The foundation of everything.

What is the key strategic asset in your business?

Before I write an article, I’ll usually skim back through my recent ones to make sure I’m not constantly writing about the same stuff. But this week I noticed that, while my last five articles covered a nice, wide range of strategic leadership topics, fundamentally they all spoke to one thing.

So, I thought it might be worth highlighting that one thing, and why it’s so fundamental.

One of those articles was about making progress from conflict. There are various of ways to do this: raising the level of conversation (per the article), a whole raft of collaborative negotiation techniques, building on common ground, mediation, and so on and so forth.

But even with all those tools, in lots of businesses people still routinely avoid conflict, frequently clash over relatively small things, or appear to agree then head off to stew on it in silence, waiting for a chance to subtly unpick things later.

It’s so common that it makes number two in Patrick Lencioni’s excellent book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. His number one, though, is trust. And there’s a reason for that.

Any form of conflict or disagreement is hard to work through without some level of trust, which is why trust-building is an essential first step in sales and negotiation. And as Lencioni points out in teams, it’s only by working fully through a conflict that we get genuine alignment and real commitment to a collective action.

I also wrote recently about developing your team’s ability to think strategically and showed that in times of rapid change: “All managers need to be able develop fresh plans and strategies as they go.”

Why isn’t that standard practice already? Because nine times out of ten, we don’t trust managers to make those big calls by themselves.

The article before that talked about empowering people on the front line, giving them permission to think and act beyond the constraints of the process, allowing them to flex to the situation and to solve the problems in front of them. Why don’t we do that as much as we should? You’ve guessed it.

And before that I wrote about innovation ecosystems. Innovation, whether it’s with partners or simply with employees, can’t happen without tolerating failure. And fundamental to that, is trust: the trust you have in your people to do their best even when the odds are against them, and the trust they must have in you, that even if the idea fails, they won’t be treated as failures themselves.

Recognising the importance of trust to high-performing teams is nothing new. But in an era where innovation, front-line empowerment, and strategic agility, have become so intrinsic to long-term business success, trust is a cultural asset that’s worth more than gold.

Like any asset, trust will devalue if it’s not actively maintained – it can never be taken for granted, and two years of working in lockdown conditions won’t have helped.

Nor can it be rekindled in an afternoon of falling backwards into each other’s arms at a cringe-inducing away day. Trust is a long-term investment, and its value is dictated not by what you think or what you say, but by how you and those around you actually behave, every single day.

By the honesty and transparency you display, the authority you give away, the interest you take in the thoughts and feelings of others, and the integrity you show by doing what you say.

Trust is one of your organisation’s most valuable strategic assets, so make it a point right now, to start actively observing it, assessing it, building it, and most importantly, demonstrating it.

Because if those last five articles are anything to go by, it’s probably the common foundation for pretty much everything else you want to achieve.