Dare: Accepting the Challenge of Trusting Leadership

Dare: Accepting the Challenge of Trusting Leadership

by Scott Weiss


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Not Business as Usual

In the current business climate of distrust, cynicism, and fear, Scott Weiss offers a radical challenge to those of us who lead others.  His call for authentic leadership means dropping the mask of the Executive Persona as well as the camouflage and doubletalk of traditional corporate communications.  It demands an end to our self-deceptions and the deception of others in the name of business as usual. Those who are brave enough to accept his DARE will discover...
•    More loyal, satisfied clients and customers
•    Reduced turnover and more
•    engaged employees
•    A more creative, innovative, and collaborative workplace
•    Less personal conflict and more genuine relationships
•    The passion to thrive, not just survive, in our professions

A courageous book that calls on leaders themselves to step up and make the changes that will rebuild trust and restore business integrity for customers, employees, and the global public.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608324224
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 04/02/2013
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Scott S. Weiss is CEO and Owner of Speakeasy, a globally renowned communication consulting firm established in 1974 with offices in Atlanta, San Francisco, New York and Amsterdam, as well as ongoing operations in Chicago, Boston, Hong Kong, Bangalore, Dubai, and Mumbai India. The company works with executives and teams in developing the impact and effectiveness of their communication capabilities, both internally with staff and externally with their clients.  Last year the company worked with some 5000 executives in 10 different countries.
Weiss is the author of the Axiom Business Book Gold Medal Winner and Amazon bestselling book DARE! Accepting the Challenge of Trusting Leadership.   He is also a frequent guest blogger, and has been featured in Forbes, Fortune, CNN Money, Inc., Investor’s Business Daily, and numerous business blogs.  Weiss additionally is a frequent guest speaker at a variety of industry conferences and radio talk shows.
Prior to joining Speakeasy in 1994, Weiss served for ten years at Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. (Time Warner) as an Executive Vice President in charge of satellite distribution for the Turner networks domestically, as well as involvement in many network development projects including creating the CNN Airport Channel and CNN Local Edition. In addition to Turner Broadcasting, Weiss also served four years as Senior Vice President for Southmark CRCA, a New York Stock Exchange financial service and investment banking firm.
Weiss is the Founder and Chairman Emeritus for the T. Howard Foundation, a Washington D.C. non-profit, that promotes diversity in the broadcast and electronic media industries. He has served as an “Emmy” voting member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) for some 25 years, and formerly served on the Board of Advisors of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Entrepreneur Organization of Atlanta, the Emory University Board of Visitors, and was a Founding Board member of Start Up Atlanta.
Weiss attended Michigan State University where he received his degree from the College of Communications Arts and Sciences and has served as an adjunct professor at the Georgia Tech School of Management.
He resides in Jupiter, Florida with his wife Marci of 32 years; they are parents to three young adults.
Twitter: @ScottSpeakeasy
Or contact: Zen Gomez, (404) 541-4800

Read an Excerpt


Accepting the Challenge of Trusting Leadership

Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2013 Speakeasy Communications Consulting, LLC
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60832-422-4

Chapter One


There's a crisis of trust in this country. You can see it everywhere you look. It's obvious in the abysmal approval rates for members of the U.S. Congress and our general distrust of elected officials at almost every level. It's evident, too, in the suspicion with which we view our financial and business leaders, our journalists, scientists, regulatory agencies, and educators—almost everyone, in fact, to whom we look for direction and leadership.

Frankly, we don't believe much, or believe in much, of anything anymore. Studies show that aside from a brief surge following September 11, 2001, trust in our institutions and one another has been steadily declining for forty years. For those of us who are old enough, just remembering the years of Vietnam, Watergate, junk bonds, Monica Lewinsky, Enron, and the Catholic Church sex scandals will explain some of that decline. But things haven't been much better for the generations following in our steps. From the disinformation that led us into the Iraq war to the string of financial scandals that wiped out billions in personal wealth to the house of toppling cards that became the worst recession in eighty years, our youth have suffered through more than a decade of almost unrelenting dishonesty.

The Baby Boomers, whose famous mantra was, "Don't trust anyone over thirty," may have been much more skeptical of their leaders and institutions than the WWII cohort that preceded them, but for today's young people, cynicism is the default position. With overwhelmingly negative views of government and institutions, business and the media, our Gen X, Y, and millenial youth could easily be labeled the "Jaded Generations."

There are various possible explanations for the generational component to this cynicism. Some of them go well beyond the scandals they've witnessed and the lies they've been sold. The rise of television and the internet certainly have a place in the equation. Cable and internet news sources now offer a multitude of digital journalists, bloggers, and pundits, all offering up opinions but diluting the authority of any individual voice. Where their parents and grandparents had only a few such authority figures, like Walter Cronkite, whose objectivity and integrity could be thoroughly trusted, today's youth have a cacophony of conflicting voices, all competing with their own versions of the truth.

