Trust has been called the glue of healthy societies and the accelerator of economic productivity.
American writer on business management practices Tom Peters once described leadership as a sacred trust. He stated that the decision to lead is the decision to be responsible for the growth and development of your fellow human beings. He also was quoted by saying TRUST, not technology, is the issue of the decade.
The decline of trust must be addressed on multiple levels: by building “trust equity” in governments, in our economic system, and in each other. Building that trust equity requires making our institutions and ourselves worthy of trust.
As a starting point, we must recognize that to establish trust and trusted partnerships we must act with both high integrity and high competence in our personal and work lives.
Corporate leaders today are measured by a new yardstick. The supreme test of a CEO and board of directors is now the value they create not just for shareholders, but for all stakeholders.
To prosper in the age of stakeholder capitalism, companies must actively cultivate the trust of employees, investors, customers, regulators and corporate partners: developing strategies to understand these stakeholders more intimately, implementing deliberate trust-building actions, tracking their efforts over time, and communicating openly and effectively with key stakeholder groups.
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 any normality trust is paramount, but with world events never has there been a need for increased trust. My latest book, The Trust Paradigm, discusses why 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 quickly. Speed goes up, the cost goes down.
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.
Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing a fellow author, retired Lieutenant Colonel Oakland McCulloch – he is a speaker and the author of the 2021 release, “Your Leadership Legacy: Becoming the Leader You Were Meant to Be.” Based on 40+ years of leadership experience (23 years as a combat arms officer in the United States Army), Oak highlights principles that will benefit today’s leaders and inspire the leaders of tomorrow.
If you want to be a leader, you must establish trust between you and the people you are to lead. Without trust that leader-led, relationship cannot exist. This is true whether you are leading a multi-million dollar company or a startup, a university, a hospital, sports team or anything else – it is universal.
“A team is not a group of people who play together, a team is a group of people who trust each other.”
Vince Lombardi – American Football Coach
When I talk to leaders, I talk about several ways to build that trust between themselves and the people in their organization that they have the privilege to lead.
The three main areas I emphasize to leaders are:
1) getting to know your people;
2) take ownership for everything in your organization;
3) improve communications within the organization.
Getting to Know Your People
Getting to know the people who you lead is vital to building trust between you and them. You must maintain the leader-lead relationship, but that does not mean you have to be standoffish or aloof from the people you are trying to lead. You can get to know the people in your organization and still maintain that proper relationship at the same time.
Getting to know the people you lead, really getting to know them, lets them understand that they are valued members of the team. It lets them see that you actually care about them, and not just as an employee but also as a person.
A good way to get out and see the people you are leading is to lead by walking around, not from behind your desk. In this way, you get out to where the people you are leading are actually working. You get to see what is going on in their area and get to interact with the people in their workspace – NOT IN YOUR OFFICE.
I make it a point when I am leading an organization, to find out one new thing about one of the people I lead every day. I make sure it is not something about the office or work, but something personal. Learn their spouse’s name, their children’s name, sports their children play, their hobbies, etc. While you are engaging with this person, be completely engaged with them. Make your conversation with them the most important thing going on at that point – do not allow yourself to become distracted.
Another good way to get out of your office and engage with the people you lead comes from something a mentor of mine, a retired Lieutenant General, once told me.
He said, “Oak, never turn down a chance to get your own cup of coffee. You, as a leader, do two things when you go get your own cup of coffee. First, you show people you do not feel above them. You are just like everyone else who wants a cup of coffee and can get it yourself – you do not need someone to wait on you. Second, it gets you out from behind your desk in your office and out among the people you are leading. Take advantage of your walk from your office to the coffee pot and back to stop and talk to people along the way. If you are lucky, you will have two or three different ways to get from your office to the coffee pot so you can talk to different people each time.”
Take Ownership for Everything in Your Organization
If you, as a leader, want the people in your organization to trust you, then you MUST take ownership of everything in your organization – GOOD and BAD. As the leader, you must give credit where credit is due for success and you must take responsibility for anything that goes wrong.
The advice I give leaders is this. When your organization accomplishes what they are supposed to then give all the credit to the people in the organization – and do that in public! If there were specific people who did a great job, then make sure to mention them by name. If your organization does not accomplish its assigned task, also in public, you take the blame – YOU, not anyone else.
Even if what went wrong was a direct result of something you did or a decision you personally made, you are still responsible. You are responsible for everything that does or does not happen in your organization – YOUR NAME, AND YOUR NAME ALONE, IS ON THE BLAME LINE!
