Several people, including the coordinator of this newsletter, mentioned to me that this thought in last month’s Leadership Lesson, “Leadership is about change,” really resonated with them: The greater the engagement and the trust level, the faster the movement to commitment and the greater the positive impact of the change.

I think it resonated because it’s one of those things that’s obvious once you sit down and think about it, but which otherwise isn’t readily apparent. This month’s column explores further the idea of trust.

Let’s compare two scenarios:

  • The Congress of the United States reaching agreement on the Farm Bill, the budget, immigration reform or the government debt level.
  • My wife and I, who have a very close and trusting relationship, deciding what to have for dinner or what to do for a night out.

Closer to home, compare these two scenarios:

  • Two partners who have major differences about the mission of and direction for the farm making a capital replacement decision.
  • Two partners who have collaboratively reached agreement about the mission of and direction for the farm making a capital replacement decision.

I think it is pretty easy to see that in both of these pairs, the first scenarios will take a long time to resolve — and, in fact, resolution may be impossible. It is also easy to imagine that in the second scenarios, a committed decision will be reached through collaborative discussion in short order.

These examples illustrate a pretty obvious, but rarely discussed, reality: Trust is critical to progress. On our dairy farms, that trust is reflected in quick and decisive decision making, as well as in the implementation of that decision. We see the benefits of trust in increased productivity, profitability and job satisfaction — even in reduced stress levels.

But how do we increase trust? The simple answer, as clearly outlined by Steven Covey, is to be trustworthy ourselves. Expressing empathy towards others, acting with integrity and always being fair are ways to increase trust.

One perspective on trust that is useful to me is to realize that the purpose of every interpersonal interaction is twofold:

  1. To accomplish the objective of the interaction.
  2. To increase the trust level between those involved in the interaction.

Again, this idea may seem simple when it’s staring us in the face, but how many of us actively think about increasing trust levels on a daily basis? And once we start doing so, how will our relationships change?

Leadership Lesson: Increasing trust enhances the speed of decisions, implementation and operations.

Bob Milligan is Senior Consultant with Dairy Strategies LLC and Professor Emeritus at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. He can be reached at or 651-647-0495.