politics

How to Know Your Leaders Are Trustworthy

Let me start by saying I usually do not write on political leadership. However, November is coming upon us quickly and this election season has been nothing short of eventful. Is that what you would call it…eventful? Personally, I’ve had some good conversations about the upcoming elections with colleagues, friends, and for what I'm most thankful for, my kids. It's been interesting and equally rewarding seeing them do their own research as well as engage in conversations to find out what their mother and I think. What I've gathered from my kids and other individuals is a feeling of indecisiveness when it comes to the election. What I believe invokes this indecisiveness is the lack of trust in either of the candidates. Looking at their past actions and decisions, as well as hearing their claims and promises, presents some nonalignment that makes voters increasingly uncertain in the decision they will soon have to make.

Hand drawn TRUST process for presentations and reports, business concept on blackboard..

At times I want to laugh out loud when I hear the pundits saying things like, “We are working on making our candidate seem more trustworthy." Trust, from my perspective, is not a short-term fix when it is violated. The time to think about trust is before the violation occurs. My hope and prayer for you as a leader is that you never have to work on restoring your follower's trust. I hope that in all you do, you remain trustworthy in the eyes of your constituents.

It is undoubtedly certain that trust is crucial in leadership, and if trust is broken it makes following leaders more difficult. In Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau's classic article The Enemies of Trust (Harvard Business Review), several examples of how trust can be destroyed are provided. You may be thinking, "I don't need an article to tell me that!" as I imagine many of us have experienced broken trust from leaders or even entire organizations (even as I eluded to with the current election). Instead of looking at trust from when it's broken, I want to give you two items to reflect on as a measure of the level of trust you have earned as a leader.

Be Clear and Consistent

In previous blog posts I have emphasized the importance in communication. I've also mentioned the importance of repetition so that what you communicate is remembered and repeated by your followers (hence why I keep repeating the importance of communication.) Yet, communication loses it's value when the message is not clear and consistent. If a leader isn't clear when articulating expectations, it is difficult for followers to trust that the leader even knows what it is that they want to be accomplished. Equally, when multiple messages get communicated, the inconsistency of the message leaves you with questions and hesitation, not assurance.

Not only should the message be consistent, but the standards of followers should be on an equal level. Galford and Drapeau suggest that leaders may show favoritism to certain employees so that particular employee stays with the organization, however, the leader "doesn't take into account the cynicism engendered in the rest of the organization." (The Enemies of Trust, HBR)

Be Honest

It's hard to talk about trust without centering the topic on honesty. Honesty is a compliment to trust. Think about a time someone was dishonest with you and the hesitancy you experienced trusting them the next time they gave you their word. That's a pretty basic example of the value of honesty, but let's think about some other circumstances where honesty from leaders is valuable. For example, Galford and Drapeau discuss the problems with false feedback and a leader's inability to be honest about their follower's performance, whether good or bad, hinders future decisions of termination or even promotion with employees. Not only does this lessen follower's trust in their leader, but it limits the growth of the organization.

Leaders also must be willing to trust their followers. Putting faith in your followers to complete a task or step up in their own leadership gives value and recognition to the follower. We all know leaders who "hoarded responsibility" from an employee, leaving the employee resentful for not having the opportunity to use his/her skills and develop professionally.

I have a feeling we are all going to be hearing a lot about trust between now and November. These are two metrics I am using to evaluate trust in political candidates. How about you? What will you be using to assess whether or not you trust your leaders?

Where to Go From Here?

You might be thinking, "This is an interesting perspective, Scott, but what do I do with it?" My goal with this post is not to leave you with a list of "should's and shouldn't's," but to simply get you thinking about the leaders in your life. Whether it's the ones you know and follow personally or the ones that are connected in your community, what do you trust or not trust in their leadership? Is their communication clear and consistent? Are they honest and trusting of their followers? What would help you trust your leaders? Or, an even bigger question might be, to help your followers trust you?

Homework

Spend some time reflecting on trust and what it means to you. How much do you value trust? How much do you expect your leaders to be trustworthy? What are some other habits of trust that you look for in a leader that we didn't mention? Let us know what they are in the comments below.

How to Eliminate the “F” Word From Your Leadership

I don’t often find myself with a lot of time to watch television, but when I do here is the ritual I go through:

  1. Sit in my comfortable easy chair.
  2. Turn television on.
  3. Press “Guide” button on my Direct TV remote.
  4. Punch in the numbers 247, which is TBS.

All of this to see if my favorite show of all time is playing, The Big Bang Theory!

