Building a Culture of Trust with Sue Dyer

Why does trust in the workplace matter?

Trust  is one of those things that makes teams work together better. We intuitively know this, but why should we prioritize building trust more so now after COVID?

President of sudyco™, Sue Dyer has worked with 48,000 executives for the past 35 years on how to create and instill high-trust cultures. With her extensive experience in both business and innovation she was able to study trust’s role and its impact on companies’ performance.

She knows what makes an effective leader because throughout all those decades of working closely alongside C-suite level positions down through middle management teams, she’s observed the myriad of leadership styles all firsthand.

Sue and I discuss what it means to be a trusted leader, how to build a high-trust culture in your organization, and what she’s doing to create trust ripples.

The Trusted Leader

As a leader, why do you need to worry about creating a high-trust environment for your team? Needless to say, a high-trust team is also a high-performance team.

Sue has written the book The Trusted Leader which is based on a model that she has developed over 35 years. She calls it the “Partnering Approach,” which has two components to it. The first component, “10 partnering intentions,” is geared towards creating trust in leaders and their teams; whereas, the second half of this approach involves values that help shape culture through norms of behavior for everyone involved with it.

“It’s how to think and act like a trusted leader,” Sue said. “This is based on having worked with 4,000 different teams and 48,000 executive leaders, actually over 78,000 leaders, and on $180 billion worth of projects.”

By partnering with your team, you can tap into the collective wisdom of everyone on board to make decisions and lead as a trusted leader. Replacing fear with trust enables you to attract top talent, enjoy higher margins, have less stress, and even stand out from your competitors.

In addition, she created the Trusted Leader Profile which provides snapshots of your current leadership style, allowing you to measure and monitor your progress in becoming a trusted leader in your company, your team, and the industry.

Building a high-trust culture

“Culture isn’t something. It’s kind of everything.”

Trust is the cornerstone of any successful business, and entrepreneurs in particular need to be able to build their businesses on a foundation that can withstand even the toughest of times. When you’re starting your own business, it’s important to build trust with the people who will be working for or alongside you.

The best entrepreneurs know that they must create an environment where people feel safe to share their ideas, thoughts, and even fears. “If you have a high-trust culture, they’re going to tell you the good, the bad and the ugly. And they’re going to tell you their best ideas and they’re going to innovate,” Sue shares. An important part of building this type of atmosphere is making sure that everyone feels valued.

The way you operate your business is important. But so are the people who work for and with you. Everyone needs a clear direction and understanding on what it means for them as employees, but most importantly, how their actions reflect toward the overall success factor within the organization.

Culture isn’t something that can be easily overlooked. It’s the small things you do every day and how well they align with who you are as an organization. When you’re working in an environment where people know what they need to do, it becomes much easier for them. It becomes a lived experience where everyone involved knows how much each other cares about making this work together.

Creating trust ripples

Every day is stimulating and exciting for Sue with all of the things she’s working on.

“There could be no more joy for me to go to bed, exhausted doing my life’s work,” she confesses. “I just want to give to people what I’ve learned over 35 years and seen extraordinary results.”

She has written The Trusted Leader Journal, which acts as an extension of her book. With 12 weeks of guided journaling space, you’ll find the perfect companion to help make your intentions come true and become a trusted leader people want to follow.

Moreover, she has a free monthly class that’s designed for you to help interpret your results in the Trusted Leader Profile. If you want to go into more detail, you can do a 60-minute strategy session with her to determine what type of trust strategy would work best for your business. 

That’s not all! She has workshops too for training your brain and creating your 12-month goals, a group coaching called Do The Impossible, and a podcast titled Lead With Trust she’s launching on June 4th!

For Sue, the possibilities are endless as she’s doing something bigger than herself. “I’m hoping that even if it helps one to 10 people, it will have been worth it to me because each one of those people will affect other people that will affect other people that will affect other people,” she shared. “Trust has a whole ripple effect to it. So I’m just trying to make trust ripples.”

Don’t miss my full conversation with Sue on the Fascinating Entrepreneurs podcast. Subscribe and tune in!

