The crisis of trust in our leaders has extended to catastrophic proportions. Turn on the news… browse the internet… skim a newspaper or magazine cover and the evidence is hard to ignore. Overwhelming skepticism has become the norm in our society, and it’s impossible to ignore. If this isn’t clear enough, consider the results of a recent survey conducted in conjunction with the release of “DARE”.
To sound the depths and stem the origins of distrust, a survey was conducted to ascertain what group or groups of leaders in our society are responsible for the trust crisis. The sample group of respondents represented a wide cross-section of individuals in varying levels of responsibility across the business world. Their responses have confirmed a great disparity between levels of power and levels of trust. There is an inverse connection between the amount of time a particular group spends communicating with us – and the level of trust we afford them.
Who do we trust most? Teachers, at 32.5% – and doctors, at 18.8%, were the groups receiving the highest trust quotients. How often do you communicate with your doctor? How long would he or she remain your doctor, if you distrusted their diagnoses? How much time do you spend in communication with your child’s teachers? How do you, as a parent, respond when you believe the teacher is being unfair to your child – and how closely do you work with those teachers to ensure your child’s needs are met?
Whatever you may think of your child’s teachers or of your doctor – these groups are perceived, on the whole, to be trustworthy, transparent and sincere. They are accepted as honest and acting in our best interests. In short, those people with whom we have the closest personal relationships also rank highest in estimations of our trust.
Conversely, politicians and the media were deemed the least trustworthy groups of leaders. Considering the amount of time we spend connected to the television, the internet and the radio – it’s not terribly surprising that the media and its coverage of politicians creates a powerful presence and a powerful impact in our lives. The overwhelming access and saturation of the media raises our levels of mistrust exponentially.
Although survey respondents cited teachers as trustworthy, leaders and administrators in educational institutions are perceived as suspect and less deserving of trust. This coincides with respondents’ beliefs that roughly half of business leaders are trustworthy.
Half – 50.4% of respondents – believe that business leaders are trustworthy. Most Americans are employed in the business sector – and this marginal trust rating speaks volumes. This is true center, placing responsibility squarely upon business leaders to push that trust needle forward. Why is our trust rating so alarmingly low? When confronted with the constant barrage of scandal, mismanagement, doublespeak, falsified data, spin, number crunching and posturing among business leaders, it becomes patently obvious that too many business leaders are taking the easy way out.
Many business leaders feel entitled or privileged by their positions, mistakenly believing themselves to be exempt from the ethical principles that apply to everyone else in their society or organization. This misconception is often the root cause of the abuse of power – and abusing power (or denying its responsibility) is a fast track to loss of trust. It wouldn’t take much to find an example – these are unfortunately plentiful, and the media does tend to punch up negative stories.
Exempting oneself from the expectations and morality that govern your organization is in fact the polar opposite of leadership. A true leader holds himself (or herself) to a higher standard, exemplifying and setting the curve for expectations throughout the organizational culture. Ideally, a leader’s role is to offer guidance, direction and a broad perspective for long-range outcomes.
Interestingly, the survey indicated that Americans are more likely to trust business leaders to whom they report directly, but that business leaders as a group are unworthy of trust 50.4% of the time. Many respondents indicated that they believed their own personal leaders provide them with genuine interaction, honest communication and transparency, citing these qualities as a means of preserving and maintaining their trust. Striving to remain present, mindful and authentic makes a notable, observable difference when facing tough leadership challenges.
How do we, as business leaders, take ownership of that marginal ranking and push the “trust needle” into a healthier, more respectable percentage? By changing our strategies, our ideas and our thought processes one at a time, with consistent and thoughtful self-reflection. Consistency doesn’t happen overnight – it requires a regular, concerted effort on a personal level. Honesty, transparency, vulnerability and authenticity must become habits. Those leadership characteristics cited as indicators of trustworthiness are the very qualities prescribed in DARE, as keystones of authentic leadership. The virtues associated with building trust are the building blocks of reliable, dependable leadership.