10/24/2013 04:40 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Have You Built Enough Trust to Lead in Loose Environments?

Have you built enough trust to lead in loose environments?

A loose environment is one where service is customized in the moment. Decisions about what to offer a customer are made in real time. If pricing or your reputation depends on providing a unique experience, you operate in a loose environment. Luxury service brands that sell personalization are part of this variable world. A special kind of leadership is called for in this setting.

Leading in a loose environment is quite different from managing a hierarchy for the purposes of standardizing a product or service. Specific and highly directive standards are effective means to create a solid platform to achieve predictable and consistent results -- for example, to manufacture mobile phone screens, prepare an operating theater, or register a guest at a hotel. The highly personalized experience demanded by luxury and life style brands not only requires the reliable processes that standards produce but also involves options beyond that kind of approach. Repetitive scripting and mechanical behavior serve the routine but fail to provide for the exceptional.

To generate a richly textured and nuanced experience requires more freedom than scripts and detailed standards allow. Front-line staff and managers need high levels of trust from their organizations along with powerful brand values to enable them to quickly determine the desirable course of action. Trust is the lifeblood of positive engagement and creativity during delivery of service -- not the most important elements when running a Wal-Mart but absolutely vital when leading a team that offers the cutting-edge expertise or premium service associated with an exclusive brand.

Developing the necessary levels of trust is a critical challenge for a leader in a loose environment. In addition to managing smartly and harvesting returns that exceed the cost of capital, excellent leadership in an unpredictable environment harnesses an ability to build trust quickly and dedicates time to nourish it over the long term.

High performance in the area of trust is rare. The leaders who excel in this area shine in various ways. Each exhibits a unique style and approach. Even the way these leaders describe their approaches varies widely. Some don't talk about trust at all. In spite of different approaches,
these leaders all work to routinely inspire confidence in four areas:

• Reliability -- deliver what you promise
• Competency -- demonstrate proficiency in the current activity and build expertise for the future
• Sincerity -- align your public statements with your private conversations
• Involvement --commit to the success of the relationship, not only to the accomplishment of the current task

Excellence in leading in loose environments requires strength in all four areas. When it comes to
inspiring confidence, extra strength in one or two areas does not compensate for weakness in another.

Many of us know those at work who walk the talk, know the job and always deliver on time. Yet we do not rely on these people, nor do we want to work with them, because they can and would throw us under the bus when it suits their agenda. When you work with or for someone you cannot count on, protecting your position becomes central and prevents you from fully engaging in the moment.

Managing a loose environment truly requires a different approach. These environments involve leadership skills in addition to those of the traditional "tight-led" management and executing to plan. Loose environments call for uncommon levels of trust to reach a maximized return on assets dedicated to the customer experience. Successful leaders in these settings recognize the importance of this quality. They define the values that are the foundation for reliance and confidence and set clear boundaries that define when violations will not be tolerated. They establish best practices to polish and perfect their own performance in the areas of reliability, competency, sincerity and involvement. Working in a steadfast manner and mobilizing all four areas during every project, these leaders express their promises as vows and ensure that their teams regard their promises this way, too. This approach builds trust quickly and maintains it consistently. Trust is the currency with which to build productive and well-functioning teams that operate superbly in loose environments.

To see Todd speak about building trust and loose environments click here.