Inspiring Trust in Distrustful Times
From the corporate world to the halls of government, people have reached a point of unparalleled distrust in their leaders. I have written previously on the topic, such as the 3-part series on Ethical Leadership in the Age of Relativism. In that piece, we established as a baseline that leaders who cheat in their personal or professional lives are still, usually, frowned upon and that yes, in fact, people still care about ethics and morality. If the C-Suite is ground-zero for building an organizational commitment to ethics, then CEOs and the Boards that direct them need to get real about ethics and the difficulty they will encounter when facing an ethical dilemma.
A reputation for ethics all starts within the organization, residing in the priorities, principles and effectiveness of the enterprise’s top leaders. Here are some indisputable characteristics of an effective ethical leader:
- Principled, committed, purpose-driven
- Above moral reproach to command respect
- Accessible, and transparent
- A good role model who sets a positive example (no “Do as I say, not as I do” leadership here!)
- Willing to give credit where it’s due rather than hogging the limelight
- Flexible, with an understanding of when to go by the book and when to bend the rules
- As concerned about employee satisfaction as customer satisfaction
- Swift and sure response to ethical violations
Being the boss in difficult situations is clearly a challenge, but one worth rising to. Strategy + Business columnist Eric J. McNulty tackled the thorny question of how to project authority in a time when leaders are often second-guessed, doubted or distrusted. (Jun. 5, McNulty) McNulty noted that the latest Edelman survey found an unprecedented level of distrust in leadership figures in companies or government. He found that factors such as discomfort with the rate at which business is evolving and the fear of losing a current job are spurring the general sense of worry that has taken hold.
What can leaders do to set themselves apart from the faceless bosses that have people so worried? McNulty pointed to the same Edelman study for answers. For instance, workers stated that they value leaders who value them – good work environments reflect well on the leaders who oversee them. CEOs and other high-ranking executives are closely identified with the companies they lead. This means that managers can benefit from trust placed in their organizations, cultivated in ways such as paying taxes instead of using havens, as well as providing high-quality goods or services.
Subscribe to Return on Leadership to receive a bi-weekly round-up of the most provocative and important news and insights from leading business thinkers focused on the issues driving current-day strategy and board governance.