In the last blog posting titled Leadership and trust: Presumed Innocent, we explored the challenges leaders face in fostering a culture of trust. While leaders seek to create a work environment built on trust, most leaders also know the enormous consequences of wrongly placed trust. For many of us, that knowledge has come from firsthand, painful experience.
This follow-up blog provides five leadership strategies to help leaders find balance in the leadership dilemma of leading with a trusting nature while also embracing a healthy dose of skepticism.
- Champion safeguards
Remind yourself that the presumption of innocence afforded to an individual does not require naiveté when considering large numbers of people that surveys reveal bend rules and later rationalize their own bad behavior. Assume the best in others while also championing the establishment of safeguards to reduce both temptation and the ease of wrongdoing by individuals inclined to breach ethics.
Facilitate process improvement events that seek to move beyond simply improving efficiencies and also flag or prevent ethical breaches. It has long been a standard practice in accounting that the individual responsible for paying the bills is a different person from the one responsible for reconciling the bank statement. Similarly, a company policy that requires the most senior person at a business function to pick up the restaurant tab, naturally ensures that expense approvals are made by a third party who was not at the event and can evaluate the expense on its merits. Introduce checks and balances throughout the organization whenever process improvement is on the agenda.
Provide a mechanism for individuals in the organization to ask questions about ethics and report misdeeds without risk of negative consequence.
- Trust and also verify
Ask for details. Ask for information to be repeated. Ask lots of questions. Ask about different topics. Ask for written summaries of steps taken and actions agreed. Even the most skilled liar will often stumble when required to fabricate many answers or when required to record their deeds in writing.
Remember that deception is difficult to detect. Mechanized lie detectors and polygraph tests have proven unreliable in detecting lies and in providing an alarming number of false-positives. Similarly unreliable are many human attempts to accurately diagnose deception, even by highly trained professionals like police officers and judges who get a lot of practice being lied to.
Collect data and rely on the systems in place to do the job they were designed to do.
- Take the time it takes
Trust is built over time. A valuable lesson to learn and to teach others is to slow down and build a relationship before reaching an agreement, negotiating the solution to a problem, or closing a deal. The odds of being deceived are much higher in transactions that involve a single interaction over those that involve a series of interactions over time.
It is interesting to note that as the means of electronic communication becomes easier, people often find face-to-face communications more difficult. In pursuit of relationship-building, encourage personal face-to-face communications. It’s easier for people to lie when the communication is more impersonal such as on the phone or via email. The expediency of electronic communication is small reward if you’ve been deceived.
- Training, feedback and coaching
Acquire skills to learn how to do the two most critical things leaders are called upon to do: (1) select people who not only possess the skills and knowledge to carry out job responsibilities but also fit within the corporate culture and reflect the ethics desired by the organization and (2) create an environment where people can thrive and be most successful.
It has become clear by now that the traditional education system is not going to ensure that the future members of the workforce graduate with a solid foundation in personal and interpersonal skills to bring to their careers. To foster a culture of ethics, leaders must equip people with critical skills such as communication, etiquette, listening, judgment, decision-making, team-building, negotiation and conflict resolution.
- Conduct a self-audit
Hold yourself to a higher standard. Become the rare person who carefully and consciously chooses your behavior. Constantly question and challenge yourself. Are you judging yourself by your good intentions or by your actions? Are you rationalizing a bad act after-the-fact to justify it or did you act from your core values?
Remind yourself that your acts of omission are just as dangerous as acts of commission when the result is the other person missing critical information or inferring an untruth. Many of us create a double-standard by refusing to lie on principle (innocent of commission) yet fail to disclose important information (guilty by omission).
If you have a naturally trusting nature (many of us do) and believe others until you have a reason to distrust them, balance it with a strong sense of curiosity and awareness, especially early in the relationship-building process.
When systems reveal deception, resist the temptation to transfer your feelings to others who may be worthy of trust.
Foster a culture of trust by talking about ethics, go public in your commitment to honesty and openness, and role model the behaviors you want to see. And when you make a mistake, as you inevitably will, ‘fess up and make it right.
- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.