Electronic and digital media may play other roles. Some theorists have suggested that the time devoted by the young to TV and internet pursuits may exacerbate isolation from larger institutions and traditional American culture. A series of focus groups conducted by Harvard University's Goodwork Project found that the teenagers they interviewed had an "overwhelming" distrust of the media, politicians, and the political process in general. Carrie James, research director for Goodwork, thinks that while these young people might trust family and close friends, "they don't have good mental models" of how to trust more distant figures.

Regardless of the complexity of the problem, the deep cynicism of American youth is troubling. It suggests that their trust will be hard to recover. Given that these are tomorrow's leaders, one wonders when, and from where, their mental models for trustworthiness might emerge. One wonders whether our leaders and institutions can bring back the honesty, accountability, and transparency that will restore their faith, or whether the downward spiral of distrust will continue for each succeeding generation.

I'm not at all sure how we got here. I don't know how Americans became so familiar with deception that we almost expect it. I don't know exactly how the truth got such a bad reputation that we don't even strive for it anymore. I don't know when we came to assume that all communication must naturally be "spin" and every public speech a shallow grab for publicity. I'm not sure why so many of our business, government, and professional leaders have opted for policies that depend on feeding us misinformation, half-truths, and downright lies.

I am sure, however, about the ultimate consequences of those policies. Like everyone else, I'm witnessing them firsthand.

In the short run, and for a few individuals, companies, and institutions, these approaches may work. But in the long run, they won't. A foundation of trust is essential for all successful human interaction. It's the grease that facilitates social, political, and economic transactions of every type. To the extent that we are able to trust, we make friendships, enter into marriage and social bonds, and join groups. To the extent that trust diminishes risk and uncertainty, we create businesses and business partnerships, become loyal customers ourselves, and willingly and optimistically participate in our own democracy.

There are far-reaching sociological benefits to trust. The Pew Research Center has found that in nations where trust is high, crime and corruption are low. The same principle operates in communities, in neighborhoods, in schools, and organizations. Much other research has demonstrated the self-perpetuating nature of trust and the reciprocal benefits that accrue to those who engage on its basis. Even in laboratory experiments, individuals who have been asked to engage in even the simplest trust-demanding transactions develop positive feelings toward their peers. Trust, apparently, begets trust. But the opposite is also true.

In the absence of trust, our elected leaders are unwilling to relinquish political power to those with opposing viewpoints, even for a short time. The resulting paralysis breeds more distrust, in the voting populace, among other nations, in those we trade with, and in those who finance our debt.

For business, trust may be the most critical value. It allows, of course, for the confidence to conduct our own day-to-day business transactions, but much more important, for faith in our institutions and economy at large. That faith is what allows us, as organizations but also as individuals, to plan for our futures, to think long term, to make investments or plant seeds for tomorrow with the expectation that we will see them flourish. When that foundation of trustworthiness erodes, as we've recently seen it crumbling beneath our financial systems, the result is profound confusion, a genuine sense of betrayal, and the feeling that somehow we've been robbed of our very future.

I've been concerned about this crisis in trust for some time, particularly as it relates to what I witness and experience every day. In our work at Speakeasy, we reach about five thousand individuals every year in twelve countries, from United Arab Emirates to Vietnam. Our primary audience is corporate executives, but participants in our programs also include non-business professionals like athletes, teachers, doctors, clergy, government leaders, and authors. These are educated, articulate, and experienced leaders. They come to us initially believing that they are among the "good guys"—those enlightened individuals who stand outside and apart from the problems that have led to the pervasive cynicism that plagues our society. Yet many of them are surprised to learn that they themselves are part of the problem, not the solution. They are shocked to discover that in their own leadership practices they have been using their own voices to widen the credibility and confidence gap. They are surprised to learn that distrust is sown not just by criminality and outright fraud, but more insidiously by the varieties of deception that are part of every corporate toolbox.

We're justifiably proud of the work we do at Speakeasy and the numbers we reach. But in the face of this crisis we all need to do more. This book is my attempt to reach a larger audience—to do whatever I can to try to restore some of the sadly lacking trust that is creating this climate of uncertainty, suspicion, and stagnation.

If you are a leader with responsibility and influence, this book is addressed to you. If you are an executive leading a company, a manager leading a department, a pastor leading a church, a supervisor leading a shift of factory workers, a principal leading a school, these pages were written with you in mind. As the title suggests, they will ask you to accept a challenge, a "dare."

It's a simple challenge on its face, but one that seems extraordinarily difficult for many leaders to accept or even think about. Partially because it seems too simple. Mostly because it goes completely against the grain of what they believe a leader is. And that's not surprising. The attributes that my dare will ask you to develop are rarely found in executive boardrooms, the halls of government, or other chambers of power.

