Just like saving money, earning trust happens one deposit at a time. Photo by Bigstock.

When I was a kid growing up in Keokuk, Iowa, my parents took me to town to open my first savings account at the Keokuk Savings Bank and Trust. They issued me a savings passbook that looked like a cross between a passport and a checkbook.

My parents highly encouraged me — OK, ordered me — to find ways to make money from a very early age. I mowed lawns, delivered newspapers, picked fruit, cut wood, shoveled driveways and sidewalks, and I even ran my own business for a time. When I was 12, my Aunt Mary called our house and asked me if I wanted to make some money. Of course I did. She told me that if I would get her garden cart, take it to our farm and fill it with cow-lot dirt that she would pay me $1 a load. She lived just up the hill, about a quarter of a mile, so I hustled up there, got the cart and spent the day hauling good old black barnyard dirt — or more accurately, cow manure ­— up the hill. The job came with another bonus, in that she had air conditioning, and Aunt Mary allowed me to cool off in the AC between trips.

I likely made about $10 that day and got a few glasses of fresh lemonade as well. While $10 isn’t that much money, back then in rural Iowa, I felt rich. My Aunt Mary used that black dirt in her flower beds, and later that year, she won an award from the local garden club for her beautiful roses. Everyone asked Aunt Mary how she got her roses to grow so well, and she said it was the boy down the gravel road and his barnyard dirt.

There is no advertising like word of mouth, and my phone started to ring off the hook from her competition wanting some of that good dirt. When I turned 13, my dad let me drive the farm truck into the barnyard and shovel it full of that dirt. When he got home from work, he would drive me to wherever it was to be delivered, and I charged $20 a load. To teach me true business fundamentals, my dad charged me the IRS mileage rate for all miles I put on his truck, in the name of my manure business. After a while, he let me use the tractor’s front loader to fill the truck, and then I was really in business. Sales took off, however, I excavated so much dirt that the foundation started showing on the barn. Alas, I had to shut the business down to prevent collapsing our barn.

Once a week, my dad would let me keep about $20 for spending money, but the rest of it — all of it — went into my savings account. I would take a pocketful of cash into the bank, and the teller would take my deposit and update my savings passbook. At 14, I got a full-time summer job working six days a week at a large fruit-and-vegetable farm, which paid $4 per hour. I made $192 a week, and still my dad let me keep $20 to spend, and the other $172 went into the savings account. Week after week and job after job, those deposits were made. One day, I had need of that money, and when I looked, I had over $6,000 in the bank, which equals about $22,000 in today’s money.

I think that life and leadership have a lot of parallels to this story. I tell my kids and my employees that I still make deposits in several banks every day because some day, I might need to make a withdrawal for an important reason. These deposits are made into the Bank of Trust, and I have several accounts. I have accounts with my wife, kids, employees, friends, board members and ultimately you, our member-owners. Every day, I try to do things to earn more trust to deposit into those accounts. Some days, they are small deposits, and other days they are quite large, but the goal is to make as many deposits as I can to grow a useful balance. While it might be convenient to make little withdrawals from my Trust accounts, the best course is to be disciplined and to resist the temptation. Otherwise, the balance will not grow to a useful amount.

Money is the commodity of daily life, and without it, life is a struggle. Trust is the commodity of leadership and relationships, and without it, life is also a real struggle.

Trust can be earned simply by doing what you say you will do, following through on promises and commitments, doing something unexpected because you care, being transparent with information and decisions, being honest in all that you do, being competent in your decision-making and using good judgement on behalf of others. Just like when I was a kid, I continue to work to earn trust and deposit it in the Bank of Trust for a day when I know I will ultimately need to make a withdrawal.

As a husband, father and CEO, there will undoubtedly be times when I need to make a decision that is not popular or may not be fully understood by all. It is at this moment that I need to go to the Bank and make a withdrawal. As the leader of my family and of my employees at Arkansas Electric, I need those I lead to sometimes follow me, even if it is unpopular or something they are not completely familiar or comfortable with. And for them to do that, they have to trust me.

We live in a time when trust in the government, the press and leaders is diminishing. And I hope that each of you reading are able to make weekly deposits in your Trust accounts, raise your balances to levels where you can use them and effect positive change in your families and communities.