Leading with Trust

Are Your People Ready to Stage an “Occupy” Protest? Four Ways to Build a High-Trust Culture

If given the chance, would the people in your organization stage an “Occupy” protest? Do they have feelings of inequity, spawned by the perception that the top 1% in your organization receive a disproportionate amount of the rewards at the expense of the 99%?

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last few weeks, you’re probably familiar with the “Occupy” movement that has spawned social protests on Wall Street and various cities and venues around the world. Underlying these protests of social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of money and lobbying in politics, is a profound lack of trust between leaders and those being led.

What can we learn from the Occupy movement to help us build organizational cultures of high-trust? I think the following four areas are good places to start:

1. Share information liberally
We live in an information age, where just about anything we want to know is but a few keystrokes or mouse-clicks away. Yet in many of our organizations, leaders withhold information as a way to maintain power and authority over others.

A lack of information sharing about the compensation system at the Mayo Clinic had created perceptions of inequality and just a 17% satisfaction level in 1999. By increasing the frequency, clarity, and transparency of communication about all compensation related matters, the Mayo Clinic was able to raise the level of satisfaction to 82% in 2011, with very little change to the fundamental structure of the compensation system itself.

In the absence of information, your people will make up their own version of the truth. Share information openly so that your people know the facts about what’s going on in the organization and trust that they will use and respond to that information responsibly.

2. Increase employee involvement in decision-making
My friend, colleague, and organizational change expert Pat Zigarmi, likes to make the point that contrary to popular opinion, people don’t resist organizational change; they resist being controlled. When people are shut out from contributing to decisions that will directly impact them, they develop a sense of distrust and skepticism toward the decision makers.

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, my organization suffered a loss of over $2 million dollars of booked business due to clients eliminating corporate travel. Our company had to make immediate moves to reduce expenses, but rather than making the easy and obvious decision to layoff staff, our leadership engaged everyone across the organization to generate ways to decrease costs or increase revenues in order to avoid layoffs. Hundreds of ideas were surfaced and many were implemented which resulted in the company being able to not only survive the economic downturn, but continue to make a profit and avoid eliminating jobs.

Involving your people in making decisions will lead to higher levels of trust and commitment. Remember, those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.

3. Give people what matters most – your time and attention
Google is legendary for the perks that it offers its employees. At the Googleplex, Google’s corporate headquarters in Mountain View, CA, team members have unlimited access to free haircuts, massages, meals, dry cleaning, and even on-site medical care.

Yet when Google undertook a study to determine what employees valued most, they overwhelmingly said “even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

Just like workaholic parents who fool themselves into believing they can make up for their lack of presence in their kids’ lives by spoiling them with all the latest toys and gadgets, leaders often fall prey to the same line of thinking by believing corporate perks and benefits can make up for the lack of intimate one-one-one leadership. Developing genuine and authentic relationships is a primary way to build a culture of trust.

4. Have an ethical and equitable compensation system
Economic inequality is one of the primary platforms of the Occupy protest movement. According to research done by Kevin Murphy at USC’s Marshall School of Business, in 1971 the ratio between the average CEO’s salary and that of an employee was 30.6 percent (averages of $212,230 vs. $6,540). In 2009, the last year of his research, it was 264.4 percent ($8.47 million vs. just over $32,000).

Although research has consistently shown that money is usually not a primary motivator for employees, it would be a huge mistake to discount the negative effect of unfair compensation. In a recent HBR blog article, Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle, make three excellent points about the importance of fair compensation.

First, compensating your employees fairly is simply the right thing to do. Second, fair compensation creates a more positive “inner work life effect” – the positive flow of emotions, thoughts, and motivators about the employee’s perception of their work. It’s confirmation of Ken Blanchard’s old saying that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results.” And third, compensation is more than a paycheck. It’s a signal to employees about their value to the organization and the importance of the work they do.

If we’re willing to pay attention, we can learn several important lessons from the Occupy movement. Sharing information liberally, increasing employee involvement in decision-making, nurturing one-on-one relationships, and compensating people fairly will lead to higher levels of trust, commitment, and engagement in our organizations.

