Guest blog: Mike P James discusses ‘How trustworthy are you, your employees, your board and organisation, are you ready for the new digital world?

Covid-19 is a crucible within which resilient leadership has been refined. Acting without perfect information and no playbook, often with only a few hours or days to spare, CEOs have to guide their organisations through myriad decisions and challenges, with significant implications for their company’s whole system; employees, customers, clients, financial partners, suppliers, investors, and other stakeholders, as well as for society as a whole.

Almost everywhere we turn, trust is on the decline. Trust in our culture at large, in our institutions, and in our companies is significantly lower than a generation ago. Research from Datapad when my company International Business and Executive management commissioned the trust report found that only 69% of employees did not trust senior management or their CEO. Consider the loss of trust and confidence in the financial markets today. Indeed, “trust makes the world go-’round,” and right now we’re experiencing a crisis of trust.

In the words of Tom Peters – American writer on business practices ‘TRUST, not technology, is the issue of the decade.’

In any normality trust is paramount, but with world events never has there been a need for increased trust. This simple formula emphasises the key elements of trust for individuals and for organisations:

Trust = Transparency + Relationship + Experience

Trust starts with transparency: telling what you know and admitting what you don’t. Trust is also a function of relationships: some level of ‘knowing’ each other among you and your employees, your customers, and your ecosystem. And it also depends on experience: Do you reliably do what you say?

In times of growing uncertainty, trust is increasingly built by demonstrating an ability to address unanticipated situations and a steady commitment to address the needs of all stakeholders in the best way possible.

The best leaders begin by framing trust in economic terms for their companies. When an organization recognizes that it has low trust, huge economic consequences can be expected. Everything will take longer and everything will cost more because of the steps organizations will need to take to compensate for their lack of trust. These costs can be quantified and, when they are, suddenly leaders recognize how low trust is not merely a social issue, but that it is an economic matter. The dividends of high trust can be similarly quantified, enabling leaders to make a compelling business case for trust.

The best leaders then focus on making the creation of trust an explicit objective. It must become like any other goal that is focused on, measured, and improved. It must be communicated that trust matters to management and leadership. It must be expressed that it is the right thing to do and it is the economic thing to do. One of the best ways to do this is to make an initial baseline measurement of organizational trust and then to track improvements over time.

Moral and ethical leadership is the key to a successful business, yet it’s clear from the news that the leaders of some of our most influential governments and corporations are making morally questionable decisions. These decisions will lose the trust of society, customers and employees. Trust is the foundation of high-functioning relationships and can only be achieved by meaningful dialogue. It is clear that this is not happening. Instead, we’re using electronic communication, where it should never be used.

The true transformation starts with building credibility at the personal level. The foundation of trust is your own credibility, and it can be a real differentiator for any leader. A person’s reputation is a direct reflection of their credibility, and it precedes them in any interactions or negotiations they might have. When a leader’s credibility and reputation are high, it enables them to establish trust fast speed goes up, the cost goes down.

In the words of Stephen Covey “If I make deposits into an Emotional Bank Account with you through courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping my commitments to you, I build up a reserve. Your trust toward me becomes higher, and I can call upon that trust many times if I need to. I can even make mistakes and that trust level, that emotional reserve, will compensate for it. My communication may not be clear, but you’ll get my meaning anyway. You won’t make me “an offender for a word.” When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.”

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Mike P James, who is a leadership mentor and aspiring ‘Good Guy’ – enabling managers on a leadership growth journey to create an ethical, trust-based, learning culture that empowers and engages all stakeholders via the RIGHT kept commitments.

Leadership and people development have gone hand-in-hand throughout Mike’s career. A quote, of his, that epitomises his view of relationships and the people he leads or trains is: “The strength of an organisation is not just in its people but in the relationships and interactions that are created and sustained.”

A few of Mike’s high points are simplifying the art of desert navigation for the Special Air Service during the first Gulf War. Managing, leading, and turning around a once failing department of 40 soldier/technicians. Leading a 120-strong organisation through severe and almost debilitating financial restrictions whilst still developing and maintaining an organisational identity and operational capability. Together with the privilege of passing on his diverse knowledge and experience to potential young Officers in concert with likely corporate Captains of Industry.

