We all know, from a personal perspective, how hard it is to trust someone again who you believe has lied to you or in some way abused your trust in them. It requires focus, commitment and demonstrable evidence over time.
If re-building trust is hard in a one-to-one relationship, how much harder is it going to be for business leaders for whom, if they even recognise it as a concern, it is just one of many calls upon their time?
This is not an idle question as the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer is entitled The Crisis in Leadership. It reveals that while trust in institutions – from businesses to Governments to media – is “weakly” rising across the globe from an almost universal low in 2012, trust in the ethics and morality of business leaders and politicians continues to be staggeringly low. Is this lack of trust simply the case of a few (relatively) bad apples tainting the whole barrel, or do the high profile cases of corruption and questionable ethics so prevalent in the media resonate with us on a personal level? In the Glenn Llopis article I referenced in my previous blog – “The fragility of trust” – he ascribed to the latter: “People are carefully observing their leaders, looking for reasons not to trust them (because they have been burned so many times in the past)…”.
Personally, I don’t believe that the majority of leaders are on a mission to mislead their employees, either by selective release of information or by knowingly spinning the facts. However my willful trust in (the majority of) business leaders probably puts me in a minority, so where does this mass cynicism come from and what can leaders do to combat it?
In my view a large part of the answer can be found on slide 38 of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2013 – Global Data Deck. Slide 38 is in the final section of the presentation called Trust Building which contains a lot of valuable tips on the route back to a more trusted relationship between leaders and those they aspire to lead. It contains a neat summary of how the expectations of leadership has shifted since 2000. Leaders’ ignorance of this monumental shift in the role of leadership might go a long way to explaining the current fractured relationship between employees and their leaders.
The subtitle to the diagram – “from LICENSE TO OPERATE to LICENSE TO LEAD” – is explored further by Richard Edelman in his introduction to the launch of the 2013 Trust Barometer panel debate (and in his accompanying blog) when he says: “It used to be that [a company’s] reputation was premised on performance…if you deliver the numbers…then you’re OK! Now this is the lowest aspect of building trust.” The starting point for leaders to re-establish themselves as trustworthy is, suggests Edelman, to recognise that the old leadership paradigm – what is characterised as the “pyramid of influence” – is obsolete. There is now an equally powerful counterbalance of influence – the “inverted pyramid of community” – where influence is pervasive through social activists and communication is peer to peer.
The Trust Barometer identifies 16 key trust building attributes and highlights the seven with the largest gap between business importance and company performance (see slide 34). Developing and implementing an honest and unequivocal plan to address these areas would be a convincing step towards a new style of “grounded leadership”.
According to Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management in an article which he defines the five key qualities required for trusted leadership, this more inverted pyramid of community requires “..a more inclusive form of management in which leadership: establishes a vision and transparently shares reasoning, purpose and results; enlists a broader range of advocates, including employees, action consumers, social activists, academics and think tanks, seeking their input and reaction; embraces all channels of communications, actively listening to new voices of influence, and adapting; and shifts from vision to implementation with transparent measures guided by continual engagement.”