Diversity Leaders: Deliver Results, Earn Trust

William is a good man and friend. I’ve known him for years, and he is one of the most sincere business leaders I’ve ever met. William’s sincerity served him well in his role as the head of diversity for a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical firm.

William had previously told me he wanted to work five more years, so I was surprised when he indicated he was retiring at the end of the year. When I asked why, he said his CEO had lost trust in him. Worse, his CEO told him other executives had lost trust in him as well. It turns out that while William was judging his own capabilities as a diversity executive by his intentions, his colleagues were judging him on his results. William wasn’t able to deliver the diversity results his firm wanted.

William’s experience is a lesson for all of us in diversity and inclusion. When we build trust within our organizations, others tend to have a firm belief in our abilities. They have confidence that we will deliver, and they rely on us more over time.

So how do we gain this trust from others? In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey says two things drive trust: character and competence. Over the years I’ve worked with many diversity leaders who are extremely well trusted not only by leaders within their companies, but also in their broader professional communities. Two stand out for their character and competence.

Eric Watson, chief diversity officer of Food Lion Inc.: When you meet Eric, the first thing you’ll notice is his bow tie. The second thing is he always has an agenda. When you work with Eric, he shares that he is looking to build a relationship that seeks mutual benefit. It’s that simple. His boss and business executives trust Eric because they know he has their best interests at heart, and he is leveraging diversity to help them grow their business. But more importantly, Eric earns trust because of his character, integrity and ability to keep his word.

People trust Eric almost immediately upon meeting him because he is reliable, always tells the truth, can keep things in confidence and is steadfastly committed to the work of diversity and inclusion. Through his character and a focus on establishing mutually beneficial relationships, Eric is able to establish trust, which leads to better collaboration. In essence, part of what makes Eric successful is his ability to turn trust into a pragmatic, tangible and actionable asset that allows him to do his diversity work.

Andr?s Tapia, president of Diversity Best Practices: Part of Andres’ success comes from the trust he has earned from clients based on competence and expertise. Unlike some diversity consultants, Andres previously served as a practitioner — he was chief diversity officer of Hewitt Associates. When working with other CDOs, he can relate to their challenges and needs. But what helps Andres gain the trust of CEOs and business executives is that while at Hewitt, he also led its emerging workforce solutions practice. This meant he had P&L responsibility at the same time as running the internal diversity function. Further, Andres has done diversity work all over the world, so he brings a global perspective. Few diversity consultants can bring as much knowledge, global experience and a keen understanding of a client’s worldview as Andres.

Because of his competence, Andres wins the confidence and trust of practical-minded executives. He knows others judge him based on their own paradigms as a CDO and business executive. By understanding their paradigm and conveying diversity in terms they know and understand, Andres can become their trusted adviser.

As William found out, even with the utmost character and world-class competence, you have to have results to build trust. When a diversity executive doesn’t deliver results it creates tension, hidden agendas and doubt.

Robert Rodriguez is president of DRR Advisors LLC, a management and diversity consulting firm, and author of Latino Talent. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.