Mike specialises in leadership, team development and coaching with an emphasis on facilitating/coaching towards relevant and personalised outcomes in a solution-focused manner – more of what’s working as opposed to delving into the problem. His practical, common-sense approach together with a technical background enhances his ability to relate to individuals and groups across a variety of business sectors.

He has worked with individuals and organisations via one-to-one coaching to the design, delivery, and management of large (200+) multi-module programmes. His forte is enabling leaders and managers to realise the vital importance of the ‘emotional intangibles’ between good management and great leadership, whilst still enhancing strategic abilities and focus.

Thank you, Geoff, it is a pleasure to collaborate with you on this important subject of trustworthiness.

Are you ready for the future? A future that is here now! How trustworthy are you, your employees, your organisation?

Wherever you are now, leaders and employees will need to evolve to ‘navigate the transformed digital and physical worlds of work…’ (The Digital Renaissance of Work – Miller and Marsh) a good start would be for business leaders to actually trust their employees and work towards creating a collaborative, trust-based culture.

‘The trust of the people in the leaders reflects the confidence of the leaders in the people.’ Paulo Freire.

It has to start somewhere…

A New-Normal?
No one can deny that our world, and particularly the world of work, is entering a New-Normal – a totally different way of life that has been accelerated and totally reshaped by the pandemic we have all been living through.

This New-Normal world is not defined by just more remote-working and greater reliance on tech and AI, etc, it throws up many other questions:

How does it affect the quality of our relationships?
How does it affect how we work as a ‘team?’
How do we maintain accountability for our work?
How are responsibilities taken on?
How are ethical boundaries not transgressed?
How do we trust one another when we have only just been thrown together in an ad-hoc ‘team’ and the individuals are in multiple locations?
How do we promote our brand and values so that customers continue to work with us?
How do we take advantage of the ever-developing capabilities of AI to enhance the quality of our relationships – our Relationship Capital – so that it can be used alongside Financial Capital as a measure/predictor of organisational value in real-time? After all, estimated ‘Goodwill’ or brand value could be a thing of the past.

The Future of Work
Remote working, better use of digital technology, more supportive AI, etc, have all been talked about in a number of publications, including What’s the future of business? by Brian Solis; The Digital Renaissance of Work by Paul Miller and Elizabeth Marsh; and A World Without Work by Daniel Susskind. In fact, Miller and Marsh highlight that ‘team and teamworking is a relic of the Industrial Age and needs to be reinvented…’ and ‘The skills needed are those to build trust rapidly… manage reputation constantly… be visible to your organisation; and to expand your network of connections.

These, combined with ethical and moral issues of the past/present and the greater control of big business, are all pointers to a different way of working; a different way to use the ‘all-encompassing’ internet. A more user-centric way of use, where the user is in control and ‘… localized internet value increases exponentially through trust.’ In control of their data, their security, their reputation, responsible for their own work, and accountable for its outcomes. And where fundamental relationship principles inform and guide everything that is done, both in the ‘real’ and digital worlds.

‘Digital Collaboration’ is the term Miller and Marsh use for what they believe is the primary skill needed by all workers as they learn how to maintain more relationships.

Trust and trustworthiness will be key in this ‘new’ digital era. To move from being a good manager, doing things right, to being an inspirational leader and doing the right thing, you need to be able to coach and create a trust-based culture. Paul Keijzer puts it well: ‘A business will never be successful unless you learn how to build positive relationships and put people first.’ A culture where the trustworthiness of the relationships between all stakeholders is obvious, quantifiable, and promotable, i.e. the Relationship Capital.

More than ever, leaders need to personalise their connections and relationships across the business environment, to understand, consider, and respond to the emotional ‘below the surface’ intangible needs of their people.

Now is the time to reinvent trust and trustworthiness within relationships via the commitments that we make and fulfill between each other. And by that, I include all stakeholders – individuals, teams, customers, and organisations.

A lot of work has been written about trust. (Most notably Stephen Covey’s The Speed of Trust.) but how does ‘trust’ fit in with our current situations? How will it contribute to the New-Normal that is now upon us?

