Posted: 20/05/2014 2:53:30 PM by
We’ve all heard that “actions speak louder than words”. It is sometimes difficult to retain trust when difficult actions are needed. So it is important for every leader to understand the trust position from which they start. Leaders should not expect to receive trust; instead they should expect a healthy level of scepticism, it being a feature of the Australian culture.
BACK TO BLOG
Global public relations firm Edelman have released their ‘trust barometer’ for 2014. They measured trust; via a 27 country survey ran in October 2013, comparing non-government organisations, government, business and media. Their report of the 1000 Australian respondents shows some insights into our views on which we trust the most and least.
Generally Australians are moderately trusting (58%). For example, we have more trust than people in the US, France and Japan, but we have less trust than people in China, Indonesia and Canada. However, the results show a growing divide, the number of Australians who distrust is 44%, a 5% increase compared to 2013.
When you compare the Edelman results to studies of the engagement of workers a consistent pattern emerges. For example, in a 2013 survey by Australian Institute of Management Victoria and Tasmania, 57% of people agreed, “management of their organisations listen and respond to employee concerns”.
Unsurprisingly, trust in all businesses is not the same. The Edelman results showed a disparity between trust in family businesses (76%), privately held businesses (57%), and publicly traded businesses (51%). It seems that, in forming trust, it matters that people can identify with the ultimate business owners, especially their beliefs and values.
The trust from people within a business is equally important. We trust employees from a business much more than we do the CEO. According to the 2014 survey, our trust of regular employees is 53% versus our trust of the CEO of just 39%. Since 2009, the trust of the CEO has grown from just 19% but the trust of employees has grown equally, from 33%.
In the political field, only 30% of people “somewhat trust” while 67% of people “do not trust at all” government leaders. Compare this to the personal approval ratings of our most recent Prime Ministers and, again, it correlates.
It’s difficult to argue against there being a leadership crisis in Australia when less than half of people trust the leaders. This is not a political comment as it relates equally to business and all sides of politics.
This is hugely important for us because change is brought about by behaviours and interactions. It is notoriously difficult to change the behaviours and interactions of others; it requires an enormous amount of goodwill. Trust is the foundation of that goodwill so we risk inaction and stagnation if we are unable to ignite it.
I believe that there are two major things required of leaders to build trust and create goodwill; provide clarity of their purpose and values, and the adoption of empathy as a starting point in all decisions. Even well intentioned actions will be viewed with mistrust if people do not have a context in which to assess the implication of those actions, and the sense that the decision maker has awareness of the human consequences.
Anthony Howard is CEO of the Confidere Group, a leadership research and consulting group based in Sydney. In his 2012 paper, It’s Time for Moral Leadership, Howard argues:
“Economic leadership has been tried and found wanting. The crisis is not one of political, social, or economic leadership but of moral leadership, exercised by moral leaders.
Referring to someone as a moral leader implies that they embody our aspirations for the better version of ourselves. In the way they live with themselves, relate to others and the perspective they bring to the world.”
In our work at The H Factor, we have asked many leaders the values of their organisation. In most cases the organisation values are a reflection of the leader themselves. Leaders most often tell us a series of single words, for example, ‘honesty’, ‘integrity’ or ‘reliability’. They believe those single words articulate what the organisation stands for, and that every person understands their meaning. However, most leaders are surprised at the inconsistency of responses when we workshop those ‘values’ with their staff.
Too few leaders articulate the values of their organisation in meaningful statements. Words like ‘integrity’ have subtle differences in meaning for every person. On the other hand, an actionable statement provides consistent meaning, and the opportunity for people to relate that statement to the organisations actions. For example, “honour the trust given to us by our customers”, provides everyone a guide with which to judge their own and their leaders behaviours and interactions.
There are reasons to be optimistic. The Edelman trust barometer shows that our trust is highest in non-government organisations (70%). This is not surprising. Most non-government organisations have a clearly articulated purpose. For example, most charities and other not-for-profit organisations exist to support an identified group or cause. In most cases, the behaviours and interactions of those organisations are visibly consistent with their purpose.
In the political arena, most of us have little influence to achieve change in leadership habits. However, we can affect change in our organisations. We can become clear of our moral compass and give clarity as to our own values. We can speak up by asking ourselves whether we are being trustworthy. We can analyse our actions against our values, ask our teams to hold us accountable, and have the courage to admit our errors.
We can find the clarity of our own purpose. Organisation performance will blossom. There is no more powerful marketing force than a culture of engaged people, all working to achieve something bigger than themselves, whose behaviours and interactions inspire others to their cause. Repairing the crisis in leadership requires us to create the goodwill to implement change and the empathy to bring everyone safely on our journey.