Your Role in Creating Organizational Trust

The job of a leader, as indicated by the root of that title, is to lead.  As leaders, we have to extend trust first.  We show that we are bigger people because of it, but even more so, intractability is going to be damaging to you as well as to them.  If you think you have the upper hand and don’t think the fallout will get you in the end, it might not this time, but your unwillingness to do the right thing for the whole organization will be noted for posterity.  Conversely, your efforts at being a peacemaker show you to be the better person.

The late Steven Covey had a list of thirteen behaviors that high-trust leaders exemplified:

Talk straight. Demonstrate respect. Create transparency. Right wrongs. Show loyalty. Deliver results. Get better. Confront reality. Clarify expectations. Practice accountability. Listen first. Keep commitments. Extend trust.

He further mentioned something I thought was very important, something that in my own life I failed: We have to extend trust first.  But importantly, he pointed out, not a “blind trust” without expectations and accountability, but one with those characteristics built into the process.  The best leaders, he said, were those who “always lead out with the decided propensity to trust, as opposed to a propensity not to trust”.

While I am still careful to avoid pointing fingers, and I don’t  care to, we can only look at any number of failed relationships between chiefs and the rank and file where on one side, or another, or both, they failed to live up to these behaviors.  Trust is very much oriented to history; if we continue to exemplify distrustful behavior, it’s very much the story of the little boy crying “wolf”.  When the time comes that we need to have credibility, it is too late.  Hopefully the wolf ate the boy first.

Half of the battle is to get “leaders” (in name only) to realize that their pig-headedness and their extraordinary egos get in the way of these characteristics.  Of course the chief doesn’t want to create transparency if he failed and now has got to save face.  It’s no wonder troops refuse to take accountability in many cases; doing so means that the chief can use it against them.

It’s no picnic, I can reassure you.  Once I was enduring a spat with a peer who I lost trust in.  I didn’t need their blessing or their cooperation on anything in particular, but just the same, since I personally prefer to be a just leader, I went to him and offered a flag of truce, hoping to mend the fences.  Not only did we not mend the fence, he managed to hit me with a few of the big pieces as I tried to get away.

Months later, he needed my support for an initiative he was pushing.  My backing would have had a lot of push and his credibility was on the line because the project was critical.  I wasn’t as magnanimous or seeing the big picture as I am these days. I pretty much told him he should shove his proposal.  His eventual demotion and then the downhill slide to his departure was all on him, but his failure to pull that project off didn’t help his cause.  If anything, it was probably the warning buzzer and I just let him swing.

Was it right? No, looking back on it, while the project he needed my support to push through was eventually resurrected and pushed through, he wasn’t anywhere near it as it took off.  But in this officer’s need to stay angry, he lost a valuable ally later.  We didn’t have to be roommates, or go have a beer or anything.  But it is better to have people feeling neutrally about you rather than negatively.  And so many “leaders” can’t figure that out.

You are better off waging peace daily and waging war once in a while, rather than waging war all the time and wondering why eventually nobody is in your corner.  Even if you don’t agree with someone, at least agree that they have their own perspective, however flawed, and treat them with respect as you try to convince them otherwise.

Be honest, straightforward and candid, while discussing the issues themselves, not insulting the owner of the issue.  When you reach points of agreement, clarify the expectations and ensure no miscommunication occurs where you could be accused of not holding up your end of the bargain.  If you do screw something up, own it, be sorry, and be first to try to fix it without being asked to.

And above all, listen first, be respectful of the opinions of others, if not at least for the people who hold them, and be loyal to the organization’s mission above all.  Even if things don’t work out with the effort, in the end, you will have taken the high road, and hopefully that spinning wheel of karma will take a chunk out of the other guy’s ass rather than yours.

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