Transcript from Podcast

[00:00:00] Sue Dyer: So when you have an adversarial fear, competitive protecting mentality or culture, which is the norm for leadership around the world, you have a lose, lose situation. And we have to shift the way that we think about leadership and the way that we train leaders.

[00:00:20] Natasha Miller: Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur?

How do they scale and grow their businesses? How did they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit these and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

My memoir RELENTLESS is releasing in March of 2022 to go to to put your name on the waitlist, and I’ll let you know when it’s available. The bonuses for buying the book are pretty enticing. I hope you love them all. Also let me know if you’d like to be on my advanced reader team. I’ll send you all of the details. 

Sue Dyer has helped more than 48,000 executive leaders to create high trust business cultures over the past 35 years. She has been called the godmother of partners. Sue worked on over 4,000 projects worth over 180 billion to perfect your partnering approach model. 

Now let’s get right into it.

[00:01:34] Sue Dyer: The respect of the title of the leader is when somebody actually trusts you enough to follow. My definition of a leader is, a leader is someone who has followers and following is 100% voluntary.

So, if people don’t respect you and trust you, then you’re not by definition a leader.

[00:01:54] Natasha Miller: Okay. Let’s all think about that for a moment, because that really changes the landscape for everything. Why is it important for a leader to be authentically and organically a good leader?

[00:02:07] Sue Dyer: I think in order to be followed, people have to trust you and they’re not going to trust you if you’re not real. If they don’t feel like what you say is valid or coming from your truth, nobody’s going to follow that.

And what happens most of the time is that people think they have people following, but they’re actually complying. And compliance is not the same thing as following. And when someone complies, they’re really not in it completely. There’s different levels of resistance, but they’re really resisting.

[00:02:43] Natasha Miller: They have one foot out the door, maybe.

[00:02:44] Sue Dyer: Or they’re waiting for somebody to tell them what to do or they’re maybe actually not agreeing with what they’re being told to do, or they may actually fully resist what they’re being told to do. And so you have these different levels.

And so it certainly is not something that contributes to high performance.

[00:03:05] Natasha Miller: I’m feeling that really right now. And of course I’m questioning my own leadership, but that’s a separate podcast. So you’ve written a book.

[00:03:12] Sue Dyer: I have! 

[00:03:15] Natasha Miller: It’s called The Trusted Leader.

Let’s just talk about it. What is it about? Who is it for? And what will it do for someone like me?

[00:03:20] Sue Dyer: Yeah. It’s a book on trusted leadership using a model that I developed over 35 years of tried and true what works. And I use construction projects as my proving ground for several reasons. One is they’re project based. So I got a beginning, a middle and an end, and I could see what worked and what didn’t work.

And I knew whether the project came in on time on budget and was up on quality and did what it was supposed to do. So it was a very proving ground for me. And I developed the model, I call the Partnering Approach and it has two components to it. One is it has 10 partnering intentions.

So it’s creating the mindset for the leader so that they can create an atmosphere of trust. And the other component is values. So creating the norms of behavior, the culture that actually then people follow through with actions. So it’s how to think and act like a trusted leader. And this is based on having worked with 4,000 different teams and 48,000 executive leaders, actually over 78,000 leaders and on $180 billion worth of projects.

So we’ve worked on enough to really know what it takes. And I was looking to create models that were predictable, so it created predictable results. And so in this book, it shows you the model and then it tells you how to train your brain to think and act like a trusted leader.

[00:04:55] Natasha Miller: Is there a test or a quiz I can take to find out where I am?

[00:04:59] Sue Dyer: Absolutely. There is. It’s called The Trusted Leader Profile and it’s free. At And sudyco is S U D Y C O. And in that you’ll get several things. One you’re going to get is on the continuum of leadership between feared leader and trusted leader.

You’re going to get a number between one and 15, and that’s going to tell you what your level of trust is.

[00:05:22] Natasha Miller: Wait a minute, do I take the test or do my employees take it?

[00:05:26] Sue Dyer: It can be both. It can be even done as 360. I also believe it’s really powerful if everyone takes it on themselves, because trust is like a team sport. Trust doesn’t exist by itself. It exists between people. So taking it and then looking at what’s your trust level. You can have a conversation about that, and the why’s. 