I have always lived by, and hold the people I lead to that same standard; it does not matter if you made a mistake. What I care about is what you did when you made the mistake. Did you blame someone else, did you try to cover it up or did you come to me and say “boss I messed up, and here is how we are going to fix it.” I will tell you then let’s go fix it.
I had a boss, who eventually retired as a four-star general, who told me one day, “Oak, if you did not make a mistake today, then you probably did not do anything.” No one is perfect; we are all going to make mistakes. What you do after you make the mistake is what matters.
If you own everything as a leader and hold people (including yourself) accountable for actions and decisions in your organization then you start to build trust with the people you are leading. They realize that even if they make a mistake, as long as they own up to the mistake, then things will be fine. This is how you build trust with your people.
Communication Must Be a Two Way Street
The third way to help build trust between yourself, the leader, and the people you lead is through strong communication. That communication must be purposeful and two-way communication.
You as the leader need to make sure that all your communications, inside and outside the organization, begin with “We” not “I”. All messages from you, the leader, must emphasize that we are a team and everyone on that team is important. There is no “I” in “Team”!
People in your organization must feel comfortable communicating with you, the leader, about things good and bad. They must feel comfortable telling you the truth, about themselves, the organization, and YOU!
If you ever once “shoot” the messenger when they deliver bad news then you have guaranteed no one will ever deliver bad news to you again. You must encourage people in your organization to communicate anything & everything to you.
If you are a leader and you believe communication is your telling people things, but not listening to what your people have to say then you are not a leader. In that case, you are a boss at best and I promise no one in your organization will trust you.
Thank you Oak, this was very enlightening, and I know you are passionate about the subject of leadership!
I would like to add that it has always been my belief as a leader that to promote integrity and consequently increase trust, leaders should enhance transparency within the organization. This is primarily achieved by effectively communicating clear goals and a vision.
Transparency is valued by team members, as it gives them clarity on topics that matter to them and it clearly states a promise to deliver on them (this includes company purpose and vision). Leadership is not about control, based on trust starts from the assumption that your team members are competent and well-intentioned.
Building trust within organizations is not only key to withstanding current challenges but will pay off in the future. To inspire decision-makers to lead with the next generation in mind, leaders have more work to do to leverage the power of trust in their organizations, and the disruptions open up the opportunity for new paradigms.
To support decision-makers in deliberately strengthening relationships of trust within organizations, and to lead with the next generation in mind, our company IBEM has synthesised a comprehensive trust model. It provides a holistic view of trust-building measures along three guiding principles:
– First, transparency is key. Trust increases if the organization’s goals are aligned with a coherent overall strategy and leaders communicate authentically in an honest, realistic, and targeted manner.
– Second, enablement of the organization with the least surveillance and control mechanisms creates ownership and fosters positive behaviors.
Trust is the glue
We advise employing simple, well-reasoned principles instead of complex and rigid rules to encourage an output-oriented mindset and to consider individuals’ specific situations and needs.
– Third, leaders should promote a culture of trust. Reciprocal trust flourishes when leaders embrace their own vulnerability, trust their team members by default and orchestrate informal relations of trust.
The main priority is not control, but how to enable your team members to take decisions independently and use their competence and motivation in the best possible way.
In addition to the measures that can be taken to promote integrity and leverage competence, trust is a key component of organizational culture.
Mutual care among team members, emotional bonds, and benevolence thrive in a culture of mutual trust. For leaders, this boils down to embracing vulnerability to promote openness, giving people an advance in terms of trust, and supporting trusting relationships that exist beyond reporting lines.
When achieving this state of mutual trust in the organizations, open and constructive challenges for the benefit of each individual and the organization will become the norm.
Embrace your own vulnerability as a leader and encourage openness. Leaders are perceived as role models. This doesn’t mean that they need to be perfect.
To the contrary: Showing one’s own vulnerability as a leader by admitting doubt and mistakes, promotes an open work environment. Mistakes and concerns are not covered up, with potentially harmful consequences for the organization – but voiced and discussed early on.
Trust is reciprocal, and how much you trust someone influences how much they trust you. Considering the capabilities, experience, and knowledge present in an organization, you are well advised to give your team members the benefit of the doubt. This creates a win-win situation: Teams feel empowered, and the organization saves resources on monitoring and control.
Try to thoroughly assess someone’s trustworthiness and alignment with the organization’s values right at the beginning of their affiliation with the organization.
Many world events and their consequences for organizations around the world have re-emphasised the imperative of nurturing trust within organizations. Leaders ought to seize the window of opportunity to double down on building and maintaining trust.
Most importantly, organizations that get trust right will gain a competitive edge in the ongoing war for talent.
