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The power of trust

Richard Haasnoot’s unconventional rise

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills,Office Politics,Workplace Communication

Richard Haasnoot knows what it’s like to climb the corporate ladder. In more than 16 years at Procter & Gamble, he rose from salesperson to sales manager to brand manager to vice president of sales to running P&G’s advertising department. And he claims he never played office politics along the way.

Haasnoot has parlayed his career success into an executive coaching business. He’s author of The New Wisdom of Business (Dearborn, 2000).

WS: Of all your promotions, which one was toughest to master?

Haasnoot: When P&G promoted me from brand manager to vice president, it was a big jump. It was surprising to some because I hadn’t been a brand manager that long. But I had an open, trusting relationship with my boss. We had worked together on a series of assignments, and I had demonstrated that I wasn’t worried about being personally right as much as doing right for the company.

WS: Can you give an example?

Haasnoot: During a major product introduction, I could have disregarded big, expensive marketing ideas and been more practical. That would have been easy—the ‘right’ thing to do. But I put aside constraints that might threaten my creativity and, along with my boss, we came up with crazy ideas. The results paid off.

WS: What keeps middle managers from moving up?

Haasnoot: If you lack passion, you’ll bump against a wall. I managed an employee who wasn’t performing despite his high promise. One day at lunch, I discovered his passion for rock climbing. He said, ‘I’d love to do that for a living.’ So I said, ‘Do it!’ We reached an amicable parting of the ways and he joined an outdoor-apparel company. He’s still there today, 15 years later!

WS: How can trust help career achievers?

Haasnoot: You can’t ‘use’ trust in a calculated way to get ahead. But one major mind-shift is to cooperate, not compete. When you’re competing, you won’t be open to trusting others. And you won’t want to help them.

WS: How has trust helped your career?

Haasnoot: When I joined Gallo Winery as a VP, another VP was very competitive and didn’t trust me. We had sharp differences on an issue that we were going to present to Ernest Gallo, and we were vying for his approval. In the days before our dueling presentations to Ernest, I asked the other VP to take a walk. I learned about his plans and saw the reasonableness of his ideas. Then I shared my ideas. Because I listened to him first, he listened to me. We came up with a way we could combine our ideas in a joint presentation. Ernest approved it immediately. It was all because I was willing to talk with my peer, open up and trust him.

WS: How do you stay trusting amid office politics?

Haasnoot: I’m one of the most apolitical people who ever walked the earth. I just focus on the task at hand, and that’s it.

WS: You make it sound easy, but can’t others plot against you?

Haasnoot: That’s never happened to me. But I had an employee, a Harvard Business School grad, who was so into politics that it ruined his career. He was terminated after two years because he was consumed by it. He was infected with the “When-are-you-going-to-make-me-president?” disease.

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