mindsets was popularized by Covey’s father, Stephen R. Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In The 7 Habits, Covey Sr. frames adopting an abundance mindset as a way to foster mutual success by creating “win/win” scenarios. He elaborates that this approach strengthens relationships because all parties feel valued and satisfied with chosen actions and solutions.)

Fundamental Belief #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.

(Shortform note: The concept of servant leadership was largely popularized by Robert Greenleaf. Greenleaf’s concept of servant leadership is a three-pronged approach with the goal of making the world a better place. The first prong is having a goal that benefits the common good. The second prong is having a selfless desire to put others’ needs above your own. The third prong is the ability to inspire others to join your cause and become servant leaders themselves.)

Fundamental Belief #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.

(Shortform note: In What You Do Is Who You Are, Ben Horowitz agrees that leaders must be role models. However, this alone isn’t enough—Horowitz argues that you must also change your company culture to model the principles and behaviors you want employees to uphold. For example, in addition to striving for your full potential, encourage this behavior in employees by enforcing a “20% rule.” This rule, popularized by Google, allows employees to spend 20% of their work hours on a project of interest that will benefit the company in some way. This encourages them to explore their interests while being productive, which helps them maximize their potential and creativity.)

Trust and Inspire Leadership: The 5 Fundamental Beliefs

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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