If you accept my challenge, you will be asked to rethink your entire concept of leadership, of power, and the responsibility of influence. You may be asked to tear down defense systems that you've spent a lifetime constructing.


I dare you to be honest. To be authentic. To return transparency to your business and personal communications. To discover your true inner voice and become more of who you really are through your own spoken word. To make your word good, and become as good as your word.

I can promise that those of you who accept this challenge will reap surprising rewards both in your professional and personal lives. The results will be greater self-awareness, a more empathetic understanding of those around you, and more genuine connections and relationships with spouses, children, coworkers, and customers. You'll find renewed energy for the work that you do and a fuller realization of your true talents and potential.

I can make these outrageous promises because I know it works. For forty years, Speakeasy has witnessed the transformations that have occurred in the lives of those who dared to accept this challenge. We receive more than 1,500 letters, emails, and phone calls each year from individuals who have experienced these changes and are still excited about the rippling effects that continue in their professional and personal lives. I'm convinced that you can experience them too. I invite you to try. I dare you!

Chapter Two


In everyday usage, we think of a persona as an image or an impression. It's an image projected outward for social purposes or public consumption, designed to meet the demands of a given situation. Advertising and marketing experts create personas to represent an idealized customer or groups of potential buyers so that the company can focus its marketing efforts. In literature, a persona is an assumed identity, often an alter ego of the author. In drama, a persona is an actor in a play. In fact, the word's origin is from the Latin term for a theatrical mask.

We forget that sometimes. That a persona is not the genuine personality of an individual, but rather the mask that disguises it. Underneath that mask may be fears and insecurities that don't seem to fit the part we need to play. If we are in positions of leadership, we may be afraid of disappointing others. We may fear criticism or ridicule. We may be afraid that someone else will outperform or replace us if we appear weak, vulnerable, or emotional. We're better off, we think, with all that self-doubt concealed behind the masks. We can become very comfortable in those masks, and so convincing to others and ourselves in the roles we assume, that we become completely unconscious of playing a part. We forget that the actor in the center of the stage is not who we really are. And not someone we know, or even someone we really like, either.

My personal encounter with my own executive persona came as a life-changing shock. It occurred in December of 1994 as a result of a "DARE" from Sandy Linver to attend a communication development program at Speakeasy, a communications consulting firm she founded in Atlanta, Georgia. At thirty-five, I was already an executive vice president with Turner Broadcasting, overseeing two divisions and reporting directly to the second most senior executive who soon would be named the company's CEO. I believed that I was very much at the top of my game, already delivering a lot of high-level presentations, and getting consistent positive feedback. I was more than a little offended by the suggestion that I needed any help at all with my communication skills. But I went.

In Atlanta, I participated in Speakeasy's exclusive, invitation-only workshop for C-suite executives. Called "The Leader's Edge," this intense three-day workshop focused on communication style and delivery with respect to leadership. In spite of my initial resistance, I did my best to participate without revealing my conviction that I felt superior to this target audience that needed help with communication and presentation skills. I wasn't the least bit nervous when it came time to watch the video recordings of our individual presentations. I was sure I'd done just fine.

With the others in our group, I watched as the executive persona of Scott Weiss delivered his speech from the screen. The guy up there looked pretty good. Very sure of himself. Very corporate. Very buttoned up. I expected to be told, as I always had been before, that I was a very effective presenter. But after a moment, Sandy Linver, the faculty leader who had directed our session turned to ask me a question.

"So," she said, "as you look at yourself, objectively, how do you perceive this person?"

"Fine," I said. "He seems knowledgeable. Experienced. Very confident."

"Hmm," she said. "That's interesting. If you could separate yourself from this person and experience him objectively, would you want to hang out with a person like that on the weekend?"

It was a strange question. But I looked at that person frozen on the TV monitor and thought about it. Reluctantly, I had to tell the truth.

"No," I said. "Probably not."

"Really?" she asked. "And why not?"

"Well," I said, "because I don't hang out with people like that."

I'm not sure whether there was a collective gasp from the audience or just a stunned silence, but what she said next definitely stunned me.

"You know, don't you, that you're talking about yourself?"

Yes. I was. I had just admitted that the person I was projecting was not someone to whom I could relate. He wasn't even someone I really liked!

And apparently, I wasn't the only one to be put off by Scott Weiss's executive persona. In our remaining time together, other members of the audience began to offer more specific impressions of how they had experienced me as a communicator, and as a person.





Not real.

Those were just some of the terms they used. I had never heard myself described this way before. I felt like the emperor with no clothes.

I had not gone to Speakeasy for a consciousness-raising experience. But I sure had one. In the weeks following that close and uncomfortable encounter with my own executive persona, I did a lot of thinking. I examined what I had learned about how others actually did experience me, and thought about how I wanted people to experience me. There was a gaping abyss between those two extremes, and I realized that I had a lot of work to do to bring them closer together—to become more congruent as an individual and as a leader. I needed to find my authentic self and learn how to bring more of my real personality to my vocation.