Build Trust Through Professionalism – Seven Mindsets for Success

Do you consider yourself a professional? Or do you think professionalism is reserved for those occupations that require a special degree or qualification, such as a doctor, lawyer, or accountant?

Being a professional has nothing to do with a particular job, title, or degree. It has everything to do with the mindset you choose to hold in the way you approach your work, argues Bill Wiersma, in the Fall 2011 issue of the Leader to Leader Journal. In Fixing the trust deficit: Creating a culture of professionals, Wiersma makes the valuable point that adhering to professional ideals builds trust with others and he offers the following seven mindsets that are characteristic of trusted professionals.

  1. Professionals have a bias for results, knowing that they are counted on to achieve results by using their knowledge, expertise and skills. They develop a track record of success and a reputation for getting the job done, no matter what it takes.
  2. Professionals realize (and act like) they are part of something bigger than themselves. They understand that true success is measured beyond their own personal interests, are good collaborators, and are committed to the goals of their organization. In the world of sports, they say this is being more committed to the name on the front of the jersey rather than the name on the back.
  3. Professionals realize that things get better when they get better. They are engaged and committed to improving their craft, always looking for opportunities to personally get better. When it comes to being a professional, it’s not just business; it’s personal.
  4. Professionals often have standards that transcend organizational ones, because they are motivated by a core set of values that compels them to do the right thing rather than what’s expedient. They keep focused on the long-term goal and don’t get wrapped up in the daily drama.
  5. Professionals know that personal integrity is all they have. Following through on commitments, being honest, authentic, and not violating the trust that has been extended to them is a reflection of their character.
  6. Professionals aspire to master their emotions, not be enslaved by them. Dealing diplomatically with difficult people, rising above the fray, and remaining objective in emotional situations are key skills for trusted professionals.
  7. Professionals aspire to reveal value in others by keeping their ego in check, celebrating the success of others, and valuing the contributions that other professionals bring to the table. Professionals understand that no one of us is as smart as all of us.

One of my pet peeves is when I hear people describe their work by saying “I’m just a ______” (insert title or job). You are not just anything. Don’t discount yourself or your work by qualifying it with the word “just.” The work you do is valuable and important! Elevate the value of your work and your own self-image by approaching your job with these professional mindsets. You will be more satisfied in your work, perform better, and build higher levels of trust with others.

Want to Build Trust? It Helps to Embarrass Yourself

Oh, those feelings of embarrassment! You feel your body start to sweat, your face turning red, and it feels as if every person in sight is staring at you while you make a buffoon of yourself.

Those embarrassing moments you experience may actually help build trust with others. A recent study by researchers at U.C. Berkeley suggests that the display of embarrassment may increase others’ perceptions of you as a trustworthy individual. Participants in this research watched videos of people describing their embarrassing moments and reported that they perceived those individuals as more generous and trustworthy compared to individuals who tried to downplay the situation and pretend they weren’t embarrassed.

I can’t say the results of this research are terribly surprising, but they do reinforce some fundamental truths about building trust.

  • Being “real” builds trust – We trust people when we perceive them as being authentic and down to earth. When people try to put on airs and pretend to be something or someone they aren’t, we immediately label them as being a fake, a phony, or a poser (pick your adjective). What’s the advice that virtually every parent gives their child who’s nervous about attending the first day of school and making new friends? “Just be yourself.” Displaying emotions of embarrassment tells others that you’re being real, that you acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation, and that you aren’t trying to be someone you’re not by pretending you’re not embarrassed.
  • Vulnerability builds trust – Being embarrassed is a moment of vulnerability when you can no longer hide behind your public persona and you’re subject to the reactions of those around you. People who try to hide their feelings of embarrassment probably have a low-level of trust in how they will be received by others in their social circle. Because of that lack of trust and unwillingness to be vulnerable, they try to hide their embarrassment so they don’t run the risk of being looked at as “less than” the people around them. Willingness to be embarrassed shows others that you are confident in your self-image and standing within the group and a few minutes of embarrassment won’t change the dynamics of your relationship.
  • Shared experiences build trust – Bonding occurs in a group of people when they all go through a common experience and embarrassing moments can serve as one of those community building events. This happened with my team a few years ago when I was given a surprise birthday gift during a team meeting. It was my 40th birthday and the team put together a PowerPoint presentation with embarrassing pictures from my childhood (courtesy of the covert help of my wife), one of which included a side-by-side comparison of my 9th grade high school photo with that of the movie character Napoleon Dynamite (there is a striking resemblance!). It was quite embarrassing and we all had a good laugh, but it brought us closer together and it lives on in the lore of our team.

