Trust is the cornerstone of great leadership. With it, your business can thrive and your people will happily carry out their work and build results, making you, the leader, look good. Without it, the business, and the people, will likely perish over time. In my work with leaders, trust is always a primary topic of coaching.
When I coach executives, I love watching as things go absolutely right, and results are outstanding. However, it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes leaders make decisions out of complacency, ignorance, greed or power, not only for their own businesses but for others as well, much to the anguish of the coach. Without strong accountability measures associated with them, those decisions often erode trust.
Consider our current economic situation. Leaders are facing brand and reputation-threatening accountability, often for the first time. These tough times reveal the character and backbone of leaders, or the lack thereof. We are seeing a lot of fingers pointed at others rather than self. When less than favorable business conditions create a mess, they are said to be “out of my control.” Some even ignore the situation – causing a different type of distrust, and rightly so.
There have been a lot of pseudo-apologies lately as CEOs are responding to the outcry for accountability. Recently Lehman Bros CEO Richard Fuld said he “felt horrible” (about the mess) but he believed that the circumstances were beyond his control. Countrywide CEO Mozilo said he was blindsided and he didn’t see this coming. General Electric CEO, Rick Wagoner, blamed the industry’s predicament not on failures by management but on the deepening global financial crisis. A different kind of message came from Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, who told his shareholders that he “made some errors of omission, sucking my thumb when new facts came in that should have caused me to reexamine my thinking and promptly take action.” He apologized and assured that he had learned the lesson, along with a plan to repair the damage.
So which one of these “apologies” would build trust? What would these leaders need to do in order to re-build trust inside their organizations, with their stakeholders and with the general public?
“CEO apologies are quickly losing their power to allay public concern now that they are almost expected when a crisis strikes or companies are accused of wrongdoing. Taking responsibility by apologizing is important, but more is expected from CEOs in crisis, such as greater public outreach on what the company intends to do about the problem on an immediate and regular basis.” (From the book Corporate Reputation by Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist of Weber Shandwick). She also mentions that, “The leader still makes or breaks a company’s reputation – we should never forget that.”
Apologies can be accepted, and trust rebuilt, only if the CEO also has a remedial plan for the situation. That plan needs to include what the company intends to do about the problem in the present and future. Accountability and dependability have to be present, and robust, in order for trust to thrive.
So, how about you as the leader? Do you consciously and intentionally build and maintain high levels of trust in your organization?
Consider the following questions as they relate to your “trust index.”
These are just a few of the tough questions leaders must ask themselves in this economy. But now it’s your turn.
The Coach’s Question for You!
Given that trust is in scant supply these days among top leaders and organizations, we need to engage in meaningful conversation to build a bridge of trust to more prosperous times. The general public would say we haven’t done too well in the trust department lately, and without their support, businesses everywhere will continue to fall like a long line of dominos. I would love to hear your thoughts on these issues. What do you think it takes to sustain trust, and to rebuild it in tough times, or after a fall? Even after we have worked hard to earn the trust of workers, and more importantly the spending public, how do we convince them we are trustworthy?