You’re also gonna get two graphs with your styles, cause there’s five styles across the continuum. And the first style primary style is your normal way of leading, this is the norms you’re bringing to your team. And in your second graph, your secondary style, you are going to see what is your perceived style. And if there is a difference, then you probably have some reconciliation that needs to occur.

[00:06:18] Natasha Miller: That’s really exciting. I actually feel very confident right now of my leadership skills and style and what my team would rate me to an extent. However, if you roll back three years, I don’t think it would have been. Thankfully you live and learn and you’ll get better.

[00:06:39] Sue Dyer: What did you do that was different that you think enhanced the level of trust you have across your team?

[00:06:45] Natasha Miller: The major thing is I trusted them and understood that their skill and their determination to do a great job was more powerful than my giving too much work. I’ve never been a micromanager, but now I’m very hands-off.

However, I am there for them when they need me. And they know that. So I stay out of their way until they need me and I’ve trained them. So they have all the information. So I think right now the difference is flash-back a few years is that I was trying to take my small business and make it more of a corporate entity with corporate rules, metrics, meetings.

And no matter what, I’m in the entertainment industry. You can’t really put a square peg in a round hole on some things. So I did go down that route, and it backfired and didn’t have the maturity at the time or experience to understand what I was doing wrong.

However, I can see that in hindsight now.

[00:07:53] Sue Dyer: You decided to trust them, and amazingly they learned to trust you. And there is quite a bit of research that shows that if you go into a relationship and offer a high trust, you get that in return.

[00:08:03] Natasha Miller: Then I’m on the right track and I’m never getting off of it because it is the best year.

[00:08:09] Sue Dyer: I think it’s so fun to watch because I’ve seen that journey for so many trusted leaders. When finally the light bulb goes on, and of course there’s levels of trust that you’ve been created. It’s an endless level. But once you, I went to the light bulb goes on, you begin to see you have all these resources that you now can use that we’re really lost.

And that’s what I see in most businesses is they’re spending so many resources, people waiting for a decision, people not knowing what to do, people not agreeing with the decision. There’s just so many resources and I’ve seen over and over.

In fact, we have some research that shows that you can usually save about 10% of total costs. 10% of total time, 12% improvement in satisfaction. Improvement in innovations and a whole myriad of other things. People wanting to stay, people wanting to grow with the business. There’s a lot of things. And in this day and age, that’s pretty important–and all of those things are additive. So it really creates extraordinary outcomes.

And so what I see over and over, which is so fun to watch, is that the businesses and the leaders that really go on this journey begin to get this momentum that their competitors are going, like, “How are you doing that?”

And you also tap into the collective wisdom of your whole team because now. Everyone’s open. There’s no barriers. They’re talking, there’s cohesion, there’s commitment, and there’s creativity. And none of those things happen. Like when all these companies talking about creating innovation, it’s impossible to have innovation without that kind of atmosphere.

And now you’re going to be smarter, better, faster.

[00:09:46] Natasha Miller: I just had an experience with an employee who has been with me for two years, that I think is part of this that you’re talking about. So typically if an employee is pregnant and they have to let their manager or the owner of the company know there’s some fear, right?

There’s fear of, “Is there a maternity leave? Will I have my job later? Will I be treated differently?” And this gal said to me that she was pregnant, I think she knew that my reaction would be, I got up and screamed and danced around and said, congratulations.

Now we were talking about her different senior position start date in January. And she’s due later in the summer and we still are talking about it. It’s absolutely happening and she wants it to happen. And so I think I’m patting myself on the back, but it is a good way to show that if this person trusted me, that’s the outcome. If she didn’t, maybe I wouldn’t know, until she was six months pregnant.

[00:10:46] Sue Dyer: Exactly. Or perhaps she is someone who you were moving along a certain path and now things have changed for her. So you listen and you understand, and you do what’s right and best for your employees. And then they take care of you.

[00:11:02] Natasha Miller: Yeah. And I do feel very coveted by my team. We had an outing last night, so it’s very fresh. So why is trusted leadership…why is it important now? I think it’s always been important, but why is it?

[00:11:14] Sue Dyer: Of course now I think it’s always been important, but I sold my business and started this new business and I’m really working to try to create a trust movement within the business.

