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Leaders: Trust is ALL!

Leaders: Trust is ALL!

That’s a bold statement. “Leaders: Trust is all!”

Can it be supported? Is there any trust in the statement “Leaders: Trust is all!”?

Sometimes apparent truisms like this can best be explored by testing them in extremis.

Can a person lead if people do not trust them? It appears to be a simple question, but alas, the answer is not.

To illustrate, can you trust a politician to lie? Yes, you can count on it.

Even though we all accept that lying is part of politics, we still elect them to lead. Thus, sadly, it seems, that it is possible to lead without trust… in that context.

Would you choose to stay in a company if you could not trust its leaders? On face value it appears that the reasonable answer is a loud NO!

Sadly, again, it is not that simple. If you had been promoted beyond your competence, and there was zero chance of you securing a similar position/salary elsewhere, you would stay in the company, even though you had no trust in its leaders? Many do.

Now it seems that trust is NOT all. Now it looks as though the need to elect someone, the need to keep an undeserved salary, can entice people to be led even when there is no trust.

When leaders devoid of any morals realise that trust is not required for leadership, that self-interest can overpower the absence of trust, they start to manipulate the self-interested motives of those they lead.

If you think that doesn’t happen, you might want to explore the following sample cases: Enron’s false accounting and worse, the deceit conducted during the false accusations against President Bill Clinton, the South Yorkshire Police tampering of evidence in the Hillsborough disaster, the framing of the Birmingham Six (when those who did commit the crime were known)…

There are so many cases that I am certain that you can find examples in the news from this week alone, or in any week you choose.

There are so many, examples, so frequently that it might be reasonable to conclude that trust is redundant. No, that conclusion does not go far enough! Perhaps we should be asking if trust is a naive fantasy? Is trust for children? Is trust for those too stupid to know how to manipulate the game for their own ends?

However we try to diminish it, and throughout history many have, it seems that by saying things like, “trust is for children,” we still recognise its existence. Do we? Let’s test that.

Have you used electricity today? Given that you are reading this article online, the answer is yes. When you switched on your computer or device, you trusted that electricity would power it, you trusted that you could connect to the internet, you trusted that the site would be live… a long chain of trusts preceded you reading to this point.

If you had not trusted so many elements, you would never have taken the first step. And there we have the pointer to where trust is most important. Trust enables people to take action.

Let’s illustrate. If you did not trust other drivers to keep to the proper side of the road, could you drive anywhere? No. Well, perhaps if you bought a military tank, you might go shopping from time to time. The point is, that when trust is present you can get more done.

Not convinced? Take a look at the link between economic prosperity of any country and its level of corruption.

Some of the countries in the world that have the fewest natural resources are amazingly wealthy. Singapore for example.

Many (most) of the countries that are awash with resources, Nigeria, Indonesia, Philippines… (its a long, long list) are amazingly poor. Why? Because they have so much corruption (lack of trust) that getting anything done is nearly impossible.

Back to our test of the statement, “Leaders: Trust is all!” What kind of people stay in an organisation where there is no trust in its leaders?

Several types.

Those who can’t get a job elsewhere.

How productive are they?

Those who like to play the Machiavellian game.

How productive are they?

Those who have given up, and don’t care whether their leaders can be trusted or not.

How productive are they?

If you want to achieve anything of substance, are those the kind of people you want in your organisation?

Whether you want them or not, here is the harsh reality: each time you act to diminish your trust, you move closer and closer to having ONLY those kinds of people in your organisation.

Some organisations base their income on creating and breaking the trust of clients.

For example, all the consultancy and accountancy firms that sign off accounts that they know to be… let’s be diplomatic… less than an accurate statement of the truth. That is breaking trust, and in some cases it is conspiracy to break trust. The board members, and we all know the kinds of organisations to which we refer, know that the accounts are less than truthful; the accountants know the figures are fantasy, but, and here is the issue we referred to earlier, because all parties have an interest in playing the same game, they sign off the accounts, and get the contract to repeat the process next time. You also know the kinds of firms engaged in the “sign-offs”.

Inside such organisations a new member of staff  might think, or even ask: “Is trust dead? Is trust an outdated notion for simpletons? Is breaching trust only a sign that someone was stupid enough to get caught? Was Enron just unlucky? Did they simply make a mistake that got them and their accountants, caught? Was there real error one of poor deception rather than breaching trust?”

What do you think it does to productivity when staff start adopting views as cynical as the above? Would you go the extra mile for someone who was going to smile to your face by day and raid your pension fund by night?

At this point the cynics may say that the raid on your pension fund only affects your productivity if it is detected. If you don’t know about it, then you have not reason not to trust, and your productivity remains high.

As you know, such breaches of trust are detected! Day after day, week after week, another breach of trust hits the newspapers.

And every one of those breaches harms us all. What? Surely it only harms the victims of the breach of trust. No. It harms us all: it diminishes our ability to get things done, because we are not sure if we should trust.

Lawyers all over the world at this very moment are giving advice in their own best financial interests, at the direct expense of their clients.

Did you know this? Most lawyers are given a bonus based on the number of billable hours that they can charge. Yes, you  read correctly. That means that their bonus is paid if they can find ways to increase the cost of dealing with your case.

Lawyers on a billable hours bonus are in direct conflict of interest with their clients. Can you trust a lawyer operating under a billable hours bonus? Is it legal? Currently, and amazingly, yes.

Immoral? Yes. Unethical? Yes. Illegal? No.

It is in that zone that most leadership breaches of trust take place: Immoral? Yes. Unethical? Yes. Illegal? No.

Back to our question again. How productive would you be for a leader who was behaving immorally, unethically, but not illegally? That depends on your own morals. If you thought such behaviour was smart; if you thought that was the game: to get away with whatever you can, then you might be entirely approving, or at least understanding. “I wish I was in a position to get away with that!”

However, if you are in the majority, if you hold that honesty and integrity are essential for a successful person, company and county, they your productivity may reduce to zero as you look elsewhere to make an honest contribution.

Productivity and loss of honest staff are not the only casualties of impaired or absent trust.

What effect does lack of trust have on organisational resilience?

Even without any thought, the instinctive answer is: “It must be bad!” Yes, very bad. Let’s go deeper.

Resilience is in large part about keeping going in the face of adversity; drawing on the faith that the rewards for the desired outcomes are there if only one keeps going.

How much faith will staff have when they have no trust that their leaders will be true to their word?

Even if there is still some faith, it is likely to be diminished. Reduced trust leads to reduced faith, leads to reduced resilience, leads to reduced chance of success. 

Assessing our statement – Leaders: trust is all – it seems that trust is all IF you want to be surrounded by trustworthy, productive people.

If, by contrast, you want to be in or to create a company of “wide-boys” then trust is of no concern.

That stark contrast begs several questions:

What kind of person do you want to be?
What kind of company do you want to lead or work in?
What kind of society do you want to live in?

All of which are answered by the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement – Leaders: trust is all.

PsyPerform operates a guaranteed results policy: where client organisations have in place the metrics, we deliver the results you commission, or there is no fee.

If trust is not important to you, there are plenty of consultancies that will take your money regardless of outcome.

If you want to improve the performance of your company where you know you can trust those you commission to deliver or there is no fee, then contact PsyPerform.

Prof Nigel MacLennan

Copyright PsyPerform 2016