Mistrust: A Bigger Problem Than Ever Before

The Enron disaster will have a greater impact than most people realize. Because of Enron, now anyone in a management position will have to work that much harder proving their trustworthiness. Here are some ways you can maintain trust in your organization.

The head of ElectroScientific once said, “Trust is the real grease that keeps an organization going.” One of the twelve Boy Scout of America laws is “trustworthy.” How would you like to wake up one morning and find your hard-earned retirement savings just went up in smoke–worthless. And then you see your executives getting bonuses, cashing in their stock when you can’t, and building mansions on all four corners of the country. The Enron disaster will have a greater impact than most people realize. Because of Enron, now anyone in a management position will have to work that much harder proving their trustworthiness. Trust is a key factor needed for effective leadership. The problem today is that you can’t tell or even expect people to trust you… you must prove it first. In God we trust, but all others bring data.

Furthermore, maintaining trust is like walking on eggs–slow going and easily crushed. Even before Enron, my experience as a management consultant shows many executives unintentionally damage their credibility and trust. Here are some ways to maintain a high trust level within your organization.

  • Your personal life is your public life. Your personal life reflects who you really are. If you are in a leadership position, your personal life is open to scrutiny. Your ability to lead others will increase if people respect you. You may not like it, but that is the way it is.
  • Do what you say you will do. How many times has someone told you, “I’ll get back to you on that,” but never followed up? Don’t make promises you can’t or won’t keep. Trust breaks down when promises are broken.
  • Tell the truth all the time. The worst thing you can do is not be open and honest with people. Trying to hide information will always catch up with you. Tell people everything they need to know, even if it’s bad news. It’s better to say too much rather than too little.
  • Treat everyone with respect. You may not like everyone you work with, but you must treat them as if you do. People want to feel they have value and worth as individuals. Give everyone a chance to improve and attempt to understand and place their interests first.
  • Show appreciation. Surprise people by doing something unexpected for them. When you see one of your employees doing something good write them a note of appreciation or walk up and just tell them. They will appreciate you and trust you more.
  • Avoid favoritism. Don’t turn to the same person for help over and over again. Train and develop all your employees so everyone has equal opportunity to prove themselves and the workload is shared equally. Insure all people of color are fairly represented at all levels of the organization and provided the same opportunity for advancement.
  • Consistently enforce the rules. Eliminate unnecessary rules, regulations, and policies, and enforce all the rest. When you selectively enforce policies, mistrust increases. No matter how clear the rules seem to you, everyone has a different perception of the rules. What appears unnecessary to you is important to someone else. Either enforce it or eliminate it.
  • Treat people as equals. Because of the Enron scandal, there will be more pressure on boards and executives to give all employees the same privileges normally reserved for executives. If executives can sell their stock options why can’t other employees? Privileges and perks will be under greater scrutiny by both the media and rank and file.
  • Don’t tell jokes at others’ expense. Telling jokes is a good way to lower your trust quotient. The most harmless jokes will be offensive to someone. Even Dilbert cartoons damage the credibility and trustworthiness of management. They create a perception that all managers are stupid. 
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