People, folks, it’s not an industry, it’s all industries because I’ve seen six disruptions, but two primary ones, the first disruption I see, and we saw so vividly with the maps of COVID and the spread of COVID. And you say it again now with the new variant, it’s just such a visual depiction of how interdependent we are in business and in the world.

Over the last many decades, we have become more and more interdependent. And in an interdependent relationship, there is only win-win or lose-lose. So when you have an adversarial fear, competitive protecting mentality or culture, which is the norm for leadership around the world, you have a lose-lose situation.

And we have to shift the way that we think about leadership and the way that we train leaders. It is just essential. And I’m always amazed at how people don’t see it because they are so concerned about their own interests. They can’t see beyond it.

[00:12:35] Natasha Miller: There’s a lot of ego. And if you don’t do inner work, then it may never. Be able to be available to you to be a true trusted leader.

[00:12:46] Sue Dyer: And in some businesses, there are so competitive with their close competitors or their coveted competitors, and they get locked into a battle like the Hatfields and the McCoys, and they really don’t see how they’re really undermining themselves, undermining the market, undermining what could be possible.

And also losing resources within their own business that are just wasted. There’s so much wasted time, wasted effort, and that’s what employees get so frustrated about. The other big disruptor I see is really the emergence of AI and the Web 3.0. And as we include more and more AI attributes into the three dimensional world and just into our world, AI is wonderful and will be great for humankind as long as humankind uses it to expand the best of us and not the worst of us.

And there’s just too much, AI doesn’t really think AI doesn’t feel remorse. AI doesn’t really care. It does what the programmer tells you it’s going to do. And it also will give voice to many new people and I just want to make sure those voices that get augmented into the marketplace and into the world are ones that are really working on trust and not fear. I think it’s a pivotal point for humankind.

[00:14:16] Natasha Miller: This is a big topic.

[00:14:18] Sue Dyer: It is.

[00:14:18] Natasha Miller: So you’ve been in business for 35 years. And from your vantage point–we can talk about leaders or entrepreneurs in general. I guess let’s just say entrepreneur, what should any entrepreneur not do in your opinion? We’ll start with the not.

[00:14:36] Sue Dyer: I think entrepreneurs in general, particularly when you’re starting your business, make sure that you’re starting it on a foundation of trust, making sure that when you hire people, it’s people that you trust. They trust you. That’s your job. That is your main job is to create a high trust environment.

So that would be the first thing. And then as you grow your team, it’s really easy. I hear entrepreneurs all the time tell me, “Well, we were growing so fast that he didn’t have time to think about culture.” When in fact culture is what will allow you to grow really fast and for people to not have the norms, to know what they need to do, you don’t have to tell them every single little thing, because the norm create the behaviors.

And so everyone knows what it is they need to be doing. They know what your true north is. They know what they’re supposed to be doing, how they’re supposed to be doing. And what’s most important. So culture is really important. And I think we get too busy or we grow too fast and think, “Oh I don’t have time to worry about that.”

And I remember listening to Tony, I can’t remember his last name. He was the head of Zappos. He passed away, but he was talking about how he started a business and it had grown pretty well. And it was going really well. And he was miserable. He and his partners were miserable because they hadn’t spent enough time and energy and focus on culture.

And I think for every entrepreneur, you’re a business you’re planting seeds and those seeds are gonna grow. Better make sure you’re planting the seeds you want.

[00:16:12] Natasha Miller: So given the sample of what you mean by culture and planning and paying attention to it. Give me one example.

[00:16:19] Sue Dyer: Okay. I would say. When you have a problem, let’s talk about a problem.

You have a problem. What’s your approach to it? Do your employees sit around, waiting for you to decide what needs to happen so then they execute on that? Or do they know, because we know that customers are number one. And I’m in charge of this budget and I’m in charge of what I’m doing.And so I know I can make the decision and I can move forward with this. And the customer is going to be delighted and happy and I can make sure that happens. 

That’s unusual. That is not the norm. In most businesses, we’re waiting around for someone who has authority to make a decision, instead of empowering the people closest to the issues, which is where you get the quality decisions to make the decisions.

