The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders—customers, business partners, investors, and co-workers—is the single most important leadership competency. If Stephen Covey Jr., of Franklin Covey, is correct in this conclusion, most organizations have work to do and more to learn in their efforts to succeed.
Trust may simply mean that we have confidence in something, a sense of security that it or someone will do what we expect of it/him. Oddly, a lack of trust—distrust—carries the same expectations as trust. We will either invest ourselves in confidence or caution. We expect trust to encourage confidence, and distrust to encourage caution.
Think of someone you have a high trust in. Describe the relationship; how well do you communicate; how quickly do things get done; how much do you enjoy the relationship?
Now think of someone you have a low-trust relationship with. Describe this relationship. How does it feel; how are the communications between you? The difference between the two is palpable. What we try to avoid is a hint of suspicion. Why? Because the moment it is felt, everything that follows is likely to be tainted.
We hear often that “it is very difficult for a micro manager to change.” Why so difficult? Because breaking habits requires that we replace them with better ones. And then only if we recognize the problem in our behavior—we do not solve problems we don’t have!
And how would we consider, even embrace, another’s changed behavior? TRUST, and the decision to do so is the only lasting way. Everything else is just a conditional and short-term method. Let’s pause to consider why this is so today, in the age of postmodernism.
Roughly between 1960 and 1990 postmodernism emerged as a cultural phenomenon, given impetus largely by the advent of the information age. If the factory is the symbol of the industrial age, the computer may be the symbol of the information age that tracks the spread of postmodernism.
Postmodernism is complex and contradictory in some ways, but most see it as rejecting most of the fundamental intellectual pillars of modern Western civilization. At a minimum, postmodernism regards many important principles, methods, or ideas characteristic of modern Western culture as obsolete and illegitimate. In practical terms postmodernism represents a rejection of the philosophy that has characterized Western thought since the beginning. Let’s take a brief look.
The Route to Postmodernism
|Truth has been revealed to men and women by God.||Truth can be discovered by reason and logical argumentation.||Truth does not exist objectively; it is a product of a person’s culture.|
|Human Identity||Humans are both spiritual and material beings, created in God’s image but fallen because of sin.||Humans are rational, not spiritual beings who can define their existence according to what their senses perceive.||Humans are primarily social beings, products of their culture and environment.|
|The World||God is the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of His earth, and has instructed humans to subdue it and care for it.||Humans can and should conquer the earth and all its mysteries.||Life on earth is fragile and the “Enlightenment model of human conquest of nature … must quickly give way to a new attitude of cooperation with the earth.”|
|Thought & Language||Reason “can disclose truth about reality, but faith and revelation are also needed.”||For answers and understanding about life and the world around us, people should rely only on rational discovery through the scientific method and reject the belief in the supernatural.||Thinking is a “social construct,” language is arbitrary, and there is no universal truth beyond culture.|
|Human Progress||Human history is not progressing but awaiting deliverance.||Human progress through science and reason is inevitable.||Things are not getting better; besides, progress is an oppressive Western concept.|
The information age has produced so many more “truths” than we have known before. The sheer number of them (revealed) is enough to cause one to freeze in his investigation of them. Under such conditions the truth is made and not found. This is an extraordinary idea, and one that suggests a substitute for it (the truth) in situational ethics. In this vein, if yours are formed (made) of your cultural bias, or conditions, it is no less reality than another’s.
This is because there is no metanarrative or grand story that can account for all reality— no story big enough and meaningful enough to pull together philosophy and research and politics and art, relate them to one another, and give them a unifying sense of direction. Such are the stories of God’s covenant with the nation Israel, the Marxist story of class conflict and revolution, and the Enlightenment’s story of intellectual progress.
What’s that got to do with trust, you might be asking? A great deal, as it turns out. Our society, not just here in the U.S., but the world over, is suffering a crisis of trust. Every societal institution—government, media, business, health care, religion, home—is suffering a paucity of trust. Significantly lower than a generation ago, in the U.S., for instance, a 2005 Harris poll revealed that 22% of those surveyed tend to trust the media, 8% trust political parties, 27% trust the government, and 12% trust big business.
In a study by British sociologist David Halpern, only 34% of Americans believe that “other” people can be trusted. In Latin America the number is 23%; and in Africa the number is just 18%. In Great Britain the number is 29%, down from 60% four decades ago. We are no longer a trusting people. In fact, with the possible exception of the 60s in America, love has never been a popular movement in the world.
Can the postmodernists be that wrong when they claim that the truth we make is more reality than the truth we find?
On the organizational front it’s much the same story:
- 51% of employees have trust and confidence in senior management.
- 36% believe their leaders act with honesty and integrity.
- In the last 18 months 76% of employees have observed illegal or unethical conduct on the job—conduct, which, if exposed, would seriously violate the public trust, if not the law.
What about the personal level? Consider that:
- The #1 reason people leave their jobs is a bad relationship with their boss.
- One of every two marriages ends in divorce.
Relationships—of all kinds—are built on and sustained by trust. They fail from the absence of it!
The percentage of students who cheated to improve their odds of getting into graduate school may be a clear indication of whom you are being led by.
- Liberal arts students — 43%
- Educations students — 52%
- Medical students — 63%
- Law students — 63%
- Business students — 75%
How does it make you feel to know that the doctor who’s going to operate on you cheated in school? Or that there is a 75% chance that the company you’re going to work for is led by someone who didn’t consider honesty important? Further, that 75% of MBAs were willing to understate expenses that would cut into profits; and worse, that minimum-security prisoners scored as high as MBA students on their ethical dilemma exams.
Talk about a crisis of trust!
The economics of trust are simple:
TRUST = SPEED COST
So what must we do to reverse the trend? We must learn to TRUST; to see, talk, and act, in ways that establish, grow, extend, and restore trust … with all stakeholders.
It’s up to us, each of us, to make a difference in an untrusting world. But we won’t solve a problem we don’t have; so, first we must believe that there is value in doing just that. Most don’t!