So the next time one of those embarrassing moments comes along, don’t be a poser and try to pretend it didn’t happen. Embrace the moment, acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation, and use it as an opportunity to build trust and deeper relationships with those around you.

Trust Busters – The Top Five Ways Leaders Erode Trust

“Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable
Throw in undependable too”
Frank Sinatra ~ Call Me Irresponsible (1963)

Irresponsible, unreliable, and undependable make for great words in a song, but if those adjectives describe your leadership style then chances are your people don’t trust you.

Every interaction leaders have with their followers is an opportunity to develop trust, and “trust boosters” are those behaviors we use that build trust with others while “trust busters” are those things we do that erode trust in relationships. Here are five common Trust Busters leaders commit that erode the level of trust in relationships:

1. Making promises you can’t keep – I think most leaders have every intention to follow through on their promises, but the problem lies in our eagerness to make the promise without having a clear idea on what it will take to deliver. Leaders tend to be problem-solvers and when a problem presents itself, leaders spring into action to marshal the resources, develop an action plan, and get the problem solved. It’s important to carefully chose your language when you make commitments with other people because although you may not use the word “promise,” others may interpret your agreement to take the next action step as a promise to accomplish the goal. Be clear in your communications and set the proper expectations for what you are and aren’t committing to do. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver.

2. Not following through on commitments – This trust buster is clearly linked to the first one about making promises you can’t keep, but it also goes beyond to failing to live up to even the routine or mundane commitments you’ve made. Common examples include being habitually late for meetings and appointments, rescheduling deadlines because you haven’t finished your part of the assignment, and canceling meetings without explanation. Consistency and predictability in behavior is a fundamental aspect of being a trustworthy individual. If others cannot count on you to be consistent and predictable in following through with even the simplest responsibilities, they certainly won’t trust you with the truly important ones.

3. Not being good at what you do – This may be one of the most overlooked trust busters that leaders commit. Others trust you as a leader when they know you have the skills, knowledge, and expertise that’s needed in your role, both from a technical standpoint as well as a leadership standpoint. Many of today’s leaders face the challenge of not having the specialized technical skills of the people they manage, but they can still display competence in their role by mastering the fundamentals of their particular field and relying on the advice and partnership of team members who possess that technical knowledge. Leverage the technical skills of your superstar performers and continue to improve your own leadership skills so that you can effectively manage the entire operation.

4. Spinning the truth – Being dishonest is obviously a major trust buster, but sometimes a less obvious way leaders erode trust is by spinning the truth – intentionally trying to shape someone’s understanding or perception of the facts of a particular situation. Of course leaders want to be positive in the way they deliver news to support the goals and strategies of the organization, but when they fail to acknowledge the realities of the situation, don’t engage team members in authentic dialogue to address their concerns, and blindly tow the company line, that’s when trust is eroded because team members can clearly see through the leader’s charade. When delivering news about significant changes in the organization, leaders need to address the information concerns that people have (what is the change?), their personal concerns (how does this affect me?), and implementation concerns (how is this going to work?). Be honest, forthright, and authentic with your people and you’ll gain their trust and commitment.