[00:17:07] Natasha Miller: So let’s talk about that. What you just said is so important, because I bet if we asked a lot of entrepreneurs that we both know, they’re not going to start there. They’re going to start with the fun stuff or the team bonding or the beer on tap, or the monthly nights out.

And culture is so much more than that as a lot of people know, but then a lot of people don’t, so that empowerment of here are your bumper lanes, right? And Tony, for one, I think he gave his employees a thousand or $1,200 to carte blanche, fix it. You have up to this amount, you don’t have to get anybody’s approval.

And I don’t know how many people would attribute that to being a spoke in the wheel of culture, but you’re right. It is.

[00:17:54] Sue Dyer: Oh, it is. It’s absolutely culture. I’ve worked at San Francisco International airport for quite a few years, helping to develop culture there. And I remember the director, they had unfortunate event where they had a plane crash. The pilot made an error it appears.

We don’t know for sure ever, but everyone in the airport just rallied and came together and nobody had to ask anybody to do anything. And he said, he sees that all the time, in little things and big things across the entire airport is that, because of the culture and the norms. People know what to do and they do it.

And they’re not afraid of doing that.

And that’s a public entity. I’m just saying too.

That’s amazing.

Culture isn’t something. It’s kind of everything. And also tapping into the collective wisdom of your team. If you have a high trust culture, they’re going to tell you the good, the bad and the ugly. And they’re going to tell you their best ideas and they’re going to innovate.

And the collective wisdom of the group will create things that you never imagined were possible. And I see it over and over. And that’s what keeps me so excited about this over many years.

[00:19:00] Natasha Miller: I’m going to raise my hand to that. That is definitely why my business has grown and why it’s moved into some different directions.

Because I say to my team, I can’t not know what you’re thinking. I can’t afford to not know how we can make this better. What your experience is. I’m not in the trenches. I don’t know how many times you have to do this. One thing repeatedly that we could automate, unless you tell me.

So, next question I have for you is about motivating your team. So we just said culture isn’t necessarily about all that stuff. So beyond being a trusted leader, what do you do to support and motivate your team outside of trusting them?

[00:19:45] Sue Dyer: Yeah. The trust is the foundation and then I have another model I call the Partnering process, which has an acronym called FLAME: Focus, Leadership, Alignment, Measurement, and Execution.

I have this saying, and I’ve seen it over and over. People don’t argue with what they help to create. As a leader, you create a forum for co-creation and you let the group create what they’re going to achieve together. Now you can be the visionary as the leader and say, we want to get to $10 million, a hundred million dollars, or you can give them that, but then let them figure out: How will we get there? What does that look like? What are our goals? And are we going to get there this year? We’re going to get there in five years. What are our goals now? What are we going to do? Let them co-create those and then let them also co-create what they see as barriers to getting there.

And let them put them in on the bones of all that and let them all, every step of the way, figure out what do we need to do and what are we doing? And then you measure. And of course you have leaders or trusted leaders. They know that’s their job at each level, and then you’re going to measure and with the measurement of where we are, how did we do with what we said we were going to do?

We have a trusted leader scorecard that does this, and it measures between 1 (Poor) and 5 (great/excellent). And we also have an algorithm that looks at all the scores across the entire team, and it tells you a momentum score between minus two and plus two. So you can have negative momentum, or you can have positive momentum.

And that momentum score is a great predictor of what’s going to happen so the team can self-regulate and realign. And of course every so often… I have another model of this called the Nozzle Effect, but you’re trying to create a nozzle. If you had a garden hose and you put a nozzle on it and you have water running through your hose and if you really turn that nozzle to a fairly narrow spray, same resources, huge momentum.

Same exact thing happens in your business. So this whole process is creating a nozzle and then over time entropy happens and chaos occurs and things change. So the nozzle gets wider. So you come back together and you realign. And you keep doing that as you execute. New issues come in.

You’re continuing with the process all the way along throughout the entire duration of whether it’s a goal or an initiative or a project, whatever you’re working on. The team stays together and continues to co-create what they’re going to do, and then hold each other accountable to doing that.

And they’ll also steer because nothing ever happens exactly like you plan it to happen.

