45% of respondents to a Tolero Solutions survey indicated that a lack of trust in leadership was the biggest issue impacting their work performance.
A lack of trust in leadership is an advanced state emergency that can’t be dismissed or taken lightly. No one wants to work in an organization where they doubt others’ intentions, judgment, or actions. Motivation and morale are diminished when employees believe that leadership isn’t trustworthy. Engagement suffers, and the domino effect results in decreases in employee retention rates, productivity levels, customer satisfaction, top line revenue, and profit margins.
In other words, businesses are adversely impacted when there’s a lack of trust in leadership.
You don’t want to let this happen to your organization. You don’t want to be a leader who isn’t trusted and, therefore, causes these negative outcomes. Proactively, you’ll want to address any issues that impair trust.
What Causes a Lack of Trust in Leadership?
From the vantage point of frontline contributors, trust in an organization’s leaders has little to do with profit margin, stock performance, strategic goal attainment, or operating metrics. Instead, trust in leadership is based on personal impacts. Employees trust leaders who:
- Understand the issues that that employees encounter with customers, systems, changes, and day-to-day responsibilities.
- Make an effort to spend time with, listen to, and consider input from employees.
- Demonstrate appreciation for, recognition of, and effort by employees at all levels.
- Make decisions that inspire and excite others vs. making decisions that are mysterious or cause people to feel their livelihoods are at risk.
- Mean what they say and say what they mean. The values they profess are aligned with the actions they take.
There are qualities and characteristics of leaders that contribute to these outcomes. Trust is improved when leaders are:
Relatable: able to be connected or linked; someone who’s easy to form a social or emotional connection with.
Relatable leaders are knowable and open. They interact with people instead of isolating themselves in ivory towers. They take an interest in people and see employees as more than their job titles. They smile and nod when they pass others in the hall. They have casual conversations in the elevator. They seem more human-to-human than bigwig-to-peon.
Competent: having suitable or sufficient skill, knowledge or experience for the purpose or role assigned.
Competent leaders have experience and skills in leading, not just in functional areas. They talk about the big picture and don’t operate in silos. They make good decisions because they’re good at asking questions and involving others.
Transparent: easily seen through, recognized or detected; open; obvious.
Transparent leaders share information and explain decisions. They answer questions and make themselves available for dialogue. They set clear expectations and communicate them effectively. They are honest and admit their failures.
Credible: believable; worthy of belief or confidence; trustworthy.
Credible leaders are consistent and predictable. People can depend on them to make good on their promises. They follow through on their commitments. A previous post in this series examined the importance of source credibility, and the CONNECT2Lead Blog often explores aspects of leadership credibility.
Objective: not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased.
Objective leaders evaluate options based on input from others – a variety of others, not just a few select “favorites.” They proactively seek diverse points of view. They do not operate in an “echo chamber” surrounded by “yes men” or sycophants. They set aside personal biases and are humble enough to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers.
When leaders aren’t objective, others see this as a blind spot or stubbornness. It can show up as favoritism when a leader relies on a single or too few contributors for information and advice. When leaders make subjective decisions, people are less likely to understand them and won’t be as confident about those decisions.
Subjective inputs do have a place in the process of decision-making, but leaders who only operate with subjective inputs alienate others. This can happen even when people benefit from subjective decisions. Being the beneficiary of a bad decision doesn’t necessarily translate into trusting the person who made a poor decision. Instead, people are apt to think of that leader as a “pushover” or someone who can be easily manipulated by emotions or certain influences.
To be objective, leaders have to find sources that are objective (or to find sources on all sides of an issue and then given them equal weight when taking in the information). Although it’s increasingly difficult to avoid information overload, people expect leaders to choose quality information sources and recognize sources that aren’t objective and credible.
Discernment and Scrutiny Equip You to Spot Sources that Aren’t Objective
When selecting sources, our natural instinct is to trust the ones that confirm what we already believe. This is known as confirmation bias, and it’s a powerful force.
