Friday, December 12, 2008

Twelve Tips for Trustworthy Leadership

Liarj0237101jpg "I'll get back to you on that." I uttered these famous last words to a graduate student at UCLA many years ago when I was selling for Siemens Medical Systems. I never did get back to him. I don't remember why? Maybe became busy and forgot about his request. Not a big deal, right? It wasn’t as if HE was buying the equipment from us or influential in the buying process. Yeah right.

Two years later, when I was Chief Administrative Officer of the Institute for Molecular Imaging at UCLA, my failure to follow through came back to bite me. This graduate student became a professor in our Institute and told my boss, the director of the Institute, that he preferred not to work with me on any projects because he didn't trust me. Ouch! A leader without trust is like a captain with a crew of storefront mannequins - all show, no go. How much do your team members trust you? Do you know the secrets of managing trust?

Researchers at Harvard University recently revisited these questions. A summary of their trust survey of nearly 1,300 stakeholders (i.e., employees, customers, investors, and suppliers) is seen below (1):

1. Increasing transparency does not always increase trust. Transparency can actually diminish trust if what is disclosed is inappropriate. For example, disclosing high executive salary to front-line supervisors may hurt trust, especially if there is no perceived link between pay and performance.

3. Different competencies matter. Employees trust leaders who have managerial competence, meaning they know how to lead and manage employees and the organization. Interestingly, customers and suppliers also increase their trust when they perceive competency. However, their concern is more related to technical, not managerial proficiency.

2. Integrity builds trust. This is true, IF the leader’s integrity is accompanied by caring.

4. The value congruence is important for all stakeholders. Employees, customers, suppliers, and investors all increase trust when they see espoused values in action.

Here are eight other practical tips to increase trust with your teams:

a. Keep personal information confidential.

b. Ask people if they want information to be confidential at the beginning of conversations.

c. Don't oversell. Enthusiasm to please other people or to make a sale may cause you to over-commit… like I did in the opening story.

d. Admit mistakes early when you make them.

e. Share appropriate information ASAP with your team.

f. Don't gossip.

g. Create trust norms with your team.

h. Make sure your ambition doesn't get out of hand. Count the number of times you say ‘I and me’ versus ‘us and we.’

Oh yes, a bonus practical tip to increase trust: next time you utter those famous words, "I'll get back to you," make sure you do. What behaviors you exhibit that increases trust?

Keep eXpanding,


1. Michael Pirson and Deepak Malhotra, The Secrets of Trust, ‘MIT Sloan Management Review,’ Summer 2008, volume 49, number 4, page 43 -- 50.

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