BUSINESS JOURNAL, December 13, 2002
In good times and bad, effective
leadership begins with trust
Trust is a
commodity that all employees want. And earned trust is the least expensive,
most productive investment a leadership team can make. The returns are immense,
immediate and long term.
believe that an economic downturn is a time to build infrastructure and
position, this may be the time to expand that trust investment in your
confidence, the absence of suspicion, backed by a performance track
simple, but it is difficult for many. There are two difficulties, and leaders
must understand both. First, one must understand that virtually every
individual carries some "trust baggage."
consists of past perceived betrayal experiences that have resulted in "never
again" categorical decisions and defensive blind spots.
ready to be suspicious. An economic downturn, with its concomitant feel of
scarcity, makes this propensity to suspicion even more labile.
obstacle can be lack of courage. For some leaders, it takes courage even to
broach a subject as "soft" as trust, let alone ask for the help necessary to
bolster and maintain it. But these obstacles obscure a lot of upside: The
payoffs are almost immediate.
natural inclinations to be productive and be part of something bigger,
especially something that reflects ones inherent values of success.
opposing the urge to contribute is fearof failure, loss, retribution or
There is an
almost daily balance between these two influences: the desire to take positive
initiative, and the fears of negative consequence. Whether by active intention
or simple neglect, leaders exert a primary influence on this balance. And the
effects on productivity can be profound.
In a down
economy, company leadership is vulnerable to missing opportunities. Doing
nothing active to establish and maintain trust within the organization is the
first missed opportunity. Bad news, for example, is best communicated
proactively. Business decisions made necessary by bad news are best explained
fully to the company. When these communications do not emanate from highest
management, or happen late, the information vacuum combines with fear. This
almost always results in rumors, innuendoes and exaggerations which produce
more fear, which results in decreased workplace productivity.
miscue would be leadership's failure to exemplify trust vigorously and
continuously. Earned trust must not only be established, it has to be
maintained. How often do business leaders respond to everyday questions and
cross-functional dependencies by making promises? To what extent does the
perceived track record support this?
corporate scandals suggest that some management teams are willing to profit at
their employees' expense, does leadership here share the pain? Like it or not,
the most valuable stakeholders are watching, and they care.
these missed opportunities can tip the workplace contribution-paralysis scale
far to the unproductive side. This results in a "toxic coffee room
buzz"bonding around problems rather than solutions; poorer coordination,
such as product development versus sales and marketing versus corporate; more
risk-aversion (working to not fail rather than working to excel); and overall
common missed opportunity is leadership's failure to take a strong-enough
initiative on a simple truism: People are willing to trust more quickly when
principles that promote trustbehavior guidelines that clearly aid
productivity which can be trackedhave been explicitly and universally
adopted by the management team. Rank-and-file workers are willing to continue
that trust for as long as people's behavior, particularly the behavior of key
leaders, is consistent with those principles.
trust, confirmed by the experience of greater productivity and satisfaction,
then deepens into institutional trust.
There is a
lot of fear during an economic downturn.
add weight when people stand between positive action and the fears already
inherent in making those positive contributions.
trust tips that balance predictability toward initiative and
CIANCUTTI is the founder and chief executive office of Learning Center,
Inc. (www.learningcenter.net) a leadership
training and consulting company in Mendocino.