Great Leadership Begins with the ROCC of Trust

Great Leadership Begins with the ROCC of Trust

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The great leaders I’ve been working with over the past 25 years didn’t start as great.

Instead, they were perfectly normal people who through courage, humility, and authenticity built enduring great organizations based on what I call the ROCC of Trust©: Reliability, Openness/Honesty, Competence, and Compassion.

These leaders were able to build the ROCC of Trust because of their courage, humility, and authenticity. Courage means willingness to confront the status quo. The status quo could be where if changes aren’t made, the organization will fail, go bankrupt, or be acquired through an unfriendly takeover. Or, it may be the case that everything is fine, but it could be so much better if our people were only willing to change. Regardless, it takes someone who is willing to speak the truth, challenge long-held assumptions, and shake up the team or the organization. Equally important, courage also allows the leader to build trust where it doesn’t exist, to take the chance that others will step up to the challenge of change rather than torpedo it.

Courage without humility, however, easily becomes arrogance and leads to foolish mistakes. The best leaders I’ve worked with understand that there is no leader without followers, and that any lasting positive change requires a team or an entire organization to develop, implement, and sustain it. Humble leaders also know that they don’t possess all the necessary capabilities to effect significant change, and that they must build a trustworthy team around them to do so.

Great leaders are also authentic in that there is no one best way to lead. The best leaders utilize their unique combination of talents, skills, and passions to identify what needs changing. Their people then want to create the change because they trust the leader knows what should be done, and that it is being done in ways that will benefit everyone.

This leads to the ROCC of Trust, because people are more willing to follow someone who is Reliable, Open/Honest, Competent, and Compassionate. Being Reliable means being dependable, being consistent between what is said and what is done, “walking the talk,” keeping one’s promises, or simply responding quickly, even if the answer is “no.” When Melanie Bergeron was President of Two Men and a Truck, International, she told her franchises “no” when it came to using any trucks that weren’t painted white with the familiar black-and-white logo. Her leadership efforts focused on creating brand consistency and reliable service to their customers which is why it is on its way to becoming a half-billion dollar a year (revenues) business today.

Being open and honest means telling the truth, even if it means, “I don’t know the answer.” Such transparency motivates followers to be willing to open themselves, and to find the answers if they don’t exist. By opening up the company’s books of privately held Rhino Foods, President, Ted Castle was able to build a multimillion dollar business by educating his employees on the difference between revenue and profits, and to maximize the latter so that the company and everyone who worked there could thrive.

To be trusted in terms of being competent requires not only performing up to one’s capabilities, but also doing so unfailingly. When mistakes are inevitably made, they aren’t repeated. Bob Lintz, the now retired plant manager of the General Motors plant in Parma, Ohio, demonstrated his own competence over the course of decades.  More importantly, he empowered his thousands of employees to develop their own skills in ways that led to the creation of one of the world’s best automotive stamping plants, saving thousands of high-paying jobs as a result.

Compassionate leaders are able to get their followers to contribute in two ways that are crucial to innovation: take reasonable risks to develop new work methods, and pool scarce financial, material, and human resources. They are willing to do so because they don’t fear being punished for experimenting, and that others will reciprocate when it comes to sharing resources. By demonstrating Compassion, these leaders developed their own followers into trustworthy leaders themselves.

Aneil Mishra
About the Author
Aneil Mishra

Aneil Mishra is the Tom Arthur Distinguished Professor of Leadership at East Carolina University.  He works with executive teams and organizations around the world in the areas of trust, leadership development, and entrepreneurship, and publishes widely on these topics. His most recent book is Becoming a Trustworthy Leader. Learn more at or @drmish

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