Is it Wise to Trust?

There's no escaping the lack of trust these days from local officials to world powers. Whether we get our news from television, newspapers or the internet, we're inundated with highly emotional trust issues. Take the examples of the turmoil around a third bailout for Greece, the fear over a nuclear arms agreement with Iran, and the disgust with declared international truces in Ukraine, Korea, and Yemen and undeclared domestic truces in Ferguson and Charleston. In the U.S., trust issues will be a dominant theme in the presidential campaign as candidates accuse, blame, and attack. Reporters rely on phrases such as can't trust, lack of trust, trust but verify, andrebuild trust. For most of us, these phrases are just diplomatic jargon meaning What were you thinking? and No, and Hell No!

The almost universal impulse to shut out the untrustworthy offenders has been the strategy of choice. Yet, our inability to come together is having an economic impact felt locally and globally. We are all affected by the dislocation of people and businesses, by the threat to lives and livelihoods. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) issued its 2015 annual Global Trends report stating that world-wide displacement is at 59.5 million, the highest number ever recorded. The resulting mess is a free-for-all of land and power grabs, along with grabs of money and weapons to secure power and destroy the opposition. Traditional strategies of isolation and containment are no longer sufficient to protect communities, nations, and commerce.

Some leaders see the chasm of mistrust and resulting instability and intensify the vitriol, the anger, and division. They aim for an emotional reaction to the perceived stupidity, lack of character, inhumanity, and anti-social behavior of others. Urging counter measures, they rally their base to action. Just what action should be taken is rarely specified, but the desperation to stem the tide is clear.

Others choose to see the dysfunction as a change management opportunity on steroids. Their business and industries cannot thrive in hostile territory. Externally, they attempt to bridge the trust chasm and build a secure environment for commerce. Internally, the bottom line depends on collaboration. Deep divisions threaten any collaboration, knowledge sharing, and team innovation. Bullying can be a destructive by-product of this divisive, and far too frequently, hostile work environment. Building trust and managing the diverse conflicts of a dysfunctional situation should be a major goal of leadership.

Terry Howard, the former diversity officer of Texas Instruments, shares his perspective gained from designing trust-building workshops for diverse teams.

"Given that we exist and work in a world where trust has taken a deep downward dive because of global tensions, fear, xenophobia, corruption, economic woes, rapid change, political vitriol and all, trust and trust restoration are badly needed by leaders today. Trust is the absolute must have in achieving progress in organizations that value diversity and inclusion. Trust is what facilitates solid relationships across cultural, racial, gender, religious, hierarchies, regional and other boundaries. Disrespect, unclear expectations and negative non-verbal communications are among factors that can erode trust. Any diversity and inclusion initiative that does not address trust as a foundation is doomed to fail."

The centrality of trust building to today's leadership skills is not new. In 2012, Forbes Magazine, featured an article by Charles Green entitled, Why Trust is the New Core of Leadership. Green's perspective is far-sighted and to the point.

"Leadership theorists nowadays stress authenticity, EQ and relationships. This makes intuitive sense. But it isn't just a fad; there is a solid reason behind the shift. It is driven by changes in the world. Above all, it reflects the growing importance of trust... Businesses have become constantly morphing configurations of modular pieces. The boundaries separating them from their employees, their suppliers, and even their competitors have become porous; while the ties to their home nations, even to space and time, have become tenuous... In such a world, vertical power-based leadership becomes less relevant. The key success factor becomes the ability to persuade someone over whom you have no power to collaborate with you in pursuit of a common mission."

A key question in implementing Trust in leadership is whether it's earned or given. Lisa Petrilli captures the essence of the "chicken or the egg" problem concerning trust in her article, Trust in Leadership: Is it Earned or Given? Should leaders trust others who then demonstrate their worthiness, or must the followers and colleagues demonstrate their worth before gaining that trust. Similarly, do people bestow their trust on leaders, removing it if leaders fail to demonstrate that they are trustworthy, or do people expect leaders to prove worthy before trust is given? These sample responses to the questions as posed on LinkedIn illustrate how most were in the Trust-is-Earned camp.

"Trust is earned as a leader via the actions that you take in training, empowering, and protecting your team. Leaders that holds subordinate leadership accountable in performing these tasks earn even greater trust when they demand that subordinate leadership operate in a respectful professional manner. All of these actions then earn the trust of those they lead. To finalize this topic, subordinates respect and trust leadership even more when leaders are actually productive and hold themselves to higher standards." (David Guffy, Physician Recruiter at EmCare)

We expect our leaders to not only earn our trust, but to continually maintain it.

"Trust is definitely earned, by doing what a person says he or she will do. When there is a contradiction between what is promised and what is given/said, trust can be eroded." (Katie Schwartz, CEO of Business Speech Improvement)

What happens if the expectations for earning that trust skirts the edge of realistic goals? Are we not then doomed to a state of constant distrust where we repeatedly question whether expectations can and will be met? The lessons unfolding in the Greek crisis where all parties face months, if not years, of conflict are becoming all too familiar. We are living on the edge globally and locally, teetering somewhere between viability and meltdown. Trust-building is increasingly complex and demanding. It's not enough to appear "authentic," a popular buzzword of vague meaning. The skills involved in creating trust or re-establishing it are embedded in our decision making and cannot be limited to the well-meant, but puzzling advice to "Be Yourself". We need to add skillful, courageous, bold, and pioneering to that label if we're going to lead effectively in this fragmented and dysfunctional world.

How can we wrap our minds around those trust-building skills? One answer lies in creating that trust systematically through wise decision making. Five key elements of that process are outlined in the Matrix Model Management System.


The 5 Elements of the Trust & Wisdom Matrix
1. Knowledge: gained through education, training, or experience.
2. Character: including trust as well as accountability, ethics, and values.
3. Humanity: highlighting our empathy.
4. Vision: defining our purpose, our mission, and our goals.
5. Action: choosing how and when to act is the culmination of all elements in the Matrix.

Meet expectations in each of the five elements and you can not only establish your trustworthiness, but also grow your capacity for making wise and trustworthy decisions. Amplifying trust-building skills with wisdom creates the intuitive ability to navigate difficult and unpredictable situations. With these skills, we can better anticipate the conditions that endanger the trust already earned. These skills partnered with Wisdom can be amplified with training and practice. Leadership today, and in the future, will need to blend Trust and Wisdom to meet the developing challenges locally and around the world.