[00:22:31] Natasha Miller: If an entrepreneur is working with a framework like EOS Traction or Scaling Up, is what you’ve developed something that can layer on top of that? Or is your system, because we haven’t talked about in its entirety, something as an alternative to EOS Traction or Scaling Up?

[00:22:51] Sue Dyer: I think it’s both. Because it’s mostly about team culture and EOS is mostly about process. So I think they could be married or there might be some things that are overlapping, but probably could be married. And I think that the EOS process, if it was done with a leader with a high trust culture would it be nothing but be more successful?

[00:23:17] Natasha Miller: I agree, like I imagined EOS and your system blending very well. EOS does talk about culture, but it’s again, a spoke in a wheel. It’s not the main directive. And so you’re starting this new business. You have a new book coming out. You have years and years of a great experience. You could just have it made and just be hitting gold medal winds all the time, but you’re also human.

So what is your current biggest challenge that you’re facing in your business today?

[00:23:47] Sue Dyer: Right now, my biggest challenge is launching a podcast called “Lead With Trust” on June 4th, launching a book and a journal on February 1st, all in the same quarter, at the same time. It’s a lot.

[00:24:01] Natasha Miller: That is a lot. And it takes a mini army. I am doing something very similar to yours. However, my podcast is thankfully on the air since January of this year, but I have my own wheel barrel of things that I’m trying to usher into the world, and it takes a small army and a lot of mental bandwidth.

And how do you pace yourself day to day with that?

[00:24:26] Sue Dyer: It’s been interesting because I could have retired a long time ago and certainly after I sold my business, my husband, everyone’s expected me to retire. Then other people that knew he said, “Yeah, that’s not happening.” So starting a new business, I think when it was slower, I actually wasn’t as happy as I am now.

I wake up every day excited, sometimes a little overwhelmed, but I’m very excited and I really believe this is my life’s work. And there could be no more joy for me to go to bed, exhausted doing my life’s work. And I just want to give to people what I’ve learned over 35 years and see the extraordinary results.

In fact, we coined the term EBO, extraordinary business outcomes, and so that I can just make it happen. And yeah, maybe it never happens as fast as you want. But I’m hoping that even if it helps one to 10 people, it will have been worth it to me because each one of those people will affect other people that will affect other people that will affect other people. Trust has a whole ripple effect to it. So I’m just trying to make trust ripples.

[00:25:31] Natasha Miller: Once someone gets into your sphere. How do they work with you to find out and unlock all of these secrets? They can read the book and maybe self administer. Do you lead workshops? Are you doing one-on-one advising consulting?

[00:25:47] Sue Dyer: With the book, it talks about training your brain. So I did also create a journal. So there’s a journal that you can self-study walkthrough, training your brain every day, incorporating the 10 different intentions and the six values into your daily work. And so taking the Trusted Leader Profile is the best way to start.

And then from there I have a monthly class that’s free also for it to help you interpret your results. And then from there, if you want to do more, we can do a 60-minute strategy session to figure out your trust strategy, because to me it really is a strategy for your business. And then from there, we do have workshops.

And the workshop is two days. The first day you’re going to learn. Everyone’s going to look at everyone’s profile, learn about the model. And in the second half of that day, you’re going to learn about training your brain. And in the second day, you’re going to actually talk about trust as your competitive advantage and create your 12 month goals, your trust score. So that’s the workshop.

Then I also have a certification that I’m going to do for trusted thought leaders so that I can teach them the model and they can incorporate it into their work. And then the last offering I have right now is group coaching and I call it, Do the Impossible.

Because what I’ve seen over and over is that people think that, “Oh, we can’t do that,” or “That can’t happen.” And I see them achieve the impossible over and over. So I just called the coaching, Do the Impossible.

[00:27:19] Natasha Miller: Sue taught us the incredible importance of becoming a trusted leader in order to have the best shot of a healthy profitable company.

Her new book, The Trusted Leader, as well as the assessment coaching and two day seminars are available now. For more information, go to the show notes for your listening to this podcast.

Want to know more about me? Go to my website, Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe. Also, if you haven’t done so yet, please leave a review where you’re listening to this podcast now. I’m Natasha Miller and you’ve been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

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