Trump and the like: a fable on trust for organisational leaders

Thursday July 7, 2016

Trust is essential for social cohesion and political stability.  It’s also vital for successful teams and organisations.  The rise of Donald Trump, the success of the Brexit campaign and the blossoming of minor parties in the recent Australian election could all be fables written by the Brothers Grimm to help organisations understand the problem of and possible solutions for declining trust.

We human beings are ‘hardwired’ to make social connections, which entails trust.  When our trust is abused, rather than learn to temper it, too many of us quickly transfer our trust to those who stand opposed to whoever has let us down. This is the story of the rise of Trump and the like. 

Paradoxically, Trump’s narrative is a string of increasingly outrageous mistruths.  And those campaigning against the established systems in the UK, Australia and elsewhere use all kinds of deceptive reasoning.  They exaggerate, attack straw men, use personal attacks and make gross generalisations.

Increasingly I notice this same dynamic playing out for clients.  Whether it’s a government agency, community service organisation or private company, high levels of organisational trust are now the exception rather than the rule. Employees feel there is a lack of transparency and candour in their team or organisation and they start to mistrust their managers and leaders.  They turn to the cynics, pessimists and conspiracy theorists around them.  The result is lower levels of commitment, less assuming of responsibility and lower achievement of organisational goals.

While the relationship between organisational truthfulness and performance is complex, the bottom line is that a culture of candour helps leaders achieve their goals (Bennis, Goleman, and O'Toole, 2008). This kind of culture doesn’t develop on its own.  But there are well-demonstrated strategies for creating or rebuilding trust and ultimately achieving results. It begins with not hoarding information, one of the hardest things for leaders to do.  For more on this you might like to look at a back issue of the Harvard Business Review (June 2009).

Author: David Waterford

Categories: Leading & Managing Teams