According to a recent Harvard Business Review Advisory Council Reader’s Survey dated January 2009, it was considered that trust had eroded in top executives – by over 76% in US based companies and 51% in non-US companies.
That is a lot of trust to lose.
Watching the recent shenanigans* of our government and opposition spat over the so-called Utegate scandal, it certainly raises the question of what possibly were they hoping to gain? Given no-one seriously thought it would result in a resignation of the Prime Minister or the Opposition Leader, all that really is at stake here is the public’s trust in their leaders.
We can only assume the motivation that is driving them to behave, attack and defend their actions as they are, is to help protect and uphold Australia’s values, ethics, security, competitiveness, health, safety, education and all the other reasons that they were voted into office as our leaders. I would not be the first to say that connection is difficult to make. Even if it can be found, would we rate it as the most important issue that we would like our leaders of our nation to focus on? And at what point did or does the motivation change from pursuing the truth to pursuing personal agendas?
In this global economic environment we are seeing increasing pressure on businesses and executives. This is a test of character for most. And we are seeing plenty of examples of organizations’ cultures crumbling, trust being eroded, candor turning into clandestine, and ethics and values once clear now murkily represented.
Trust is something that requires careful building. A coherent and transparent position that is understood, chosen and lived by those who lead and those who follow. It is very easily dissipated. And even harder to rebuild.
So how do you ensure trust not only remains in-tact but grows over these challenging times? The key thing is of course to know who you are and what you stand for. Trust is not a job responsibility, it is a choice in which you wish to offer and earn.
The basis of trust in leadership
- Know oneself and take a clear position on your beliefs and values – communicate and live by who you are and what you believe in
- Be transparent and candid in communication and decision making – share why decisions are being made, share the process, those engaged, and progress. Your organization and personal values should have a common base otherwise the differences will quickly show and allow room for corruption.
- Share – share information, good, bad, challenges, disappointments and wins. Help explain what is clear, what is grey, what is not being shared and why.
- Tell the truth always – you may suffer consequences of telling the truth, but it can never be as bad as the consequences of not telling the truth. The most important thing at stake here is your integrity. You can’t deceive and retain integrity.
- Encourage, invite, create forums for feedback – this is all about creating a culture that encourages open discussions and the sharing of ideas and information. It is also important that you regularly hear, see and feel the truth and reality of a situation.
- Get directly involved and see first-hand any situation that you need to represent – the more layers you have between yourself and what you represent, the more likely the room for spin, softening, misinterpretation of the truth etc.
- Evaluate how you are living your word – reflect regularly on your behavior and that of others, call yourself and others to question and do not accept anything that can be considered untrustworthy or against the values of your organization.
- Champion Trust – encourage it, live it, recognize it, reward it.
Friedrich Nietzsche, German classical Scholar, Philosopher and Critic of culture once wrote “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
To lead in today’s environment, you need to be trusted. Don’t compromise.
* Definition of shenanigan “1: a devious trick used especially for an underhand purpose2 a: tricky or questionable practices or conduct —usually used in plural b: high-spirited or mischievous activity —usually used in plural (Merrriam-Webster online). A most apt description!