In a world where the day begins and ends with new examples cited of people and companies who con people and break their trust, it is a rarity and a prized trait to be trustworthy.
A friend of mine who teaches in a premier league B-School once told me that his students believe that it is not possible to be successful in the righteous ways and that working your way around people, laws and lawmakers is the only way to achieve this. The class has a heated debate every year, he says, over this topic, as he expressed his disgust about how this belief just gets stronger with every passing year.
Much has been written and spoken about trust issues, as much in personal relationships as in corporate lives. As is the case with personal relationships, corporate trust is also somethingthat we deposit into the trust account every day, withdraw when needed and what accounts to deposit for some, may not be perceived the same by the other. Trust is demonstrated by the behavior of those who are its custodians. Trust behaviors are very tricky, but when done right at all times, reap unimaginable benefits to all stakeholders.
I would say trust is the most important brand asset that a company can build, invest into and leverage for growth in its lifetime. Companies that have done this have been recognized as trustworthy companies. Trustworthiness can be built into the DNA of a company. It is the perception of others about someone or some company being reliable and honest at all times, irrespective of the circumstances or the challenges encountered on the way, knowing well that it will not be broken.
In matters of trust, actions always speak louder than words. As much as you tom-tom about being trustworthy, if you’re not seen to exhibit the trust behaviors, you won’t be taken seriously and instead, it could work against you. In fact, going by the examples of trustworthy leaders, their behavior depicts not just their character but also their competence to stay relevant and consistent in every kind of situation. Trust has to face trial-by-fire at every bend, deceit just wriggles through in shortcuts. This is where the high trust behaviors play a key role.
Understanding the High Trust Behaviors
Thought leaders have for long, observed exemplary leaders and the traits that they exhibit. Consolidated together, these traits become the ideal trust behaviors that others need follow without exception. There are some behaviors that exhibit a leader’s character, like
- Talk Straight: Words are the most crucial determinants of leadership styles. Almost all political leaders in the world have been exemplary orators. But oration does not alone make a leader who must walk the talk. Straight talking comes at a cost- it could antagonize some and create an image of you as lacking empathy if not done properly. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook who came from Google and even before, had stints in the Govt. departments in the US, is known to talk her heart. She doesn’t mince words and speaks what matters. At a time when women leaders were far and few, she created a new space for women who don’t want to be like men. She flaunted her feminine side and leveraged her innate skills as a women leader. She even went ahead and wrote the book ‘Lean in’ where she openly admitted to having cried at work.
- Demonstrate respect: It has become some kind of a legend, those clips showing then US President Barack Obama greeting and shaking hands with doormen and guards wherever he went. Not only did it earn him much love from the countrymen, he went on to forge a relationship of trust with the Americans. The fact that America elected a black man as president went on to only validate the trust that Obama had earned even during his earlier stints as Governor. People who have met him go on to tell the way his whole body language exudes respect for others but is, at the same time, assertive and confident.
- Create Transparency: Companies have their own shared of moments when hiding could be the easiest way to wriggle out of a controversial situation. Not all leaders subscribe to that formula, however. When IBM encouraged its employees to express themselves through Business Blogs, many eyebrows were raised. How can a company not chide the employees from speaking their hearts out? What if they speak up something unwarranted? But abiding by the principles of maintaining utmost transparency, the company asked its 320000 employees to start blogging. The mere thought that the company does not restrain its employees from speaking out was enough for others to perceive the company as transparent.
- Right the wrongs: In 2010 when Toyota had to recall around 2.3 million cars for faulty brakes, it was a potential time bomb waiting to be exploded with just a small spark from faltering PR. Instead of handing over the damage control to PR alone, Toyota CEO Jim Lentz decided to answer customer questions and face them head-on on the popular online community platform Digg on the Digg Dialogues program. It served well in reducing the fumes out of the fire from customers’ minds because it showed the leadership being willing to right the wrong and putting him up for scrutiny.
