In corporate America today, talk is cheap - especially when it comes to leaders and their ability to build and maintain trust.
Just ask any employee. To them, actions and results are what matter most. It's hard to escape seeing newspaper headlines that chronicle the latest corporate scandal, reminding us of the disastrous consequences when the actions of corporate leaders don't match their words. Today, employees are putting company leaders of all levels on notice that when it comes to earning trust, they had better work a little harder.
Trust is elusive. It takes a lot of hard work to earn, but very little effort to lose. Maintaining it takes conscious effort and skill, but once lost, it can be nearly impossible to get back. As communications pros, we're constantly grappling with ways to help our senior leaders become more trustworthy.
A recent Zogby poll found 98% of people surveyed believed honesty and trust are important in the workplace. But it also found that 69% of people ranked the trustworthiness of corporate leaders as "low." And the poll didn't directly ask how employees perceived the trustworthiness of their immediate supervisor. It should have because trust is the most vital issue today for business leaders of all levels.
The question I often hear is: How do I get staffers to trust me?
We're not just talking about managing reputation. It's about creating a deep bond of believability between executive and manager, superior and subordinate, that motivates employees to put forth the effort needed to make their organization successful. Doing this well requires a new set of skills, which is why I believe today's leaders have entered a new era: the era of the "leader-communicator."
Leader-communicators recognize the essential role of communication in building a culture of trust within an organization. They are a special breed who understand they are responsible for delivering the messages that inspire employees to create a better future.
Leader-communicators also recognize that you can't simply say and do the right things once in a while. They consistently deliver the same messages and actions across all of their business relationships because they know that trust is earned when their actions match their words. They also understand that a trusting staff is more likely to project a positive external company image that fosters customer loyalty and trust.
It is our responsibility as communications pros to help today's good leaders become great, trustworthy leader-communicators. We must do our part to ensure our leaders respect the basic paradigms on which trust is built: understanding every employee's communication needs, engaging in real, two-way dialogue that creates shared meaning, and most important, reinforcing words with actions.
Many leaders aren't chosen because they are good communicators. I remind my students often that communication is a learned skill, requiring constant practice. It's our obligation to be role models first and help them see the value of these skills.
If we do our jobs well, we can take pride in knowing that we are creating a culture built on trust that is poised to achieve shared, long-term success. The opportunity is now. We are uniquely qualified to help today's leader- communicators. Trust me.
David Grossman is principal of David Grossman & Associates and teaches internal communications at Columbia University's strategic communications master's program.