Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Perspectives on Trust Making for Leadership Growth

Charles Darwin had a good perspective on life when he wrote " It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

However, what he failed to put in perspective that to adapt to change and build this type of resilence capability requires organizations to face new and unexpected challenges by developing skills in the art of trustmaking.

In today's market, the economic realities to many of our clients, friends, and colleagues seems daunting. What we do know is that organizations will always have a choice.

They can either respond proactively and efficiently or choose to remain in the status quo mode which is often characterized by a down ward spiral. Doing the same with less is usually a pathway that leads to mediocrity and certainly does not lead to innovation success.

What motivates people to change? What motivates leaders to lead and mentor? Why is trust making often so elusive? Why are business graduates not trained in trust and creating a culture of openness, transparency and candor?

We cannot expect people to follow in difficult times, unless leaders learn how to communicate authentically and honestly, and create organizations where this is the norm. I recently had an experience in my own firm, where a trusted partnering relationship was brought into our core operation, leveraged our credentials, and good will and relationships to secure business independently. The stress that dishonest people can drive into a business's operations was very evident, as the disappointment created such a sense of disillusionmnet as we experienced what dishonesty and lack of integrity emits into the human psyche - especially when core values are impacted.

What do you do in a situation like this? In our case, it was simple, the core values have to take precedence when ethical behaviors are in question and rapidly discontinue the relationship.

Unfortunately the yardstick that too often measures the performance of CEO's is their ability to create wealth and shareholder value for their investors.

However, the realities of short-term thinking in the latest rounds of busts have many business strategists and thought leaders - advising there is a better way.

Our belief at Helix and our research in creating stronger collaboration centric cultures is that to develop stronger corporate cultures where trust is a core value, means that leaders need to start practicing authentically trust making and trust sensing behaviors.

Rule One - Simply always tell the truth. Don't develop the weak behaviors by falling into the trap of telling people what they want to hear. Treat your colleagues as adults. Speaking straight talk is a key leadership foundation for developing trust in an organization's culture. Soon other's will follow. People appreciate knowing they can trust their superiors and know that they have their interests genuinely at heart.

Rule Two - Encourage others to speak honestly, and openly, irrespective of how difficult it is to speak the truth. It is often very difficult for others lower in the heirarchy to share bad news when they know their superiors want to hear good news. It is important as a leader to create the conditions for people to know they are respected for having for courage and know that taking risks are encouraged and supported.

Rule Three - Reward the change agents that are contrarians or challenge the status quo. Organizations do not innovate successfully if they fail to seed change agents that are catalysts for new ways of working and thinking. Ensure they are positioned so they can enable change vs spin their wheels and not be listened to - and leave disillusioned. Remember to recognize them in small ways - the simple thank-you's one can never say enough of especially in difficult times.

Rule Four - Diversify knowledge sources. It is important to reach into the organizational structure at all levels to hear first hand what is on the minds of employees, customers, suppliers and competitors so your own leadership understanding has the rich context. It is also important that people believe they are being listened to and heard, these footprints will be shared and also enhance your leadership credibility. Creating a culture of trust requires developing a strong listening culture and appreciated diversity in its richest context: gender, culture, thoughts, etc.

Rule Four - Acknowledge mistakes and move on. Don't bury mistakes, use them as learning opportunities. This gives everyone permission to do the same, and sends out signals that risk taking is really accepted. Clearly if mistakes are risks to the business and impact core values the actions taken need to be carefully thought through and advisors and peers /superiors/mentors can play an important reflection opportunity to ensure a culture fostering learning is sustainable.

Rule Five - Develop a culture where collaboration and knowledge sharing is free flowing. Most organizations like to hoard information as information and knowledge means power. Work hard to develop open environments to source rich knowledge, at the same time protecting the knowledge that requires more risk management. Financial reporting requires a stricter risk management process than for example access to project plans from diverse projects to develop stronger project management skills.

Rule Six - Develop clear value statements for transparency, trust, collaboration, and authenticity. Many executives use freely these words, but few have explicit leadership behaviors and learning programs to support employees. Hire people because they create a culture of trust making behaviors and are known for their honesty, integrity and candor.

Rule Seven - Weed out the behaviors irrespective of level that are not aligned to the core values. People do not suffer fools gladly - they can easily spot inconsistent leadership behaviors and when business judgements are clearly at risk, having a truthful conversation and making tough decisions that demonstrate you are serious about respecting and living your organization's core values will go a long way to building a stronger culture of trust making strength.

In my experience in business, it takes time to build trust and develop consistent leadership behaviors that support the continual flow of intelligence that enables true collaboration.

Perhaps the only messenger one should ever shoot is the one that arrived too late to tell the truth.

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