- Show loyalty: A company’s employees are as loyal as the leadership. Richard Branson famously said ‘Train people enough so that they can leave, treat them well enough so that they don’t want to”. Loyalty is not something that can be earned, bought or instilled with fear of something valuable being taken away. It comes from within when an employee sees it in his leader and feels valuable to the company.
- Deliver results: A company runs on results alone and not on small talk. If a leader cannot deliver results, he goes down and is not alone in that downward journey. But some leaders allow their work to speak and win the trust of the employees, the customers and the shareholders. Daniel Schwartz was just 29 when he took over as CFO of Burger King and 32 when he became CEO. Age did not deter this finance guy from turning around the company that was flailing with dwindling market share and stiff competition. Not only did he boost employee morale, he also won new ground in Brazil, India and China, that had emerged as new markets for fast food chains.
- Get better: The mention of the company Pixar is never complete without mentioning Steve Jobs in the same breath. But few would know that its past CEO Jim Catcull had in fact, initiated workshops to train employees on what trustworthiness in business means to Pixar. Such workshops demonstrated the company’s willingness to practice and promote trustworthiness and to get better every passing day in matters pertaining to trust.
- Confront reality: Many a great leader has made his way up the success ladder by confronting reality and working around it, not letting it hinder in any way. Richard Branson wasn’t good at studies and fared poorly in standardized tests, being labeled dyslexic. However, he accepted the reality and worked his way up by focusing on his personality, rather than his geniuses. Same is with Elon Musk, who recently admitted to having Aspergers Syndrome, one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders that severely hampers a person’s social life.
- Clarify expectations: Leadership is all about dealing with people while putting oneself up for the harshest of scrutiny. If a leader cannot set standards and communicate the same with the team, there will always remain a grain of ambiguity among the team. Trustworthy leaders always set realistic and clear expectations for their employees. This makes matters clear and easier for the employees who falter in ambiguity. I being extremely fond of Elon Musk, am always noting down anecdotes from his leadership style. I love the fact that Musk is always clear about how Tesla employees must conduct themselves at work. No extended meetings, shortest communication channels and clear messages are his basic expectations that actually make things easier at work.
- Practice accountability: Almost every leader swears by the autonomy principle and speaks much about empowering the employees at all levels. However, some like Whole Foods CEO John Mackay went the extra mile and empowered his employees to directly hire members on their teams, completely doing away with centralized hiring, a key HR function. That one act spoke volumes of how the company empowers employees who are then accountable to deliver results and achieve targets. Many experienced readers would recall how the 2008 Wall Street crisis didn’t go down well with the common man because most business leaders who were an integral part of the reasons for the crisis shunned responsibility and resorted to blame game.
- Listen first:A much popular anecdote from the life of the greatest leader, Nelson Mandela, is the way he dealt with issues by first listening out. Mandela, apparently, observed his adoptive father, the tribal chief King Jogintaba conducted his court meetings. He encouraged all the people assembled to first speak, and then proceed to make his own comments. Mandela adhered to this ‘Listen First’ policy throughout his later years in politics in South Africa.
- Keep commitments: Some companies are known to keep their commitments, especially to their employees and customers. Apple’s products vouch for their data protection and encryption features which none can hack, as per company claims. However, the company came under the heat of the law enforcement agencies in the US when a federal judge sought help from the company to reasonably help unlock the iPhone of a shootout culprit. Apple CEO Tim Cook, calling the order “Chilling” refused to do anything of this sort, clarifying that it would need writing new software and that if the FBI could access one phone, it could potentially repeat it for several others as well. In defying the orders of the court, Apple kept its commitment to the customers that their products are hack proof.
- Extend trust: Trust ought not just to be earned, exemplified and demonstrated at all times by the leaders in the top echelons but extended throughout the organization. Several companies take proactive measures to foster trust and reward such behaviors.
What are some of the behaviors of the leaders that you have worked with, whom you trust? Take a moment and comment below.
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