Why Are Some Leaders Better Weight Lifters?


I strongly recommend you view the video version of today’s Reading for Leading, but if you’d prefer to read, I’ve included the text below the video, as some requested.

Jack Mulhern depicts a fulcrum

I don’t recommend a lot of books on leadership but when I do it’s because they have three things: clear ideas, usable ideas, and research-backed ideas.  Amy Lyman, whom you’ll hear from in just a moment has nailed all three of those in a book called The Trust Worthy Leader.  Twenty years ago Amy co-founded the Great Places to Work Institute. You may know them;  they’re the group that works for Fortune Magazine, has created the criteria and researches the 100 “best companies to work for.”  By the way, Google tops the list again this year.

I like – in fact – I love the subtitle of Amy’s book – it’s called Leveraging the Power of Trust to Transform Your Organization.  I asked my great son Jack to demonstrate what trust looks like and he did this cool little video [if you can’t view the video imagine a stick figure animation on a teeter totter, where the one person can’t lift the two on the other end, until he realizes that he can move the fulcrum towards them and gain success].  In physics, you get greater leverage if you move the fulcrum closer to the object you want to lift.

Now Amy shows how in leadership, a trustworthy leader has much greater leverage.  It’s as if their fulcrum is in the optimal position.  Think about a leader you trust and what happens when they have to do some heavy lifting.  For instance, imagine they ask you to be patient with them until things work out, or to work late or work on a weekend, or they ask you to do something they know you really don’t want to do.  What tends to happen?  Well, if they’re trust worthy, you do it.   That my friends is the power, the leverage of trust.

Here’s a key excerpt from a recent interview I did with Amy and a key notion she discovered about these leaders who had proven themselves trust worthy.

She told me:  “After listening to people’s stories it was actually new to me as well, which was interesting given I that I’d worked with these trustworthy leaders for so long, and talked with lots of their people.  As I was listening to people’s stories, I began to get  a sense that these people were really honored to be in these positions.

“I’ve met enough leaders who are proud of what they doing, who have a slight sense of entitlement, a sense of their importance –

I broke in to add some understanding, “and a great sense of responsibility…”

Amy continued “oh yeah, responsibility; [I don’t mean it] as a negative, but this kind of leadership stance that people take.  Yet when I asked [the CEO’s of these “great companies to work for”] to tell their stories of being a leader, to give me examples, to talk about their own growth as leaders, I became very aware of this sense that they were honored – they are honored – to be in these leadership positions.”

She made me wonder – as I ask you to wonder with me:  To what degree do you feel the leadership positions you hold are truly an honor? And how well do you communicate that sense of honor, in order to earn trust, and gain appropriate leverage, and thus

Lead with your best self.


  • I sent the last 2 questions to our managers this morning (along with a link to RFL).

    Your point about working hard for a trustworthy leader is a good one. I want to add that people will also work late and do unpleasant assignments for UNtrustworthy leaders if they feel trapped or don’t see other options for themselves. The difference is often how it feels to do that extra work – or, within limits, if you even notice or label it as “extra.”

    Thanks as always for a thought-provoking column. And thanks to Jack too!

    • Cathy,
      Thanks for the connection to the UNtrustworthy leader. Good point.
      The question about extra work is a great one. When I feel it’s an honor for someone to work with me, it means I honor their life, I see them not simply as a means to my accomplishing work, but as an end in themselves. So I don’t ask people to work tons of weekend time (as Carole Polan Love did on this week’s video RFL). The point is “honor” is not about fluff, and not about stroking people. It’s REAL.
      And your example of the UNtrustworthy leader generally points to the same thing: they see you as a means to their (however noble) success, more than as an end in yourself.

  • Hi Dan — enjoyed the point about leverage and it reminded me of another author who comments about leverage — Richard Rumelt. He’s got a new book out called “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: the difference and why it matters.” Thought provoking stuff and a nice complement to your columns!

  • Hi

    I find Cathy’s point to be a very good one – and something that I commented on in my book. With UNtrustworthy leaders what you get is ‘compliance’ behavior. People do what they are told because they are afraid or perceive that they have no other options. Besides being a harsh way to have to spend your working hours, the presence of compliance behavior brought on by a lack of trust is very damaging to the spirit of a workplace. Creativity and innovation are lost, people keep their heads down, and try to get through the day as quickly and quietly as possible.

    When trust is present though what you will see are cooperation and collaboration. And what you will feel in the workplace is a very different quality to the environment. There will be more smiling and friendly chatter, as well as hard work, commitment and dedication to get the work finished. You will also see people care more about the quality of the work which helps them to feel better about their contribution and of course is better for the organization as well.

    Back to the theme of your post today about the Honor of leadership – trustworthy behavior does bring about more ways in which leaders can feel honorable about their contributions and certainly makes for a more productive and enjoyable workplace.



  • >