Gaining the Trust Edge

Clarity, Consistency Build Trust, Boost Results

Katie Micik Dehlinger
By  Katie Dehlinger , Farm Business Editor
David Horsager argues that a lack of trust is one of the biggest challenges to business success, and it's built or broken with every interaction. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Joel Reichenberger)

CHICAGO (DTN) -- In an era of sideways commodity prices and flat farm incomes, cost control is essential, yet one of the biggest expenses any family or farm business faces can't be quantified on a balance sheet.

"We have to think bigger and differently about trust. It's the biggest cost you have, even in this high-stress industry," Horsager told attendees at the 13th annual DTN Ag Summit. Trust, he said, is a confident belief in a person, product or organization.

After nearly two decades of research on trust, Horsager believes that a lack of trust is at the core of most business issues, but "when I confidently believe in you, everything changes. I believe that trust is the uniqueness of the greatest leaders of organizations. It's worth thinking about on your farm, and there's always a cost to a lack of trust."

Trust is built or broken with every interaction, and that provides a lot of opportunity to improve, especially if you consider the eight pillars of trust identified by Horsager and the Trust Edge Leadership Institute. Those eight pillars are clarity, compassion, character, competency, commitment, connection, contribution and consistency.

When organizations discuss a lack of communication, what they are actually discussing, Horsager said, is a lack of clarity around their shared goals.

"They don't just distrust the ambiguous, they also distrust or mistrust the overly complex," he said.

There are three questions that can help provide enough clarity to take an idea and make it happen: How? How? And how?

"Ladies and gentlemen, you must ask this at least three times, and sometimes more. That's where the power is," he said, explaining that by working through the hows with one company helped them triple their sales in 90 days.

He explained how he used the thought process to lose more than 50 pounds. He started with: How do you lose weight? Eat less and move more. Then, how do you eat less? Don't drink your calories. How do you avoid drinking calories? Choosing Diet Coke or Fresca when you're on airplane. It was a small change that he knew he could implement.

"You have to come to a how that you can apply, or it doesn't mean a thing," he said.

Another one of the most powerful ways you can build or rebuild trust that was lost is to show commitment. We tend to trust people that remain committed to something bigger than themselves and remain committed despite adversity, Horsager said. But it's also something that needs to be a part of every day.

"If you are the leader of your organization, and you appreciate someone once at an annual meeting, it won't mean a thing. But if it's ongoing consistently -- consistency with little things wins over big things every time."

For farm businesses, demonstrating commitment to your employees is the most effective way earn their trust.

"Commitment breeds commitment. You don't get it without giving it," he said.

Without work, atrophy is guaranteed, Horsager said.

"You're atrophying every day. Your leadership skills are atrophying. Your muscle mass is atrophying. Your family culture is atrophying every day except for when you put inputs in," he said.

One thing farmers understand is that you have to do the work.

"Today, people want quick fixes, and I don't know another way to real, long-lasting success other than doing the work," Horsager said.

Katie Dehlinger can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @KatieD_DTN


Katie Dehlinger