PwC’s Tim Ryan: ‘Trust Your Team And They’ll Do Amazing Things’

In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, US Chair & Senior Partner of one of the largest accounting firms in the world, PwC, discusses how he used a most unconventional change in his company’s dress code to introduce “trust-based leadership” to his team.

The obligatory suits with which the button-downed industry had become synonymous were out, and blue jeans were in.

That’s right, blue jeans—not just on Fridays or on Fridays in the summer, but any time the occasion seemed right. “The reason I did that was to send a message,” explained Ryan in a recent episode of Corporate Competitor Podcast. “The message was that I trusted them to wear the right thing in the right set of circumstances.” If a PwC associate was meeting with a room full of suits, Ryan trusted them to dress appropriately.

Enough said, right?

Well, not everybody at PwC was on the same wavelength as the Babson College grad who had made his career at PwC prior to being named its top dog. For example, the firm’s Human Capital Department edited Ryan’s dress code memo six times. “They are world class, by the way, but they put in all kinds of restrictions and guidelines like the jeans couldn’t be ripped or too tight or worn with open-toed sandals and that sort of thing.”

Ryan took out all of the restrictive language and explained to his HC team that the open-endedness of the memo was intentional. “I want our people to know I trust them. And if they believed that I trusted them, they’re going to be more confident in making decisions on the ground for our people and our clients—and more comfortable reaching out when they’re not sure.”

The new dress code marked a signature instance of what Ryan dubs the “trust-based leadership” model, which Ryan says is based on clearly and transparently communicating your organization’s goals and pathways for reaching those goals, and then placing the full force of your trust in your team’s ability to accomplish them.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that an organization that has a culture of trusting the team to try new things will win,” noted Ryan. “So my advice is to believe in your recruiting and believe in your talent pipeline, because when you trust them, they will do amazing things, and then constantly talk about what that trust yielded.”

Listeners to the podcast will enjoy a whole closet full of well-pressed leadership insights with nods to hockey and football, including:

• What’s wrong with today’s corporate business “huddles.”

• What never happens when you trust your team, and what usually happens when you don’t.

• How to make corporate goals personally meaningful to diverse members of your team.

• How PwC addressed diversity, equity and inclusion issues to build greater trust throughout the organization.

Ryan believes passionately that trust is the new currency of business—so much so that he developed PwC’s Trust Leadership Institute. This immersive program brings together a community of leaders to explore the role of trust in business and society. He is also the founder of CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, a place where CEOs can gather to share best practices and ideas on equity.

“What started as a few CEOs collaborating in 2017 has turned into 2,200 leaders representing 21 million employees!” said Ryan. “We’re proud to be able to move the conversation forward on something we believe in not only at PwC but throughout the country.”

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events