Transforming Leadership And Trust In The Organization

Leadership-and-trustThe following is a guest piece from author David Amerland.

There is a change happening at the very top of the organizational hierarchy that, like a weather vane, reflects some of the fundamental changes happening across every organization and the marketplace they operate in. When organizations were hidden behind opaque operational fronts and top-down, one-way marketing, a leader was expected to play the role of an omnipotent god.

As recently as 2005 leadership theory talked about personality traits that leaders possessed, debated whether leaders are born or made and focused much of its work on how to identify and groom leaders so they can take over and lead those who worked for them.

Trust in the organization was created by its perceived status as a business and a whole lot of money spent in creating slick veneers and expensive advertising. Trust in an organization’s leader was created by their philosophy of leadership, their personality, or their style of management. Everything was compartmentalized and everything was strictly managed.

This is what has happened between that time and now:

  • The market place has become a transparent, diffuse world where potential customers demand accountability and are more than competent at judging the reputation of a business on their own.
  • Communication within the organization changed from a top-down affair to a broader dialogue between management and managed where style as well as substance are important, open communication is key and frankness has real value.
  • Marketing became part of a broader, social media dialogue taking place between a brand and its customers. The dialogue became key to capturing customers in the attention economy we are in.
  • Trust became the critical element upon which relationships were built both inside and outside the organization.

As a result the classic four steps of marketing formulated by Jerome McCarthy over half a century ago which produced the marketing mix of Product, Place, Price and Promotion morphed into the 4Es of Experience, Everywhere, Exchange (of value) and Evangelism of the social media age.

The transition has placed emphasis from what the organization needs to what matters to its customers. It also has had an impact on the way leadership works.

When business is done in a flat, largely transparent, highly interactive and very vocal environment traditional vertical power structures and top-down, command-and-control approaches begin to have a detrimental effect in the way a business is perceived by its customers.

The Power of Trust
Within the organization a ‘boss’ can theoretically fire and hire employees on a whim giving him ultimate control over everybody within it, such attitude however would be so catastrophic today, in terms of employee morale, productivity, reputation, business culture and business performance that it’s not even a consideration.

When leaders can no longer trust on power to deliver a message and effect a desired outcome they have to rely on the power of trust to achieve their goals and this is where things get truly interesting.

Trust is the key requirement for any relational exchange to take place. Whether that relational exchange is the agreement of shared values and a common mission within the organization or a shared journey with common goals between a business and its customers it is the sense of trust in each other that actually makes it possible.

For trust to emerge however a relationship needs to be established and for a relationship to work there has to be a clearly defined framework within which it operates.

This is where trust and leadership suddenly become synonymous. One of the many scholarly definitions of trust states that trust is “a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another”.

Accepting vulnerability is about as far from the 20th century vision of the organization leader as an omnipotent deity as we can possibly get.

Trust is created through a ubiquitous four-stage process:

1. Contact
2. Perception
3. Assessment
4. Connection

While there are many types of trust which range from interpersonal, to algorithmic, to social to organizational, these four stages are inescapable and always present. When they are applied to the role of leadership today they morph into four distinct, actionable steps that mark the organization leader’s role as someone who:

  • Establishes Vision – which allows everyone within the organization to understand what is required of them and why and be inspired by the direction they are all heading towards.
  • Creates Alignment – so that those who are managed find themselves on the same side with those doing the managing and everyone within the organization is on the same side as the customer.
  • Facilitates Evaluation – stressing the importance of everyone understanding the reasons for which something is being done, its importance and how everyone is performing within the framework that has been established.
  • Enables Execution – by removing perceived obstacles, barriers and threats the modern organization leader also clinches the connection between him and those he leads.

The foundation of a great workplace is created by organizational credibility, respect and fairness which form the foundation of trust. The trust that leaders place in those they lead then allows both the leader and his followers to excel.

This is not a momentary event but a series of investments evidenced in actions over time that truly allows success. The real point is that none of these can take place if a culture of trust has not been established, in the first instance.

A culture of trust requires leaders to truly listen to the people they work with, score high on empathy and be seen to be humble. In today’s business world the leader, the organization he leads and the people inside it are part of a company’s brand values.

Consistency, tone, professed values, actions, authenticity and transparency are the elements that are used to establish the sense of trust necessary to build deeper relationships with all stakeholders. All of these require energy, hard work and attention to detail and the kind of commitment that gives them tangible value.

Despite the work involved and the inevitable challenges that attend it, it is all worth it because of a simple fact: Trust is how you monetize the attention economy. Without it all social media marketing efforts are doomed to fail.

With it present in its marketing equation an organization is on its way to acquiring the two parts it needs to dominate its market: Loyal customers and increased market share.

David Amerland is the author of nine best-selling books including “The Tribe That Discovered Trust” and “Google Semantic Search“. He writes for Forbes, and HP UK and blogs on his own website, When he is not writing or surfing the Web he spends time giving speeches internationally on how search and social media are changing everything.

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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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