Final thought, no heroic leader can resolve the complex challenges we face today. To address the important issues of our time we need a fundamental change of perspective. We need to start questioning many of our taken-for-granted assumptions about our business and social environments.
Leaders serve as role models for their followers and demonstrate the behavioral boundaries set within an organization. The appropriate and desired behavior is enhanced through the culture and socialization process of the newcomers.
Employees learn about values from watching leaders in action.
The more the leader “walks the talk”, by translating internalized values into action, the higher level of trust and respect he generates from followers.
To help bridge the trust gap we recognise that organizations need to work with each other and with wider society to identify practicable, actionable steps that businesses can take to shape a new relationship with wider society: a new ‘settlement’ based on mutual understanding and a shared recognition of the positive role that business plays in people’s lives.
To create such a settlement, businesses need to see themselves as part of a diverse, interconnected, and interdependent ecosystem – one that involves government, regulators, individual citizens, and more. Trust within and across this ecosystem is key to its long-term sustainability and survival. That’s why trust needs to be restored to the heart of the business world.
As Stephen M.R. Covey once said:
“Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create.”
This article is the expressed opinions and collaboration between two senior-level industry board professionals on their views and perceptions on the subject matter:
Oakland McCulloch was born in Loudon, Tennessee, and raised in Kirkland, Illinois. After graduating from high school, he attend the United States Military Academy at West Point for two years. He then graduated from Northern Illinois University and received his commission as an Infantry Officer through the Reserve Officer Training Course in 1986.
In his 23-year career in the Army Oak McCulloch held numerous leadership positions in the Infantry and Armor branches. He assisted in disaster relief operations for Hurricane HUGO in Charleston, South Carolina, and Hurricane ANDREW in south Florida. His operational deployments include Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia and Iraq as a General’s Aide-de-Camp, the Congressional Liaison Officer in support of operations in Bosnia, and the Operations Officer during a Peace Keeping deployment to Kosovo. He held instructor positions at the US Army Ordnance School, the US Army Command and General Staff College, the Australian Command and Staff College, the University of South Alabama, and Stetson University. His last position in the Army was a three-year tour as the Professor of Military Science at the University of South Alabama where he led the training and commissioning of Lieutenants and tripled the size of the program in his three-year tour.
LTC McCulloch retired from the Army in September 2009 with over 23 years of active service and joined the staff at the Bay Area Food Bank as the Associate Director. He was also the Vice Chair for Military Affairs at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Mobile Rotary International Club. LTC McCulloch left the food bank in December 2010 to become the Senior Military Science Instructor and recruiter for the Army ROTC program at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. In his 9 years at Stetson, the program grew from 15 Cadets to over 100 Cadets. In October 2013, he became the Recruiting Operations Officer for the Eagle Battalion Army ROTC program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where he has more than doubled the size of the program in 6 years. Cadet Command selected LTC McCulloch as the top recruiting officer, out of 274 recruiters, for 2019. LTC Oak McCulloch published his first book in February 2021 – “Your Leadership Legacy: Becoming the Leader You Were Meant to Be”.
LTC McCulloch earned a Bachelor of Science degree in History from Northern Illinois University in 1987 and a Master of Military Arts and Science in History from the United States Army Command and General Staff College in 2002. He received thirty-one military service awards including the Bronze Star, eight Meritorious Service Medals, and the Humanitarian Service Medal.
LTC Oak McCulloch is married to the former Kelly Smyth of Wauconda, Illinois. They were married at Fort Sheridan, Illinois in 1987 and they have two children, Oakland Vincent McCulloch and Caileigh Nicholson. They also have a granddaughter, Ryleigh Jade Nicholson, and two grandsons Christopher Bryce Nicholson and Oakland Maverick McCulloch.
Geoff Hudson-Searle is an independent non-executive director across regulation, technology and internet security, a C-Suite executive on private and listed companies, and a serial business advisor for growth-phase tech companies.
With more than 30 years of experience in international business and management. He is the author of six books and lectures at business forums, conferences, and universities. He has been the focus of TEDx and RT Europe’s business documentaries across various thought leadership topics and his authorisms.
Geoff is a member and fellow of the Institute of Directors; an associate of The International Business Institute of Management; a co-founder and board member of the Neustar International Security Council (NISC); and a distinguished member of the Advisory Council for The Global Cyber Academy.
He holds a master’s degree in business administration. Rated by Agilence as a Top 250 Harvard Business School thought leader authority covering blogs and writing across; ‘Strategic Management’ and ‘Management Consulting’, Geoff has worked on strategic growth, strategy, operations, finance, international development, growth, and scale-up advisory programmes for the British Government, Citibank, Kaspersky, BT and Barclays among others.