Food for thought

A fresh perspective on Trust for leaders part 5

A short series of articles sharing insights and experience regarding the factors that allow leaders to significantly increase their effectiveness – just by doing a few key things differently and NOT by putting in more hours

Focus on demanding situations

This article is written with a deep respect for your valuable time – it is meant to be read in less than 5 minutes, and to hopefully spark some good reflection and action.


Welcome back! So far, the first four articles of this series have given an overview of the individual trust/trustworthiness levers, and have more closely inspected the “individual relationships” and “team collaboration” levers. Now this piece will provide a quick deep dive into the “leading in demanding situations” lever of the trust profile of a leader.

Let’s look at three key skills of trusting and trustworthy leaders: 

  • Spotting impending problems
  • Bouncing back after something didn’t go as planned
  • Seizing opportunities.

Essential characteristics of successful leaders are their entrepreneurial vision and strategic foresight. They spot impending problems and uncertainties earlier than others (without analysing situations to death), address them and deal with them swiftly. Whether the issue is operational or more strategic in nature, or even subtle like shifts in the corporate culture or market demands, the ability to address these uncertainties so they can be resolved with an open mind is not a standard feature of all leaders. It is, however, a standard feature of the most trustworthy ones. It’s about reading patterns; it’s about picking up the weak signals; it’s about questioning assumptions that others take for granted, possibly slowing down the process.

Not everything goes according to the plan. Many senior leaders I have spoken with have said: “If everything you do works well, you probably weren’t ambitious enough in the first place”. So the ability to bounce back if things go wrong is key. Once we are beyond this fear, we are ready to build our trustworthiness. Many people have experienced failures in the details, while the general course of action was still appropriate and didn’t need to be altered. It is about

  • Maintaining the course of action even though adverse events happen and information is received that might cast a doubt on what has been decided previously
  • Creating an environment that allows people to make experiments; only leaders who score high on trust will create environments open to experimentation

We all know situations where too much analysis (or “analysis paralysis”) resulted in organisations being late, and we all know leaders/teams/organisations that “shoot from the hip”, sometimes getting things right, sometimes not. Seizing opportunities is about finding a working balance between the two extremes more often than others. It requires the willingness to be in a minority position, to go against the grain, to go in one direction when many others are headed in a different direction. And it requires taking decisions without a majority in your environment backing you up. You need to be trusted to be able to pull that off. And you need to trust yourself to do so.

The next article will provide a quick deep dive into the “self-confidence” lever of the trust profile of a leader. See you again next week!

The content of the article relies predominantly on three sources: 

  • The work by the Trust Management Institute, mostly by Tom Sommerlatte and Jean-Luc Fallou, as laid out in their book “Quintessenz der Vertrauensbildung” (Springer, Heidelberg, 2012)
  • Several thousands of hours of working with senior executives and teams in their quest to improve individual and team effectiveness and reduce effort needed to achieve desired results
  • Many conversations with like-minded professionals who share the same interest

Happy reading – and please do let me know your reactions and questions. Always willing and happy to engage in a conversation!

You can reach me at

Rolf Pfeiffer is a Germany-based executive coach. He is one of the original founders of Leadership Choices, a professional services firm dedicated to leadership development - with European roots and global reach. His clients often say that Rolf effectively helps them to achieve outstanding results by taking on new perspectives on their activities and impact. Rolf has worked as an executive coach and facilitator since 2003, his assignments have taken him to many European countries, the Middle East, the USA and South Africa. He works in senior faculty and coach roles for the Center for Creative Leadership and is member of the executive education faculty of HEC Paris in Qatar. In his coaching work, he draws upon his consulting and business experience (from senior roles with leading firms in their respective fields) and helps his clients to navigate the dynamics of their organisational environment effectively.

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