Another powerful influence on source selection is familiarity bias. The sources we know best are the ones we return to, out of habit and trust that comes from that history.
The third factor that influences what source we turn to is the paradox of choice. The more choices we have, the more overwhelmed we feel. As a result, we go with what we know instead of considering new or different options.
These heuristics or mental shortcuts seem efficient and expedient. In the long run, though, they may compromise a leader’s trustworthiness. Leaders who aren’t fully informed make bad decisions. Leaders who don’t consider all the angles alienate people. And leaders who presume they have objective, unbiased sources giving them the facts are at risk of looking like the emperor who had no clothes.
Subjectivity is far more common that objectivity. Some sources have an agenda and work to advance it by presenting information in ways that are intellectually dishonest. Other sources inadvertently lost their objectivity because they have passionate beliefs that sway them or because they, themselves, are relying on non-objective sources.
The quest for objectivity is not something that’s celebrated or encouraged. Instead, news sources and “inner circle” advisors champion themselves and discourage people from seeking a variety of inputs.
So what’s a leader who wants objective information to do?
Get finicky. Be discerning and scrutinize the information presented to you, even the information that comes from your go-to sources.
These five tips will get you started.
- Recognize that we all have hidden biases. Work to overcome yours and recognize others’.
- Be wary of sources that seek to persuade you under the guise of informing you. This takes many forms and is prevalent in our highly charged partisan times. The more we see it displayed, the more we emulate it in our day-to-day interactions, too. Be especially on the lookout for:
- Propaganda (see previous article)
- Incomplete information like soundbites or video clips
- Repackaging that leads you to a pre-determined conclusions (vs. giving you enough information to draw your own, fully informed conclusion).
- Advocacy that isn’t backed by facts
- Look for both sides of an issue. If only one POV is represented, that source is subjective or biased. Find an equal amount of counterpoint information elsewhere or keep searching for sources that present both sides.
- Question everything. Peel back the layers to understand the original source and how data, research, studies, or other facts were determined.
- Don’t accept what you see or hear at face value. That makes you vulnerable to being led astray. As the world becomes increasingly complex, our desire to simplify can become very self-limiting.
Good information is out there. The extra effort to find it and understand it is well worth it when you preserve others’ trust and remain open to inputs from all perspectives.
Critical Thinking and Openness to New Ideas Equip You to be More Objective
Strong critical thinkers have an advantage. They can spot a logical fallacy or shell-game of verbal gymnastics right away. They aren’t easily lulled by style over substance. They pursue and get higher quality information faster than others and make better decisions because of it.
To build critical thinking skills, check out this playlist of short videos and prepare to make simple adjustments in your workplace, including:
- Set expectations for others to bring you information for and against their own ideas. Invite and encourage dissension, mine for conflict, and proactively seek a diversity of thought.
- Set an example of openness to learning and appreciation for differing views. Resist the urge to act swiftly and, instead, make decisions only after you’ve heard enough information to equally consider options.
- Set aside your own unconscious biases. We’ll explore those in greater depth in our next article here in the CONNECT2Lead Blog. In the meantime, don’t deny that you have them. We all do. The only way to get past them is to acknowledge them and to challenge yourself when they start to steer you a certain direction.
- Value objectivity. Let people know that you have more interest in facts than emotion when it comes to evaluating options. Publicly recognize those who learn to share information without advocacy and allow others to process neutral information vs. reacting to a cause.
- Ask questions and probe to teach others (and yourself!) what it sounds like to be objective. Monitor your own body language and cues you give others. Confirmation bias will cause you to smile, nod, and lean in when you hear something you like. Those subtle signals will shut down differing views that others might otherwise offer. Instead, remain neutral and ask questions even when you generally agree with what’s been offered.
In the coming weeks, here in the CONNECT2Lead Blog, we’ll look more specifically at unconscious biases that influence our ability to be discerning, questioning skills for leaders, and the telltale signs of information manipulation.
Your leadership effectiveness will be enhanced by an improved discernment of source and a more objective view of information. To prevent a lack of trust in leadership, promote objectivity.