Warren Bennis said that “Leadership without mutual trust is a contradiction in terms.” But almost everywhere we turn, trust is on the decline. Trust in our general culture, and within our companies, is significantly lower than a generation ago. Research shows that only 49% of employees trust senior management, and only 28% believe CEOs are a credible source of information! 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.
The first job of any leader is to inspire trust. Trust is a confidence in you which comes from two dimensions: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, motive, and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, results, and track record. Both dimensions are vital.
With the increasing focus on ethics in our society, the character side of trust is fast becoming the price of entry in the new global economy. However, the differentiating and often ignored side of trust — competence — is equally essential. You might think a person is sincere, even honest, but you won’t trust that person fully if he or she doesn’t get results. And the opposite is true. A person might have great skills and talents and a good track record, but if he or she is not honest, you’re not going to trust that person either.
Most people don’t know how to think about the organizational and societal consequences of low trust because they don’t know how to quantify or measure the costs of such a so-called “soft” factor as trust. For many, trust is intangible and unquantifiable. If it remains that way, then people don’t know how to get their arms around it or how to improve it. But the fact is, the costs of low trust are very real, very quantifiable, and they are staggering.
The best leaders 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.
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, cost goes down.
The ability to establish, grow, extend, and indeed restore trust among stakeholders is a critical competency of leadership needed today. It is needed more than any other competency. Engendering trust is, in fact, a competency that can be learned, applied, and understood. It is something that you can get good at, something you can measure and improve, something for which you can “move the needle.” Will you inspire that trust today?