In his influential book, Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal talks of developing ‘ “a shared consciousness” which comes from transparency and extensive information sharing – which requires assuming risk by trusting others, way beyond what most leaders and organisations are willing to do. Teams are effective because they trust each other and they have a shared purpose.’

I suggest that we look and learn from the past, i.e. Dr. Fernando Flores in the 1980/90s – Management and Communication in the Office of the Future, Conversation for Action and Commitment-based Management. On the subject of trust, in Conversations for Action and Collected Essays – Instilling a Culture of Commitment in Working Relations, Flores said, ‘Trust is crucial, not only for internal relationships but for customer relationships as well. This is because we invent the future in the commitments and promises we make to each other about actions we’re going to perform.’

‘Invent the future in the commitments and promises we make…’ is an interesting statement, and to me, this highlights our own responsibility for the co-creation of our future – something that was perhaps devolved to the familiar ‘team’ in your previously ‘normal’ office.

Combine this with Stephen Covey’s pivotal book, The Speed of Trust (2006). Keeping commitments is the ‘Big Kahuna’ of all behaviours, according to him. He described it as the ‘quickest way to build trust in any relationship’ and, when violated, the ‘quickest way to destroy trust’.

‘When you make a commitment, you build hope; when you keep it, you build trust.’ Roger Merrill.

The importance of commitments and keeping them is obvious. At the same time, a vague or ‘loose’ commitment that is not defined is worse than none at all. To the uninitiated, it may be better to follow Napoleon Bonaparte’s reasoning: ‘The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.’ (Again, from Covey.) That will certainly not work now!

Both Flores and Covey have been widely quoted as the standards in promoting the effectiveness of keeping commitments via a process, and how trust-based relationships are key to strong and effective organisations. At the same time, the whole concept has been ‘principled’ and made timelier by considering seven fundamental principles at each stage of the commitment-making process. These principles add to and enforce the moral component: accountability; boundaries; honesty; respect; responsibility; trust; and support. The original attribution of these principles to the Commitment Process is unclear, but Norman Myers and Rob Peters were certainly involved in the 90s. Peters also mentions them in his 2014 book, Standard of Trust Leadership.

My combined interpretation has evolved over the years and is summarised by this formula (because we all need a solid formula to give an air of credibility!). At the same time, following Einstein’s mantra: ‘Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler.’

Trustworthiness, Relationship Capital, Relationship Principles, Commitments

The ‘future of work’ is here now! It was on the ‘never reaching’ horizon, but the COVID-19 crisis has changed all that. ‘Yesterday’s business models won’t solve today’s problems.’ Flack[iii] (June 2020).

Combine this with the technical advances of the apparent ‘Fifth Industrial Revolution’ alluded to by Gauri & Eerden[iv], who highlighted the importance of ‘humanity’ where ‘humans and machines will dance together, metaphorically.’ They also cautioned the need for ‘intentionality and moral clarity’.

So, what needs to change for organisations to survive and thrive?

‘Adaptability, not efficiency, must become our new central competency.’ McChrystal

Perhaps it’s as simple as taking a conscious account of the commitments that we make between each other.

Certainly, the intangible needs of a more dispersed workforce – such as trust, trustworthiness, reputation, valued relationships, keeping the right commitments, and a sense of belonging, etc – are all going to be key.

Not just the ‘shiny new tech.’

Basic Concepts to bear in mind – Takeaways:
* Keep things simple
* Back to first-principles of what worked, i.e. make and keep the right (principled) commitments
* Back to taking a moral view of relationships
* Make the best use of the available technology to integrate the real and digital worlds


  • Wired Article – ‘The Internet Needs a New Architecture that puts users first’ by Berninger & Pulver.
  • Business2Community Article – ‘Is It Better to Lead with Your Heart or Your Head?’ by Paul Keijzer.
  • Article – ‘Why it’s time to say farewell to that “future of work” trope forever’ by Barry Flack.
  • World Economic Forum Article – ‘What the Fifth Industrial Revolution is and why it matters…’ by Pratik Gauri, India President, 5th Element Group PBC & Jim Van Eerden, President, 5th Element Group PBC.
  • Team of Teams – General Stanley McChrystal.
Mike P James

You can contact Mike P James via the following websites and social links:

mike @ wayfindersolutions . com (remove spaces)