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That word is intrinsically linked to leadership.  It is an underlying value in most companies – the CEO and the senior leadership trust their employees to do the right thing.


The more important questions for the CEO are, “How do you know that your employees trust you?  Why do they trust you?”

Harry Herrington, Chairman and CEO of NIC, Inc., a provider of on-line services for federal and state governments and a former police officer, said that employee trust of leaders must be built around engagement and transparency.

In an era of business management fads and boatloads of business books touting seemingly clever, sometimes one-off approaches to leadership success, transparency and engagement are two characteristics that are decidedly not in the fad category.

This was the theme of Adam Bryant’s Corner Office column in yesterday’s New York Times business section“If the Boss Rides A Harley, He Must Be Human.”

This column is an essential part of my Sunday morning newspaper reading.  I highly recommend it along with another Sunday business section staple, The Boss.

Mr. Herrington believes his number one job is to set the culture of the company because culture will drive success and integrity (and the quality of the people who want to work for the organization).  But his is just one voice among many.  So why is he a successful leader?

The short answer:  He bought a Harley

“About that time, we were organizing a big company conference with all of our general managers.  So I had 200 employees in Oklahoma City for a marketing conference and I thought, I’ve got this brand new bicycle…so I decided to ride the motorcycle to the conference…”  When he arrived, replete with his cycle leathers and helmet under his arm, his team was dumbfounded.  Immediately, the Harley, an ultra-classic in law enforcement blue, became the hit of the meeting.  Employees thought it was cool.  Instead of serving as merely an imitate the boss moment, sparking a surge in Harley sales among NIC employees; Mr. Herrington leveraged employee reaction to build on his role.  He created a feature of his office visits called, obviously enough, “Ask the CEO.”

Instead of questions on the company’s five-year strategy, Mr. Herrington fielded decidedly personal questions like where he went to school.  Why did he get into law enforcement?  Why did he leave law enforcement?  How many kids does he have?  Why do you prefer pink shirts when you play golf?

When he shows up on a motorcycle, Mr. Herrington said, it casts him in a different light – as a human being…” not trying to be one of them, not trying to be someone I am not.”  Employees, he believes, want to understand what makes you tick, to understand how you think.

And that brings us back to the trust thing.