5. Not giving credit where credit is due – This trust buster can manifest itself in different ways. One common occurrence is taking personal credit for the accomplishments of others. When speaking about the success of your team, check your language. Do you speak more of “we” or “me?” In my experience I’ve found that leaders who think and speak in terms of “we” are more trusted and respected than those who claim success for themselves. Another way leaders bust trust in this way is being stingy with praise. Some leaders believe that in order to keep their people motivated they have to keep them on edge, and if they’re given too much praise they’ll get complacent and won’t work as hard. In my own leadership journey and through the work I’ve done with clients I’ve yet to hear any employee say they’re having problems with their boss giving them too much praise.

I’m curious if you’ve experienced other trust busters that you think should rank in the Top Five. Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for a little crooning, here’s a link to Michael Buble’s great cover of Call Me Irresponsible.

Greed + Ego – Loyalty = No Trust: Lessons From College Football Conference Realignment

This past week the landscape of college football conference membership shifted again when Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced that they would be leaving the Big East to move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The universities issued statements discussing academics, geographical relationships, and peer institutions as reasons for the switch, but everyone knows the motivation is money. Syracuse and Pitt believe they can make more money playing in the ACC than in the Big East.

Earlier this month Texas A&M announced they would leave the Big 12 conference in 2012 to seek a new conference affiliation, preferably with the SEC. In announcing this decision, university President, R. Bowen Loftin, said it was “in the best interest of Texas A&M” and that they were “seeking to generate greater visibility nationwide for Texas A&M.” (Translation: We’re tired of playing in the shadow of the Texas Longhorns and we think we can make more money in a different conference.) The combination of Texas A&M’s decision, and the news this week about Pitt and Syracuse, caused Oklahoma to start shopping itself to other conferences as well. Oklahoma and the other Big 12 schools are envious of Texas’ move to create their own Longhorn TV network and keep most of the money for themselves. David Boren, President of OU, was quoted as saying that Oklahoma wouldn’t stay in the Big 12 and just be a “wallflower.” No ego in that statement.

Of course, conference realignment isn’t anything new. It’s happened over the years to varying degrees, but these recent developments clearly point out the hypocritical nature of college athletics. University Presidents and Chancellors can talk all they want about the student-athlete experience and academic integrity, yet it’s clear that each school is out to get the biggest piece possible of the multi-billion dollar pie. Former Big East Commissioner, Mike Tranghese, stated in an interview this week that he believes these decisions are clearly motivated by greed, money, and display an extreme lack of honor and loyalty by the leaders of these schools.

I considered Tranghese’s words in relation to leadership in general and the effects that greed, ego, and a lack of loyalty have on trust.

Greed is the excessive desire to possess wealth or goods. Although we most commonly associate greed with money, in the organizational leadership context I think greed rears its ugly head when we strive for excessive power, position, or authority. Power, position, and authority are amoral; there is nothing right, wrong, good, or bad about them in and of themselves. In the hands of an authentic and virtuous leader, power, position, and authority are tools for doing more good for their followers and the organization. In the hands of a self-serving leader, they can become objects of worship. People will not have high levels of trust with leaders who are greedy because they know that those leaders value fulfilling their selfish needs more than they value serving their followers.

Ego is the shadow side of leadership. Being in a position of power and authority can be a heady thing. You often have access to privileges and opportunities not afforded to others and over the course of time you begin to think you’re entitled to these benefits, rather than recognizing them for the gifts that they are. The opposite of being an egotistical leader is being a leader of humility. Ken Blanchard likes to say that being humble is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less. Humble leaders tend to have a stewardship approach to leadership. They understand that their position of leadership is something that they’ve been entrusted with to use to the best of their ability, not as a right that has been given to them to use as they please.

Loyalty is a primary characteristic of trustworthy leaders. Why is that? It’s because loyal leaders are predictable and consistent in their behavior and that creates a level of security and trust with followers. Trustworthy leaders display loyalty when they assume best intentions of others, don’t automatically place blame when mistakes are made, and advocate for the best interests of their followers. Being loyal doesn’t mean turning a blind-eye to bad performance or troubling situations; that’s negligence. Loyal leaders are committed to helping their people and organizations realize higher levels of performance and success.

As you would expect, the university leaders of these college football powerhouses are smart people. They definitely have this equation down pat: Greed + Ego – Loyalty = No Trust.

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