What We Need is Trust in Leadership

Ultimately, it is trust that serves as the catalyst, 
an enabler for the volition of employees and citizens
to achieve success through expressing itself in the united pursuit of a common cause.

According to an ABC/Washington Post Poll, 68 percent of Americans view the government unfavorably and 70 percent view Wall Street financial institutions unfavorably. Amid the Occupy movement, a PBS report by Paul Solman found that the financial gains during the last decade have mostly been made at the top percent of Americans as more people are falling out of the middle class. The top 20 percent of Americans now hold 84 percent of the wealth in the U.S. while the second 20 percent holds 11 percent and the third 20 percent holds 4 percent.

These are problems of leadership, and they are not surprising after a decade in which many lost their jobs and believed falsehoods about war and job permanence, while watching respected institutions and the market crumble overnight. These are the worst kinds of leadership problems. At their heart are fundamentals that must be restored. One such fundamental is trust.

Today, trust seems to be reducing for leaders in corporate America (and now globally), and government, by employees and constituents respectively. The spread of Occupy Wall Street to cities across the nation, and around the world, was simply a reflection of the sheer power and prominence of this sentiment. Political leaders in Europe were forced to step down because they were not trusted to effect the necessary changes to stem the tide of global financial collapse. Neither did they demonstrate the volition to take preventative measures to guard against acquiring what they knew to be risky financial instruments, derivatives, being aggressively sold to them by J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs among others. More importantly nothing has been done to stem the tide of fewer owning greater. Americans feel that business cannot be trusted to consider a redefined social responsibility and government cannot be trusted to hold business accountable for ethical practices.

How did America get here? Corporate America has been systematically weaning employees off of trust. Businesses promote the employee as the greatest asset but you do not find human capital on the balance sheet. It “develops talent,” “fosters diversity,” and trumpets these efforts widely to internal and external audiences. However, that greatest asset is easily expendable if it’s in “the best interest of the company,” and “maximizing profits and shareholder returns.” There is not one American who has not been touched by stories of reductions in force (RIFs). And why do so many companies “RIF” before March when they have policies requiring you to be an employee until the end March in order to get your bonus, stock options, LTIC, etc.? When actions are not consistent with words or perceptions created by design, trust sits on the losing side of the equation, and as we have seen, its ripples are far-reaching.

Government is marred with favoritism for the benefit of the few, corruption, and the lack of moral character. America lives in the aftermath of a political system that is drowning in infighting, has lied to its citizens and broken many promises, dismantling the nations unified stance and welfare, and stunting its growth at the same time. First, it was about WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) in Iraq, the primary reason for going to war. As revealed in the documentary “Inside Job,” we have seen tort law changes that dramatically reduce citizens’ ability to sue effectively, a critical lever in corporate accountability.

Government and the power elite bailed out Corporate America but not Citizen America. While the government and the parties claim their policies will improve the welfare of the 99 percent the nation sees the 1 percent reaping far greater benefits than the 99 percent. Government settles for $20 billion with the financial institutions that played such a large role in the collapse of 2008 when home mortgages in the US are upside down by more than $500 billion. Enter the Occupy movement. Leaders who implement effective change strategies excel at communicating a compelling vision and clear strategy. They build a well-functioning leadership team built on the pillar of unity and cornerstone of trust. Applying these learnings to the state of the U.S. today, we must do the following four things to restore trust and faith in leadership:

  1. Be clear about the vision and expectations. No one will follow a leader unless you clearly articulate your vision for the future, how you will get there, what is expected from whom, and how we will manage for results, including accountability. 
  2. Lead through example. If you can’t live your principles, no one else will either. For example, if you want billions for bailing out the auto industry, opt for a coach seat on a commercial flight instead of the executive jet to meet with Congress. We have some great examples to follow. Consider the believers in Mahatma Gandhi who trusted him because he lived the change he wanted to see through a life based on essentials and his campaign of civil disobedience that ultimately led hundreds of millions of Indians to independence. The impact on the world from these trusted leaders will influence our lives for time to come. 
  3. Be honest and straightforward. Respect the intelligence of your constituencies enough to tell them the truth. If the government’s goal is to ask the rich to pay taxes, how real is it to expect that getting taxes from the rich alone will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or improve the well-being of the entire nation? Admitting this is being real. Your constituents will not take you at face value so you must demonstrate courage through honesty. If you do this, when you ask them to meet your expectations they will have a clear understanding of the challenges and join you in your quest to overcome them. 
  4. Deliver results. If you can’t bring results to fruition, you’ve lost not only the battle, but the war as well. No amount of clarity, leadership through example or honesty will be enough. Consider Steve Jobs and the critical mass of like-minded individuals who trusted him not only because of his steadfast and uncompromising loyalty to a vision, but his ability to bring that vision to fruition and deliver the results. 

Earning back trust is not an easy thing to do. Take a look at the state of a bickering Congress and a Presidential race marred with the cancer of rumor, gossip, and backbiting and the paralysis this has created in the greatest nation on earth, a corporate and government environment bereft of discernment to see the undercurrents they are stirring filling the backbreaking burden on Citizen America, and incarcerating the nation’s ability to effect material change. There’s also a public crying out for the kind of leadership (government or business) that can make lives better.

The answer to restoring trust is via effective leadership. Yes, we are in a difficult position due to a confluence of variables that have gone terribly wrong. Has history not shown that we can overcome when things are terribly wrong? The only way out is through effective leadership built on a strong pillar of trust that drives unity and results. Ultimately, it is that trust that serves as the catalyst, an enabler for the volition of employees and citizens to achieve success and realize greatness through expressing itself in the united pursuit of a common cause.