08/22/12

Hubba, Hubba, Hubba—Who Do You Trust?

Hubba, Hubba, Hubba—Who Do You Trust?In the 1989 movie Batman, before the Joker is about to gas everyone in Gotham, he says, “And now folks, it’s time for ‘Who do you trust!” Hubba, hubba, hubba! Money, money, money! Who do you trust? Me? I’m giving away free money. And where is Batman? HE’S AT HOME WASHING HIS TIGHTS!”

Who do you trust? It’s an important question to ask. In business (and even politics) it’s critical to achieving peak performance and worthy objectives.

I spend the first part of my day each morning going through the news. I browse through two or three online newspapers to get my daily fix. I prefer the newspapers because they typically go into a little more depth than broadcast news. Nevertheless, this year’s election cycle has got me down. I don’t think it matters if you’re a Republican or Democrat (red or blue), most of what we’re seeing in the media are PAC-funded attack adds that are doing a pretty darn good job at distracting us (and the political dialog) away from the real issues facing our economy and the health of our nation.

It feels like we’ve let extremists on both ends of the political spectrum take control of the conversation.

I’ve come to distrust what comes out of the attack ads and only half of what is published by the media. I try to stay up with both sides of the argument and make it a point to read, listen to, and watch both the liberally-biased media and the conservative-biased media feeling like the truth is somewhere in the middle. I stumbled upon a book a few years back titled, How to Lie with Statistics, which I must admit has jaded me when anyone starts spouting off numbers to support their cause. Mark Twain said, “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”

I think the current political discourse going on in our country is a good example.

A couple of years ago, at the recommendation of a colleague I respected, I picked up a book by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Truth About Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know. According to the authors, trustworthiness and credibility are foundational to leadership.

With that in mind, I found it interesting that they cite a 2009 international study originally posted on the Harvard Business Review in an article titled Managing Talent in Troubled Times, and suggest that “…the majority of people said they trust a stranger more than they trust their boss.”

This is a sad commentary on the state of business and our professional relationships. Basically, according to Posner and Kouzes, “…if people don’t trust you, they won’t believe what you say.”

They further suggest that high-trust organizations tend to outperform low-trust organizations by 286 percent. Now that’s a pretty impressive figure in my estimation. “A Pricewaterhouse-Coopers study of corporate innovation among the Financial Times 100 showed that the number one differentiating factor between the top innovators and the bottom innovators was trust. That means if people don’t trust you, your organization is likely to under-perform and be slow to innovate,” suggest the authors.

“The truth is that trust rules,” they write. “Trust rules your personal credibility. Trust rules your ability to get things done. Trust rules your teams cohesiveness. Trust rules your organization’s innovativeness and performance. Trust rules your brand image. Trust rules just about everything you do.”

If, and I believe this to be true, trust is such an important leadership trait, how does a small business leader develop a relationship of trust? Kouzes and Posner suggest the following four behaviors:

  1. Behave predictably and consistently: “When you are reliable and others know they can count on you, then your words and actions will have greater power to influence them,” say the authors. When they suggest that confusing, indecisive or inconsistent behavior makes it difficult to trust someone, I have to agree. Those people who I trust the most tend to react consistently, regardless of who they are with or what they are doing. The authors suggest, “Consistency means that the same personal values and organizational aims will influence what you say and do.”
  2. Communicate clearly: “When you are clear about what you mean, then there is less chance that others will find your statements misleading,” they argue. I wouldn’t suggest that every conversation needs to be guarded, but we do need to be aware of anything we say that could be interpreted as a promise. For example, “We might be able to pay out a bonus if this project comes in on time,” could easily be misinterpreted. To be trusted, we can’t be cavalier with what we say or how we communicate.
  3. Treat promises seriously: According to Kouzes and Posner, “The more seriously you treat your own commitments, the more seriously others will treat them.” This is particularly true in organizations that empower employees to make decisions about how they do their work. The same is true about making promises out of hand. Casually-made promises are often difficult to keep, and in the long run are better left unsaid.
  4. Be forthright and candid: “Discovering that someone has been dishonest casts doubt over everything he says and does,” they write. If you never want to be caught in a lie, the best way to avoid it is to make being forthright and candid your mantra. Regardless of how clever you may believe you are, it’s difficult to keep a like hidden forever. Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

I agree that the key to any relationship, including a working relationship, is trust. In small businesses, our employees need to have confidence that what we say can be trusted. They need to trust that we will walk the walk, or put our money where our mouth is. The best way for us to create an atmosphere of trust is to step up ourselves before we ask or expect others to do so.

What are you doing to foster an atmosphere of trust within your organization?

Maybe we should share those ideas with the candidates on both sides of the political divide.

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About the author

Ty Kiisel
Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business financing and trends accessible in common sense language devoid of the jargon.

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