I had an interesting question from a person who also works in the field of leadership and deals with clients on the issue of trust. She has her own trust assessment but is finding that potential clients are (a) hesitant to admit there is a trust issue and (b) hesitant to pay for her services without “hard data” concerning the outcomes of dealing with trust. I believe she is not only well-intentioned but truly offering value to her clients…she is just struggling with getting them to see (and accept) the value she offers.
The problem for those of us who work in this area, and for leaders in general, is that “trust” is an up close and personal thing. To admit that people may not trust me is to take some personal accountability for something that is actually not within my control. I can create the “conditions” for trust, but it is up to my followers to decide whether or not they trust me. (Mull THAT one over for a minute or two).
Of course it is also likely that I see myself entirely as a leader of integrity even when my followers or the rest of the organization perceive my actions as lacking credibility. This happens because, as a leader, I see more of the future than I do the present. I may be entirely unaware of the influences that impact negative perception because I’m busy trying to establish or execute strategy. It might even be that my followers are skeptical of my integrity because of experiences they have or stories they hear regarding OTHER leaders. There may be a sense of “guilt by association” that completely escapes me until a full-blown issue of trust is upon us.
Trust is a condition that is difficult to address directly. If I ask you if you trust me, and you do, you will assure me that trust is not an issue. If I ask you if you trust me, and you do not, you will likely assure me that trust is not an issue. So the best way to tell if there may be a breach of integrity…either in your own team, or in your organization, is to look for the “diagnostic symptoms” of distrust in the behaviors and activities around you. In fact, take a moment and answer the following questions “yes” or “no” about your team or organization:
Is there a tendency for people sending email to use the “cc” function in excess?
Are there “meetings outside of the meetings” where people discuss what was “really” done in the meeting?
Are there clusters of people who tend to operate at the exclusion of other clusters of people?
Is production on the team slower than one would logically expect based on skill sets and resources?
Is decision-making frustratingly slow?
Does the team have a cynical sense-of-humor regarding others within the organization?
If you answered yes to even a couple of these questions, it is possible that trust is an issue on your team. If the development is recent, it might be that relatively current events have caused this condition. If these behaviors described above have been around for awhile, it might also be that a CULTURE of distrust has been developed with or without your knowledge. And for the record, if you dismiss these results in thinking that "every organization is like that," you're simply letting yourself off the hook with excuses.
I’d love to hear what you think: If these are some of the behaviors you see on your team or within your organization, what is it costing you? In business metrics (not just morale), what is the impact of lack of trust on your team?