I’ve been working on a blog about what businesses can do when trust in their leadership is being stretched to breaking point, and I began musing about the fragility of trust and the relationship between trust and respect:
Trust: reliance on/confidence in someone else’s ability/integrity.
Respect: hold someone in esteem/honour.
It was the integrity aspect of the trust definition that gave me most pause for thought. I regularly experience leaders who can claim to be acting with integrity as they are being true to their own beliefs and moral code. Whether their actions are right for the people they are leading is another point entirely. A similar opinion was expressed by one of the panel members at the of the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer when commenting on the low (and getting lower) trust in politicians. Lord Strathclyde (former Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) stated that, while the general public has no faith that the decisions made by politicians will have a positive impact on their lives, the majority of politicians passionately believe that they are “motivated by the very highest instincts” and that they are doing the right thing for the right reason. This isn’t so much a credibility gap as a massive difference of opinion in the goals we, as a society, should be aiming for.
In my role as Head of Internal Communications I have often found myself being managed by someone whose core competency is not internal communications. In these circumstances, trust is absolutely vital and, in my experience, once it’s broken, there’s no going back. I also believe that respect is a necessary component for a productive working relationship.
I once reported in to a Head of Marketing. He was ambitious and a very astute political player. He knew the areas where effort would be recognised and appreciated and those that, rightly or wrongly, were not worth investing time in as they were not on the Executive Board’s radar. At that time, I was somewhat naïve and idealistic, resolutely unwilling to play politics and entirely driven by the need to do the right thing … for employees.
It was a conflict waiting to happen.
As long as there was trust between us, my proposals and activities were seen through the ‘lens of good intentions’ and I was, more or less, left to get on with it. However, over time, as I saw a growing pile of good proposals and appropriate solutions being ignored, dismissed or modified based on his assessment of the Board’s agenda rather than the employees’ needs, it became clear that neither of us entirely trusted the instincts or motives of the other. With the erosion of trust came the disintegration of our original respect for the other’s abilities and differing perspective. As the yawning chasm between our career aspirations became more defined, it seemed the only option was to resign and find a job where I could hope to be more effective.
As I was re-considering this breakdown of trust with the perspective of time, I read a good article in forbes.com by Glenn Llopis entitled “5 Ways Leaders Earn Respect From Their Employees”. While I’m not entirely convinced by his “5 Ways”, the following paragraph was a vivid reminder of the growing sense of isolation and helplessness I had felt as this critical working relationship foundered:
“Today’s uncertain workplace requires leaders to pay close attention to others. Leaders must be active and attentive listeners, practice patience, appreciate the unique talents and capabilities of their colleagues, and be noticeably grateful for the effort and performance of their teams. People are carefully observing their leaders, looking for reasons not to trust them (because they have been burned so many times in the past), but ultimately wanting their leaders to be worthy of their respect and loyalty. Unfortunately, leaders often make this task difficult as many of them are not naturally wired to lead, or emotionally intelligent enough to be aware of the consequences of their insensitive leadership style and demeanour.”
Many leaders act as though they are unassailable. This is demonstrably not true but they can do a lot of damage if their behaviour fails to win the trust and respect of the people whose livelihood depends on their leadership.
Even with the perspective of time I’m still not sure there was any realistic chance of rebuilding an effective working relationship with my manager without compromising my principles. My next blog considers what can be done when the business no longer appears to trust the leadership?