I have fallen in love with The Big Bang Theory. If you don’t know the story line, the characters are all really smart Ph.D types (except Howard, his educational pedigree is that of a lowly astronaut engineer type), whose relationships are all tested primarily by Sheldon Cooper’s regimented and deeply eccentric personality. Sheldon, along with his best friend and roommate, Leonard Hofstadter (for whom there is a written roommate agreement), may be able to easily explain complex issues in physics like quantum string theory, however, basic social situations (especially when it comes to women) confound and elude them.

Man with a cloud instead of his head

Smart Vs. Wise

The Big Bang Theory constantly reminds me that an individual may be smart, but that doesn't always mean they are wise.

I don’t often foray into the political arena in this blog. However, as I watch the political scene unfold in the US, I cannot help but reflect on the fact that the candidates keep trying to portray their level of intelligence. What we need in this country is wisdom along with intellect.

Donald Trump, who claims to have huge intellect (which should be questioned, because wealth is not an indicator of how intelligent someone is), cannot seem to get out of his own way in the legal case involving Trump University.

As a graduate of Yale Law School, I have a hard time questioning Hilary Clinton’s intellect. Although, similar criticism can be given to Clinton in the handling of her private email server. I am sorry, Mrs. Clinton, but the “not knowing” defense as Secretary of State of the United States of America is unfathomable.

When smart people make such huge public blunders, what is actually happening?

Dr. Richard Sternberg draws the conclusion his book A Handbook of Wisdom, that the opposite of smart is stupid, and the opposite of wisdom is foolishness.

The question we often ask of leaders who knew better than to act the way they did is, “How could such a smart person be so stupid?” This question really doesn’t capture the essence of the action.

Donald, how could you be so stupid to ignite racial tension to protect your personal brand?

Hilary, how could you be so stupid to blatantly ignore rules and laws you had working knowledge of?

But according to Dr. Sternberg’s assessment, the candidates are not stupid, they've acted foolishly.

Foolish acts by smart people are not because they lack intellect. The problem with the foolishness has little to do with their cerebral processing, but more to do with deeper issues of character.

While it is easy to get lost in the fictional story of television or the laissez-faire attitude of the American politician, the fact is, we observe really smart people doing really foolish things all the time.

Defining Foolishness

If as a leader you are going to remove the “F” word, then knowing what foolishness looks like might be of value. The leadership literature (thanks to Dr. Sternberg) has identified five different dimensions of foolishness:

  • What-me-worry? (unrealistic optimism) - I am so smart and/or powerful it is pointless to worry about outcomes.
  • Egocentrism - The interests of the leader are the only ones that are relevant.
  • Omniscience - Thinking the leader knows or has access to perfect knowledge.
  • Omnipotence - Over-extension of granted power by followers.
  • Invulnerability - Complete protection from error or mistake.

If we go back to our candidates for President and examine their actions in light of a foolishness metric, what do you think? Perhaps Mr. Trump suffers from Unrealistic Optimism and Egocentrism, while Mrs. Clinton from Omnipotence and Invulnerability. It would be a totally different campaign if these two candidates recognized these behaviors in themselves and focused on changing them.

Taking the “F” Word Out of Your Leadership

Foolishness is something to be guarded against by all leaders. It has been suggested that the reason leaders commit foolish acts is rooted in how humans see reality. For this, we must examine a couple of different models for how we, as humans, process reality.

True is True and False is False: Some leaders have an ability when they hear true information, the information is accepted as such, and when false information is heard, it is rejected. In this model, the mind of the leader acts in a linear fashion to establish true from false or rational from irrational.

An Extra Step: Another view is that our minds are actually in a state to automatically accept what we hear as true. Yet there is an extra step involved to reject something as not true.

This process of rejection literally takes more energy from us than automatic rejection. It is argued by Dan Gilbert that people may indeed hear something that is untrue or irrational and have the capacity to reject it, but fail to take the actual step of rejecting the untruth.

We have all experienced this, especially when we are emotionally vulnerable, or even physically or mentally exhausted. We know something isn’t true, but we just don’t have the energy to debate it (anyone ever raised a teenager?).

Taking the "F" Word Out of Your Followership

What about the American public? Why do we constantly let our politicians get away with such behaviors? How about we stop blaming the “liberal press” or “Fox News” and put the foolishness meter on ourselves!? Perhaps it is time to stop aligning with individual parties and to start examining the character of the leaders we are electing. Perhaps we need to remove the “F”word from our followership as well. Perhaps we need to put a little more energy into the process, rather than shake our heads and tell ourselves we don’t have enough energy to even think about it.

Homework

Which of the five foolishness dimensions are you at risk for succumbing to as a leader? Why not ask those on your team to give you an evaluation to see if they have ever observed any of these in your leadership.