10/03/2013 10:12 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

A Role Model You Can Trust

The Leading Role Models series shines a spotlight on 12 people who achieved success the "right way" -- with heart.

Last month, I began the series by highlighting Frank Sonnenberg, who lives his life "doing what's right", and it was through Frank that I met Barbara Brooks Kimmel, this month's Leading Role Model.

Barbara approached me about a year ago to ask if I would consider contributing to an upcoming book (November 2013) called Trust Inc. Strategies for Building Your Company's Most Valuable Asset, a collection of short essays from experts in leadership, teamwork, integrity and trust. And this was the beginning of both a professional relationship and personal friendship.

Barbara is the Executive Director of Trust Across America -- Trust Around the World, an umbrella organization and clearinghouse whose mission is enhancing trustworthy behavior in organizations. If you ask Barbara why she has chosen to tackle what some call the "issue of the decade," she will tell you "because someone had to do it." Barbara runs the program with a "beyond reproach" emphasis, embracing everyone and identifying a role for those who have an authentic professional interest in fostering trust.

I caught up with Barbara Kimmel to talk about heart-based leadership:

Lolly Daskal: What does heart-based leadership mean to you?

Barbara Kimmel: Lolly, it's not complicated. It's about leading by example with a strong value system, integrity and ethics. It's showing those around you that you are trustworthy and transparent. Whether it is setting a good example for your children, a local community group or running a global public company, the foundational characteristics and qualities of a heart-based leader do not change.

Lolly Daskal: What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Barbara Kimmel: Tough question, but since all good relationships begin with trust, I would say every leader must be trustworthy. In other words, they must model trust in all they do through qualities including candor, humility, integrity, transparency, accountability and low self-orientation. They must put the needs of all stakeholders before their own, leaving their egos at the door... and be willing to admit when they are wrong or have made a mistake.

Lolly Daskal:: Is being a heart-based leader good for business?

Barbara Kimmel: I certainly hope so. Who would you rather work for or do business with, an untrustworthy egomaniac or an authentic, heart-based leader? In the business environment, the former is operating a short -term unsustainable organization. When I think back on my own work history, lousy bosses made for lousy business. Only a heart-based leader stands a chance at long-term success. Our ongoing research at Trust Across America supports the notion that, over the long term, trustworthy leadership is both good for business and good for profits. How could it be otherwise?

Lolly Daskal: Does meaning and purpose conflict with being successful in business?

Barbara Kimmel: I think the opposite is true. The ability to manage the costs of low trust -- whether arising from society, from business practices or from management practices -- is to a great extent within the control of the organization. And yet, it is largely not being done -- with sadly predictable results. An example is the current cost of employee disengagement, which is staggering.

A trustworthy organization, one with meaning and purpose, can conduct business faster, more efficiently and less expensively. Less regulation is required, employee turnover is lower and innovation is higher. That's a successful, sustainable business. We need more organizations whose core culture is one of meaning and purpose. I'm not sure what it will take for organizations to wake up to this seemingly obvious reality.

Lolly Daskal: If you were to be recognized for some to the work you do, what would it be and why?

Barbara Kimmel: On a micro level, by leading a life of integrity and values, my greatest accomplishment, by far, has been in watching my children grow into adulthood with similar values. After all, their generation represents our future leaders. On a macro level, I have spent the last five years building collaborative global programs that foster organizational trust. It's challenging work, but imagine a world where trust is not the exception, but rather the norm.

Lolly Daskal: Is success a matter of what you know or who you are?

Barbara Kimmel: If heart-based leadership is the barometer of long-term success, then I believe it's a matter of who you are. Some would agree that, similar to trust, either "you've got it or you don't," and it's not easy to teach. In the short-term, what you know will help, but it's not "enough" to ensure long term success.

Lolly Daskal: Barbara has many professional accomplishments, but you won't hear her talk about them. She leads from the heart and the proof very simply lies in the growth and respect for her organization and the leader behind it.

Thanks, Barbara, for your mission with a trusted purpose.

Barbara Brooks Kimmel is Executive Director of Trust Across America-- Trust Around the World, the global leader in information, standards and data, and the "Who's Who" of organizational trust. As social innovators, the program's mission is enhancing trustworthy behavior in organizations. Barbara creates, often through strategic partnerships, tools to foster organizational trust, programs to showcase top thought leaders, and research on trustworthy organizations. She also facilitates the growing Alliance of Trustworthy Business Experts, a group of global thought leaders who are collaborating to advance the cause. Barbara is also the President of Next Decade, Inc an award- winning communications and publishing firm. In 2012 Barbara was named one of "25 Women who are Changing the World by Good Business International. She is a graduate of Lafayette College and has an MBA from Bernard M. Baruch Graduate School of Business at the City University of New York.