Cultivating Trust in a Time of Cynicism
Bungled virus containment. Faulty online learning platforms. Mobs on the steps of the US Capitol. Supply chain troubles…
One unsavory accolade we can now award to 2020 is the title “The Year of Lost Trust.” In a year we looked to our institutions to keep us well, keep us together, and keep us moving forward, many of them mustered no plan or couldn’t execute the one(s) they crafted. Some of our most venerated institutions imploded because of infighting, leadership failures, and pure selfishness. The result? Cynicism. The people our organizations and institutions serve daily no longer trust that we can deliver on our mission or promises. The cynicism is pervasive, carried forward from home to the workplace. Do you have a team of cynics? Hopefully not. Are they waiting to see if you’re different or just another disappointment after a year of botched plans and broken promises? Count on it.
Strong leaders cultivate trust in a time of cynicism. This isn’t accomplished through soaring rhetoric and pithy memos. Trust is nurtured through action and example. The people I trust in my personal and professional life are those who model honest behaviour and have the courage to admit their mistakes when they’ve made the mistakes. Who is on your trust shortlist and what do they do to earn and keep your trust? As you think about your list, ask yourself, “Am I on someone else’s list… Am I the kind of leader and person people can trust? If the answer doesn’t come easily, perhaps it’s time to reflect, look at one’s self in them mirror and then revisit the practices that build trust and keep cynicism at bay.
Back in 2014, The University of Bath School of Management (England) conducted a study that looked at trust cultivation in businesses. The catalyst behind the study was to “champion better work and working lives” by improving the trust-building practices of organizations and those who lead them.1 The study found that trusted leaders employ 4 distinctive “pillars” that cultivate trust among those they lead and serve. When these pillars are modeled daily and mirrored by others, organizations and communities become healthier. See how you stack up.
For starters, trust is nurtured through ability. Able leaders, those who show a high level of competence in executing, evaluating, and tweaking organizational mission, garner trust. If the leader is incompetent, others lose confidence in their own potential of success. Trusted leaders also practice benevolence, that is, they place the well-being of constituents, team members, and the organization above personal interest. When there is trouble, the trusted leader is the first one to take the risks and address the challenge.
Trusted leaders always demonstrate integrity. They hold themselves to the same high standards of performance and honesty they expect from those under their leadership. They are not hypocrites – they are honest and transparent. When the leader falls short of a goal or acts in a dishonorable way, they hold themselves accountable to the team, the constituents, and the organization. Trusted leaders are predictable. Everyone knows what to expected from this kind of leader because they show consistent behaviour over time. When a leader is unpredictable, fear, along with cynicism, grips hold of the team.
A cynical time calls for trusted leadership. If the title fits, keep doing what you’re doing. If it doesn’t, or you feel reluctant to call yourself “trusted,” then it’s time to revisit your ability, benevolence, integrity, and predictability. Cultivate your trust so that those who look to your leadership can thrive even in a time of cynicism.