High Trust Environments

I’ve written a few times recently about the critical role and importance of trust within all kinds of environments. I have suggested that fear of change has been causing many people to put leaders in positions of power (or allowed them to take power might be the better explanation), especially in leading countries.

These are leaders who adopt far more confrontational and manipulative positions, often rallying their supporters with beliefs that they need to be defended from ‘hated and feared others’.

Thus, it was very timely that Zenger Folkman just ran this great webinar over the last week on the subject of trust. Obviously, they particularly focused on trust within companies and similar organisations. It highlights that trust is, most certainly, a big issue and there’s ample evidence that low trust is a big problem in organisations. To my mind, weak trust in any one part of people’s lives tends to provoke and lead to weaker trust in all other areas of life. Fear and a sense of threat tests many people’s willingness to stick to high trust actions and behaviours.

The webinar highlights that personal relationships are such an important part of creating and maintaining trust. If there’s a sense of threat, weakness and challenge this tests relationships. Firstly, many get tempted to become more task oriented – if there are challenges achieving business outcomes people double down on tasks they hope can bring quicker results. However, this leaves less time to work on relationships. Also, as the threat quotient rises, people become more suspicious of others and their motives. This in turn leads them to de-emphasise personal relations and increase their distance from others.

As I’ve suggested in other blog posts, societal unease and the struggle to take full responsibility may be providing an encouraging environment for leaders in the political environment who operate from low trust, instead promising unreal outcomes in return for freedom from responsibility.. My hope is that this doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the same effect in companies and other organisations. However, I believe this places greater responsibility on leaders to address these issues, to be sensitive to actions or words that can undermine the levels of trust in the organisation. Further, i continue to believe (as highlighted by Tom Peters, Stephen MR Covey and others – high trust leadership can offer a significant competitive advantage. It creates environments where people are more flexible about their contribution, more resolute to work through challenges and more willing to try things creatively. This is especially critical for the educational domain, whether K-12 schools or colleges because trust doesn’t just help the organisation to work effectively, but also as exhibited forms a part of the learning of the students.

And for people who find themselves working in low trust environments? My advice is, don’t hang around – move on. There are always other alternatives and high turnover may be one of the biggest weapons to reign in less trustworthy leaders.

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