I have spent the past five years putting together a model of trust that incorporates the contemporary theories of our time. Today, I will touch on one of the more profound surprises I discovered. While most leaders know that saying what you mean, doing what your saying, and demonstrating integrity is critical to building a trusting culture. These are not enough.. and sadly most leaders think they are... in fact the greatest destroyer of trust is to do nothing when a wrong has been committed.
First a little background... Harvard Business Review had an article in 2003 that reported that even the most ethical leaders are sometimes perceived as distrustful. One of the main points of the author was that despite their integrity leaders are often perceived as treating people in an unequal manner. It is only common sense that sometimes leaders must maintain confidentially and employees may have significant differences in needs. It would be easy to say that even though the leader is acting ethically, others will see it different. That is the easy answer.. the truth maybe rooted in a more significant lost of faith in the leader.
Gottman's work on marriage and divorce has shown that how we treat each other is critical. To treat someone with contempt is to destroy the relationship. These same principles translate to work.. the more we show contempt for an employee the less they will trust us. However, Gottman also showed that the more we show respect and treat each other ethically, the more they trust. It can be complex, because the minute minute a leader begins to treat anyone with contempt, it impacts how everyone else sees them as well. We judge others not just how they treat us, but also others.. which took me to the more profound and important lesson. It is not just how they treat us.. or how they treat others.. it is how they treat everything.. especially the environment we work in... Yes, We hold leaders accountable for the environment we work in. If the environment is not ethical, employees expect leaders to fix it the environment. To Right the Wrong so speak. "I'm sorry.. you know I didn't have anything to do with it.. we may just have to live with it..." OUCH.. Can't you just feel the trust being drained out of that relationship.
So what is the lesson? For me, it is that being ethical is not enough. Leaders must have the courage to face down the errors of others, even their supervisors and create environments of trust. If your a leader and you want to build trust.. take ownership of the environment and go right the wrongs. Your expected to do this by all that follow you... and if you don't have the courage or you don't have the skill to fix the environment.. then maybe it is time to move on to a some place where you can...