A former boss once offered the following advice: "People do what you inspect, not what you expect."
He was referring to interactions with subordinates and senior executives. What he described was the difference between management and leadership. Many in management emphasize execution. Leadership depends much more on trust.
Bosses will get results from employees. They control whether paychecks come from the organization or from a social service agency. But as Robert Solomon and Fernando Flores write in their book Building Trust in Business, Politics, Relationships and Life, whether the leaders earn their trust is a different issue, and executives ignore the difference at their peril. "Without trust," they warn, "the corporate community is reduced to a group of resentful wage slaves and defensive, if not ambitious, managers."
For communicators who manage up, down, and sideways, establishing trust creates a more positive environment. It inspires staff to do what it takes to get the job done well, instead of just doing the job. It enables colleagues to share critical information and gives communicators influence at all levels. Trust is a combination of honesty, empathy, and loyalty that's evidenced through actions and earned over time.
Think about the most heralded leaders. What made them great wasn't attention to detail or the fact that they accomplished a goal. Even dictators can claim progress. Their greatness stemmed from an ability to get others to see, share in, and execute their vision.
Solomon and Flores explain that trust is an "emotional skill, an active and dynamic part of our lives that we build and sustain with our promises and commitments." It's not about being perfect. People make mistakes, and when they do, it provides an opportunity to make a deposit in the bank of trust by being honest, forthright, and understanding when the error isn't one's own.
Some believe that trust is selfless. Trust doesn't mean being naïve. In personal relationships people expect partners to put their views and feelings above all else. In business, trust is built on the ability to improve organizational position as well as honesty. And there is a mutual benefit, or as Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of PBS' Washington Week puts it, there are times when people work together because "if one lets go, we both die." Pure selflessness doesn't happen in personal relationships either. Prenuptial agreements exist because life happens and things change.
Trust in business extends to an organization's relationship with the public. At least 64% of opinion leaders surveyed in the Edelman Trust Barometer said they had refused to buy the products or services of a company they did not trust. Roughly half of opinion leaders surveyed in the US, Canada, France, Germany, and Spain had refused to accept employment with a company they didn't trust.
What was true in ancient Rome is still relevant today. Latin philosopher Publilius Syrus once wrote, "It is better to trust virtue than fortune."
Lisa Davis is VP of corporate communications at AstraZeneca. Each month, she looks at a different aspect of counseling senior management from an in-house viewpoint. If you have any comments or suggestions, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.