Should I Trust You? – by Deborah Levine

There’s no escaping the lack of trust these days from local officials to world powers. Whether we get our news from television, newspapers or the internet, we’re inundated with highly emotional trust issues. Take the examples of the turmoil around a third bailout for Greece, the fear over a nuclear arms agreement with Iran, and the disgust with declared international truces in Ukraine, Korea, and Yemen and undeclared domestic truces in Ferguson and Charleston. In the US, trust issues will be a dominant theme in the presidential campaign as candidates accuse, blame, and attack. Reporters rely on phrases such as “can’t trust,” “lack of trust,” “trust but verify,”and “rebuild trust.” For most of us, these phrases are just diplomatic talk for “What were you thinking?” and “No, and Hell no!”

The almost universal impulse to shut out the untrustworthy offenders has been the strategy of choice. Yet, our inability to come together is having an economic impact felt locally and globally. We are all affected by the dislocation of people and businesses, by the threat to lives and livelihoods. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) issued its 2015 annual Global Trends report stating that world-wide displacement is at 59.5 million, the highest number ever recorded. The result is a free-for-all in land grabs and power grabs, along with grabs of money and weapons to secure them. The isolation and containment strategies of the past that protected societies and industries are losing their power under these circumstances.

Some leaders see the chasm of mistrust and resulting instability as reason to heighten the vitriol, the anger, and division. Surely, the other party’s stupidity, lack of character, inhumanity, and even criminality can be overtaken by direct action. Just what action should be taken is rarely specified, but the desperation to stem the tide is clear. Others choose to bridge that chasm and create some semblance of security for all parties. This approach has been pioneered by the Diversity & Inclusion leaders in the business arena. If the bottom line depends on collaboration and deep divisions threaten that collaboration, violence and bullying are not viable strategies in the workplace.

The former diversity officer of Texas Instruments, Terry Howard, offers this summary of our leadership challenges in the world and in commerce. “Given that we exist and work in a world where trust has taken a deep downward dive because of global tensions, fear, xenophobia, corruption, economic woes, rapid change, political vitriol and all, trust and trust restoration are badly needed by leaders today.” Howard adds … “In my opinion, “trust” is the absolute must have in achieving progress in organizations that value diversity and inclusion. Trust is what facilitates solid relationships across cultural, racial, gender, religious, hierarchies, regional and other boundaries. Disrespect, unclear expectations and negative non-verbal communications are among factors that can erode trust. Any diversity and inclusion initiative that does not address trust as a foundation is doomed to fail.”

The centrality of trust building to today’s leadership skills is not new. In 2012, Charles Green wrote in Forbes Magazine, Why Trust is the New Core of Leadership.  Green explains his theory, “Leadership theorists nowadays stress authenticity, EQ and relationships. This makes intuitive sense. But it isn’t just a fad; there is a solid reason behind the shift. It is driven by changes in the world. Above all, it reflects the growing importance of trust.” Green adds… Businesses have become constantly morphing configurations of modular pieces. The boundaries separating them from their employees, their suppliers, and even their competitors have become porous; while the ties to their home nations, even to space and time, have become tenuous.” He concludes, “In such a world, vertical power-based leadership becomes less relevant. The key success factor becomes the ability to persuade someone over whom you have no power to collaborate with you in pursuit of a common mission.”

A key question in implementing Trust in leadership is whether it’s earned or given. In her article, Trust in Leadership: Is it Earned or Given?  Lisa Petrilli captures the essence of the “chicken or the egg” problem concerning trust. Should leaders trust others who then demonstrate their worthiness, or must the followers and colleagues demonstrate their worth before gaining that trust. Similarly, do people bestow their trust on leaders, removing it if Leaders fail to demonstrate that they are trustworthy, or do people expect leaders to prove worthy before trust is given? These sample responses to the questions as posed on LinkedIn illustrate how most were in the Trust-is-Earned camp.

David Guffy, Physician Recruiter at EmCare: “Trust is earned as a leader via the actions that you take in training, empowering, and protecting your team. Leaders that hold subordinate leadership accountable in performing these tasks earn even greater trust when they demand that subordinate leadership operate in a respectful professional manner. All of these actions then earn the trust of those they lead. To finalize this topic, subordinates respect and trust leadership even more when leaders are actually productive and hold themselves to higher standards.”

Katie Schwartz, CEO of Business Speech Improvement: “Trust is definitely earned, by doing what a person says he or she will do. When there is a contradiction between what is promised and what is given/said, trust can be eroded.”

Judging from the responses and multiple articles on the topic, we expect our leaders to earn our trust and expect ourselves to earn their trust in return. Yet, what happens if the expectations for earning that trust skirts the edge of realistic goals? Are we not then doomed to a state of constant distrust where we repeatedly question whether expectations can and will be met? The lessons unfolding in the Greek crisis where all parties face months, if not years, of conflict are becoming all too familiar. We are living on the edge globally and locally, teetering somewhere between viability and meltdown. Trust-building is increasingly complex and demanding. It’s not enough to appear “authentic,” a popular buzzword that’s more about marketing than meaning. The skills involved in creating trust or re-establishing it are embedded in our decision making and cannot be limited to the well-meant, but puzzling advice, “Be yourself.” We need to be skillful, courageous, bold, and pioneering to that label if we’re going to lead in this fragmented and dysfunctional world.

How can we wrap our minds around those trust-building skills? One answer lies in creating that trust systematically through wise decision making. Five key elements of that process are outlined in the Matrix Model Management System:

  1. Knowledge: gained through education, training, or experience.
  2. Character: including trust as well as accountability, ethics, and values.
  3. Humanity: highlighting our empathy.
  4. Vision: defining our purpose, our mission, and our goals
  5. Action: choosing how and when to act is the culmination of the other 4 elements in the Matrix.

By meeting expectations in each of the five elements, we not only establish our trustworthiness, but acquire an ongoing capacity for wise and trustworthy decision making. Amplifying trust-building skills with wisdom creates the intuitive ability to navigate difficult and unpredictable situations. With these skills, we can better anticipate the conditions that endanger the trust already earned. These skills partnered with Wisdom can be amplified with training and practice. Leadership today, and in the future, will need to blend Trust and Wisdom to meet the developing challenges locally and around the world.


One thought on “Should I Trust You? – by Deborah Levine”

  1. Great article! I’ve found that consistent trust building is very beneficial for everyone involved. It sure beats the alternative.

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