Building Trust Through Truthfulness
One of the most common issue we address when we work with organizations is the lack of trust in the leadership team and, consequently, in the whole organization. Distrust is the enemy of learning and innovation. When employees feel they cannot trust their boss, their peers or the organization as a whole they disengage and focus on their self-interest, which is their safety or survival, instead on the higher common good. They comply with the system and do not bring their whole self to work. They feel the environment is not safe enough for them to express their ideas or potential and they withhold. Or they leave. Yet, very few organizations are serious about shifting their culture toward trust.
Trust has many different elements in it. For many leaders, trust has to do with reliability and competence. “I trust my collaborators if they know what they talk about, if they do what they promise and they do it in the agreed time.”
These are very important factors to build trust, as well as congruence and no-judgment. However, there is something more. Trust can only blossom with truthfulness. People tend to want to cooperate most with people who will ‘level’ with them, not hide anything, and give them the whole story (even though some of the details may be a bit unpleasant). People can take good news or bad news, but they cannot take surprises. If a leader discovers there has been a change of plans that affects another person, or is displeased with work results or family experiences, their related person should be the first to know. The other person will respect and trust them more for their openness. They will be the kind of person that is known as honest and straightforward, and people will want to relate with them.
One of the elements that make it so hard for organizations to develop trust is that it implies that the leader and the leadership team stop getting their needs met through lies and withholds.
What we most often find is that the CEO has a deep need for love or belonging and by withholding a negative feedback, never addressing a problem with the related person, or by fathering team members, he has the illusion to be appreciated and wanted. Sometimes the leader will sugarcoat the pill that he or she wants someone else to swallow, or be so gentle that the real message is not fully communicated. It is not done out of malice, but out of his own need for maintaining the relationship. However, it is not congruent and people intuitively sense this.
Another big mistake is when the leader withholds information, tells lies or places more importance on one-to-one relationships with his team members instead of addressing issues with the whole team, often creating a few “privileged” relationships. This is the leader’s way to make sure their need for control and power is getting met, but at the expense of honest team conversations, team member’s full accountability and the group’s cohesion. The team will feel manipulated and unvalued. The act of withholding is always potentially a lie and in each instance that the truth is withheld, trust gets eroded.
The third cause for distrust in the leadership team and the organization is when the leaders are averse to challenges. They do not want to know their shortcomings or what in the organization is not working. They are not open to discuss their ideas and change their mind as a result. They believe their map of the world is the most correct and accurate. This is a major problem in the organization, because this kind of leaders do not role model feedback as a way to improve and learn. They may or may not be able to give corrective feedback to their direct reports, but they are not willing to receive it.
Sometimes they do not dare to give it to their peers in a straightforward way. As employees witness the lack of openness among leadership team members, they will find it hard to collaborate in an open, candid manner. Silos will be unconsciously developed. The whole organization lives in a closed, stagnant environment that generally cannot embrace change.
The biggest challenge in working with leaders is that they are very attached to their old mindsets, or worldview and they either deny their fears or ignore them, unaware as they are of their inner experience. Attempts at confronting their fear-based ego structure undermine their sense of self, although that self is a product of their early surviving strategies.
When a leader is courageous enough to let go of that part of self that imprisons him or her, they become incredibly powerful, centered, capable to maintain their own integrity and be as truthful as effective business practice requires.
What is needed to develop trust in organizations is that leaders recognize their deepest held fears (the fear of not being loved or not belonging, the fear of letting go of control, the fear of losing their worth or power in the eyes of others) and engage themselves in a journey of self-awareness, self-management and psychological maturity. They may still have their fears, but they will be able to manage them instead of being managed by them. They can be fully and authentically themselves, beyond all the surviving strategies they put in place for getting their needs met. Moreover, they can inspire an environment of trust at all levels.