<p>In the past two years, with the global financial collapse and resulting recession, the issue of trust in leadership has been catapulted into the spotlight. Never before has there been such a public and widespread example of its breakdown, nor such tangible evidence of its impact.<br /><br />The irony is that while most companies tend to pull back, shut down and centralize decision making during tough times, being open and honest is actually what can save them during these periods. <br /><br />Just ask Aneil Mishra and his wife, Karen, co-authors of <em>Becoming a Trustworthy Leader</em>, to be published in 2011. A few decades ago, Mishra was studying how the automobile industry was dealing with crisis. To his surprise, when asking those few companies that were prospering what their secret was, they said, “‘We have trust in our employees, we built trust with our union leadership in our plant, [and] we have trust with our customers,’” Mishra said. “I said, ‘Wow. I didn’t ask about trust at all, and yet you’re all talking about it.’ So I decided to dig in deeper.”<br /><br />Further research found that organizations in various industries that survived challenging periods were those that had worked to cultivate a high level of trust throughout the company.<br /><br />“In a crisis or when you’re faced with tough times, top managers like to seize control, centralize decision making — often the rumor mill takes over because information is so poorly distributed — and people, not surprisingly because it is a crisis and resources are scarce, hoard those resources,” Mishra said. “That centralizing decisions and hoarding information and resources just creates a logjam; it freezes up the system.<br /><br />“In contrast, when trust was present, we found that managers were much more willing to empower their rank and file, and the rank and file were even more willing to take on that responsibility because they thought, ‘Well, if I make a mistake, and the stakes are high, I’m not going to lose my job because I trust my manager,’” he continued. “Information was shared much more widely. People really felt that it was important to be open and honest about the problems and trying to find solutions to them. [This] created a lot more flexibility to deal with that crisis and help them prevent it from happening again.”<br /><br />According to Mishra’s research, there are four main types of trust that today’s organizational leaders should begin cultivating immediately.<br /><br />1. <strong>Reliability and dependability:</strong> “[It’s] walking the talk: consistency of words and action, keeping your promises,” Mishra said. “You can build it quite quickly — showing up on time, adhering to your commitments.” However, keep in mind that this type of trust is “easy come, easy go:” While it’s relatively easy to build, it’s also easy to lose when you don’t follow through or become inconsistent.<br /><br />2. <strong>Openness and honesty:</strong> “At a minimum, it’s just not lying — telling the truth,” Mishra said. “But as we know, the truth has many layers or depths to it. So being fully transparent about your intentions as well as the facts would be the ultimate expression of that openness or honesty.”<br /><br />3. <strong>Competence:</strong> It’s not enough simply to be straightforward and guileless; you also need to get things done. “You can have priors in terms of your reputation or track record, so you can demonstrate that trustworthiness fairly quickly,” Mishra said. “At its highest level, it’s exceeding expectations. But it’s really, ‘Can you get the job done? Do you have the skills and talents and abilities as an individual or as a company to deliver results?’ It’s probably more important than ever.”<br /><br />4. <strong>Compassion:</strong> “This can take years to build, because at a minimum, it means not taking advantage of or cheating someone, but at the ultimate level, it really is a form of altruism,” Mishra said. That said, Mishra’s research found that organizations that had high levels of compassion-based trust actually did best in terms of short-term financial returns. “So something that takes a long time to build, if you’ve got it in place, you’re going to be much more effective as an individual or as an organization,” he said.<br /><br />In addition to cultivating these four types of trust, executives can help solidify their credibility by engaging in two other activities: listening to others and undergoing self-assessments. <br /><br />“It’s amazing the possible effect someone can have in building trust if they simply spend time listening to somebody else,” Mishra said. “When time is at a premium, people don’t want to spend much time other than getting the job done. If the manager takes that time simply to bring somebody into his or her office and to identify what are those concerns or needs, [it helps].”<br /><br />Meanwhile, leaders should take honest assessments of their own talents and capabilities and seek out trusted advisors to offer constructive feedback.<br /><br />“Being authentic is at the core of being able to build trust,” Mishra said. “Especially in difficult times when people are very vulnerable, those leaders that can inspire hope by instilling trust can make a huge difference.” </p>
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