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LEADERS WANTED: Creative, ethical, emotionally intelligent, assertive (not aggressive) inspiring and passionate

August 12, 2010

Trust in leadership has taken a big hit in the past few years, reaching all time lows in public perception since the economic downturn.

In a recent Rasmussen poll, the CEO’s of the nation’s largest corporations were viewed favorably by just 22% of American adults, lower even than the ratings earned by members of Congress!

A poll conducted in the UK found that only 15% of employees totally trust their managers – and 85% are also in doubt about information given to them from above. Granted, we know that historically polls usually show higher trust numbers for worker’s immediate bosses, but these numbers are dismal in any measurement.

Employees are understandably more cynical about leaders than ever before. The illusory self-protection of cynicism is not only personally corrosive but carries huge implications and challenges for an economy that needs the commitment of its workers more than ever.

The question is – where are these numbers going and how will these huge trust issues impact the business environment in general? 

The economics of the past nearly two years have been game changers. The dislocation and fear created during the fallout from this recession have dramatically impacted worker’s trust issues and raised serious questions for leaders at every level.

In most cases overburdened, stressed-out workers are managing with diminished resources and are operating on the fumes of the fight or flight response. Many employees, asked to do more and more to salvage their jobs and the company, are continuously rising to the occasion. That’s a major reason why “productivity” levels are still rising (as are profits!). Many people are performing with the constant anxiety that their jobs may not be secure.

While it may be true that people are staying put now in a buyer’s market workplace, their situation is not sustainable.

The 2009 Emerging Workforce Study revealed that employers are significantly underestimating worker retention rates. While companies in the study planned for turnover rates of 14%, the research showed that 26% of workers surveyed plan to leave their jobs when the market stabilizes.

The study identified two significant cultural trends that can have an impact on a company’s success in the near future – the role of social media and a desire for workers to feel more connected to their employer!

People can’t do their best work when their dominate feelings are anxiety, worry and frustration. But most critically, they can’t perform well without – trust. And leaders can’t lead without respect.

Leaders must address issues that contribte to the conditions for trust and respect to be restored (if it was there in any form to begin with)

Let’s begin with what leaders should avoid doing.

Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter listed the negative actions leaders often take during turbulent times. They include:

  • Taking shortcuts that undermine culture and values
  • Exercising too much control
  • Diverting employees from urgent tasks that ignore what is really going on in the culture
  • Risking that rumors become the dominant information due to weak communication
  • Create more anxiety from poor communication regarding uncertainties
  • Create no outlets for emotions

We want to reinforce the importance of this last bullet pointed item!

Professor Kanter points out that when there is no outlet for emotions. “Anger and grief mount with no way to express or deal with these emotions. People might start acting in strange ways, undermining teamwork. Solution: Create facilitated sessions for venting. .  Teach managers about dealing with trauma and ensure that they acknowledge people’s grief and anxiety.”

Eight Critical Steps All Leaders Need to Take Now

1.      Attend to communication issues at all levels (starting with your own) Demonstrate that despite uncertainties and challenges there is a commitment to honest and clear communication

2.     Be Real.  Cynicism is at an all time high. People can sniff out a lack of authenticity a mile away. 

3.     Model the role of Emotional Intelligence (EI) in your interpersonal, team and organizational roles.

4.     Identify, understand and strive to clean up the trust leaks that are apparent and hidden.

5.     Give employees consistent and regular opportunities to ask questions and express what they feel – and need.  Even if you don’t know all the answers and can’t deliver precisely what people want – your sincere attention to their concerns will be hugely appreciated.

6.     Recognize. Praise. Acknowledge.  

7.     Be clear and accountable about expectations, while giving people ample autonomy and authority.

8.     Give employees support in the dealing with the stress loads they are carrying (where possible provide all types of coaching, onsite and outside programs and work flex scheduling)

Every one of these steps makes a difference. It’s a leader’s job to create the conditions to support employee success – not add to the emotional albatross most people are carrying around these days. Give people more than you take.

You’ll need all of the qualities listed in the LEADERS WANTED qualifications above. They will not guarantee your success or the economic security of the company – but one thing is certain – it’s going to be a much longer and harder road ahead without them.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2010 10:06 am

    Nice post! I think trust in general – both inside and outside the workplace – is really low. Your 8 steps can help create a culture of increased trust and quite simply just make good business sense. Along with creating ways for folks to vent, I find it helpful to include or follow up with sessions that look for real solutions – with leadership sincerely involved and not just giving lip service. This way employee feelings are validated (rather than being tamped down) and they also can help create their own outlets for hope.

    • August 12, 2010 10:41 am

      Dear Ronnie,

      Thanks for the comments. Yes, trust is at a very low at this point, and some employers are just not getting the implications of those feelings.

      Great point about the follow-up and in retrospective I don’t think vent is a great word to use (although it was Rosabeth Kanter’s from HBR). Vent carries with it all sorts of connotations of unresolved emotions. One thing we urge team leaders and managers do is to routinely create opportunites for people to express what they feel and think without a task oriented agenda.
      As you know George and I have done a lot of work (and George still does the American Management course on Assertive communication) so we have a “model” for the differences between acting assertively and aggressively. We find that the terms and behaviors are widely misunderstood but when you get people together in a group and create “profiles” for the two, there is a clear and vast difference in the communication style and impact. While they are both “going after what we need and want in the world energies,” how they are perceived and felt in communication is the essence of the difference.
      Thx again for sharing your thoughts!

  2. August 12, 2010 10:08 am

    P.S. When you say “not aggressive” reminds me I was once called “pleasantly aggressive” by an SVP. I always liked that. 😉


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