After several months of introspection and self-reflection, I ultimately came to realize that my current environment was not going to be supportive of the changes I wanted to make. In 1995, I left Turner to join Speakeasy and pursue what has become my life's work. I was very fortunate that Sandy Linver took me under her wing and gave me the opportunity to begin learning how to drop my own masks and help others to do the same. Under her tutelage, I spent the next ten years studying and being relentlessly guided and re-directed to think about how I wanted to be experienced as a person, not just as an executive. I took retreats away from family and friends to work on my own self-awareness, and generally spent countless hours focused on my own "becoming." It was not an easy process, but for me it was not just valuable, but necessary. In 2004, I bought the company and became president and CEO.

I share this story almost every day with leaders who are unaware that they are communicating to the world from behind a mask. For many, that realization comes as an uncomfortable epiphany. It certainly did for me. But it can also mark the beginning of a remarkable and transformative journey, one that is as much about personal growth as it is about communication. It has to start with self-awareness, and a willingness to examine the ways that we as leaders deceive others and ourselves.

The Fine Art of Deception

Most executives get very defensive when confronted with the word "lie" in any context. They would never see themselves as liars or admit that they ever lie. To be fair, the overwhelming majority of our nation's top leaders are individuals who conduct themselves with honesty and integrity. Very few of us tell the Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, or Jeffrey Skilling kind of lies. And this is not a book about securities fraud or accounting malfeasance. It's not about the big black lies driven by pure ego and unbridled greed. To some extent, however, it is about deception. It's about the commonplace, but wholly unnecessary, deceptions committed in the vast gray area between polite white lies and the horrendously malicious fabrications that make headline news. It's about the deceits we practice on our customers, our employees, and ourselves in the name of "business as usual."

I'm concerned about the many well-meaning, otherwise highly ethical leaders who may not even be conscious of how commonplace these deceptions have become or how routinely they're practiced. To the world at large, in our external corporate communications and marketing, we have become all too casual about encouraging deception through exaggeration and "spin." In our internal communications, inside the walls of our own organizations, we cloud our intentions with corporate-speak and euphemism. We feel little obligation to speak honestly and openly to our own employees and operate to a great extent as though our business was none of their business. At the personal level, we engage from behind false personas and co-opt others into deceptions that rob us of self-awareness, more genuine relationships, and personal and professional growth.

These types of deceit are not intended to harm others. They're not consciously meant to defraud, defame, or cheat. But I believe that they exact a significant price. I think the costs are greater than most people imagine. While hard to calculate, they manifest in an unengaged workforce and higher employee turnover, in lower earnings related to lost time, creativity, and innovation, and especially in the valuable commodity of public trust.


Excerpted from DARE by SCOTT WEISS Copyright © 2013 by Speakeasy Communications Consulting, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Chapter 1 A Crisis of Trust 1

Chapter 2 The Leadership Persona 7

The Fine Art of Deception 11

Perception Management 12

Eschewing Obfuscation 15

Self-Deception and Collusion 18

Business as Usual? 22

Dare! 23

Chapter 3 What's Wrong with our Customers? 25

The Customer Default Position 27

The Customer Trust Position 32

DARE! 36

Chapter 4 Straight Talk to the Workforce 39

Information Brokering 40

When the Truth Hurts 44

When We Don't Have the Answers 47

When We Fear Distracting the Workforce 49

DARE! 51

Chapter 5 New Values for Great Leaders 53

The Charismatic Leader 55

The Self-Aware Leader 57

Self-Reflection 65

Vulnerability 68

Honesty and Transparency 72

DARE! 75

Chapter 6 Customer Conversations 77

The Emotional Connection 79

Faking Sincerity 81

Transparency Not Optional 85

Undercover Bosses 88

Raising the Bar 89

DARE! 91

Chapter 7 Trusting Corporate Cultures 93

The Open Communications Vision 96

Spreading the Word 98

Open in Name Only? 99

Connectors in Chief 101

Encouraging Introductions 102

Connecting to the Community 102

Monitoring Diversity Messaging 104

Embracing the Tools 104

Making Face Time 105

Setting the Example 105

Safety Engineering 106

Expecting the Best 107

Modeling Authentic Conversations 108

Learning to Listen 109

Being Yourself 111

Simple and Sincere 112

Choosing the Channel 113

Rewards and Recognition 114

DARE! 117

Chapter 8 Is Business Evil? 119

Must Business Do Good? 121

Doing Well While Doing Good 125

Being Good to Do Well 126

Becoming as Good as Our Word 129

One Voice at a Time 131

About the Author 133

About Speakeasy 135

Notes 137

Index 141


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