Building TRUST in Crisis and Recovery

Bob Milligan, Dairy Strategies

Bob Milligan

This article is based largely on a recording by David Horsager titled “Building TRUST in Crisis and Recovery.” David is based here in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. I heard him speak and met him when he was relatively unknown. Today, he is a very popular leadership speaker and coach Many of his themes you have heard from me.

David and his company The Trust Edge are all about TRUST. He defines trust as “a confident belief in a person, product or organization.” The eight pillars of trust for The Trust Edge are Clarity, Compassion, Character, Competency, Commitment, Connection, contribution, and Consistency.

Building on his theme of TRUST, we look at eight key actions to take during our time of crisis and recovery.

Take an active approach

Now is not the time to stick your head in the sand (spend all or most of your time doing) or in the terms we have been using stay in the shock and denial stage of the grief/loss cycle. It is time to jump right in, be transparent, and take action.

The military teaches about VUCA. These are situations that have Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Uncertainty. Today is certainly VUCA. The key to today’s VUCA is to take a breath, focus, and ask two questions:

  1. What can I control?
  2. What should I do first?

Mr. Horsager states that the CEOs that he sees succeeding in our VUCA are “doing the work.” They are thinking about what can be done for our farm/business to use this time for a rebirth or renaissance. As he says. You can go beck to what was done before, but now is a time for something new or a new way of doing things.

Deal with tension

Tension is like violin strings; it needs to be just right. Too much causes excess stress, too little leads to complacency. The danger now, of course, is that we are strung to tight. He then lists several areas that have to balanced: persevere vs. pivot, take risks or stay safe, generalize vs. specialize, diversity vs, homogeneity. He says the three most important are

  • Favor show value over discount.
  • Favor give or get. We must get (profit, etc.) but starting by giving builds trust to work together.
  • Favor transparency over confidentiality.

Lead with compassion

Empathy is essential NOW. Almost everyone knows someone who is suffering from our current crisis. Dr. Horsager gave an example of a hospital leadership team who spent time in the hospital wearing a mask. Conditions are so different that extra efforts likely will be needed to be able to “walk in the shoes” of the people who work with and for you.

Define one priority

Research shows that if you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities. In a crisis that likely shrink to focus on one priority at a time.

Over connect with your people

Now is the time to show you care by being with you people. Everyone is some degree of scared and most are feeling lonely. Verizon reported that historically Mother’s Day had the highest volume of calls of the year. EVERY DAY since COVID started has had TWICE that many calls. Also, half of the value of communication is lost if one cannot see the face of the person interacting with. USE VIRTUAL COMMUNICATIN TOOLS!

As part of your over-communicating and over-connecting, be certain to look for signs of stress. Everyone is under more stress and has less resilience than in previous years. I just visited with a client who just lost an employee. Based on what I heard, the resignation came as at least as much from external stress as from what happened on the job.

Seek Wisdom

Twice during his recording David Horsager said: “If you are doing leadership alone, you are doing it wrong.” Think about how much you personally know about any topic compared to what you and your team know. Now when everything is much more unknown, involving your team, your advisers, your colleagues and others is even more necessary.

Think long term and short term

The best leaders are thinking about the worst case. Great leaders and others have a paradox in crisis. They have an unwavering optimism about the long-term future, but they do not become overly optimistic about the short term. They confront the brutal facts about the short term.

After confronting the future, the short-term key is to focus on the best decision this week – more than weekly is too long in a crisis. After this week, focus on the next week’s best decision and keep going weekly while keeping in mind the worst-case scenarios.

Cultivate your SEEDS

Think about the consequences if one of our leaders becomes less effective because he or she does not take care of himself or herself. That could happen to you. You must take care of yourself by cultivating your SEEDS:

  • Sleep. Sleep deprivation is a major source of poor performance and a negative attitude.
  • Exercise. Needed both for to keep the body in shape and to give the mind time to relax and reflect.
  • Est right. A well-functioning person requires the right fuel just like a fancy sports car or your big equipment.
  • Drink water. Many of us become dehydrated when under stress.
  • Source of strength. We all need something to ensure that we keep our priorities in order. Remember what is truly important in your life.

A concluding comment

This pandemic and the recovery will be a marathon. The quality of your leadership will undoubtedly dramatically impact your, your business, your family, and your employees for decades to come!




Coaching Tip:

Redirection Feedback – Now More than Ever

It is and will be more tempting to overlook inadequate performance and behavior with the stress that is all around us. As we continue through crisis and recovery, excellent performance is as or more necessary than ever. We must confront inadequate performance and unacceptable behavior to enable the individual to have feelings of and pride in success and for farm/business success.

Recall that there are two forms – not one – of feedback for inadequate performance and unacceptable behavior.

  • Redirection: Failure to perform was caused by the situation or the context of the performance – lack of training, ineffective supervision, unpredictable circumstances, unreasonable expectations.
  • Negative: The situation cannot explain the failure; the failure to perform can only be explained by the employee’s personal characteristics — motivation, effort, commitment.

Today, I implore you to focus on redirection feedback using negative only as a very last resort. I say this for two reason. First, the likelihood that redirection is appropriate is high because there are so many stresses distracting the employee. Second, and probably more important, we have higher stress and correspondingly lower resilience. The result is that the employee is more likely to become defensive and even angry, making negative feedback very dangerous.



The goal here as always with redirection feedback is to improve performance without damaging the relationship with the employee. Providing redirection feedback, however, is not easy as employees easily interpret it as negative feedback. None of us want to hear that our performance is lacking.

The following should help you provide excellent redirection feedback:

  • Begin with and include throughout positive feedback on positive efforts and expectations met or exceeded.
  • Communicate, without blaming, that performance is not acceptable. Often difficult to communicate.
  • Emphasize that he or she is not at fault. The situation was the cause of the unacceptable performance. It is often difficult to convey that this is not a reprimand. Your employee will likely have at least some negative reactions. Work to keep this short lived and to keep the employee from becoming defensive.
  • Provide the required changes in the situation – skills learned, knowledge gained, behaviors changed, actions taken, resources provided, expectations adjusted — to enable “successful” performance.

Full Steam Ahead and Stay Well.

Editor’s note: Robert A. Milligan, PhD, is Senior Consultant, Dairy Strategies, LLC and Professor Emeritus, Cornell University. He may be reached at office: 651 647-0495; Cell: 651 343-6065; and email

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