A Conversation with Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau
Coauthors of THE TRUSTED LEADER
We all understand how
trust broke down at Enron and Andersen, but how does broken
trust manifest itself in the every day workplaces of smaller
It happens when employees perceive that promises have been
broken or people aren't playing fair, and management seems
not to care about correcting it. The most obvious examples
are seen when, in the course of political battles and finger-pointing
between departments, managers ignore or minimize those very
real conflicts between or among groups or individuals.
Why is trust inside an organization
different from all other forms of trust?
Simply put, short of changing jobs, there's no escape from
the relationships that make up your organization. If you don't
trust your broker, your lawyer, or your rental car company,
you can fire them. You can't easily fire your marketing department,
the entire sales team, or all the people in a particular office
across the country. Instead of giving up and moving on, you
have to invest an enormous amount of attention in strengthening
the relationships inside your organization.
How did you come to write
this book and what gives you the authority to write on trust?
For many years we have taught executives about building trust
with clients and customers. In the course of that work, it
became increasingly clear that companies with trust inside
their organizations were the ones who succeeded at building
trust with their customers and clients. It also became clear
that trust inside was sorely lacking at many levels and across
Why do you compare trusted
leadership to a bank account?
When you manage trust over the long term, you accumulate deposits
in your company's "trust bank." Where there is a
history of trust, people are more inclined to give the company
the benefit of the doubt in tough or questionable situations.
Your account balance can provide a strong buffer that is worth
the investment. You'd be surprised how quickly it can drop
to zero, and how few withdrawals it takes before that happens.
What is the most common example
of broken trust that you see again and again?
Breaking promises that never should have been made in the
first place such as "There will be no more layoffs"
or "This will not have an effect on bonuses." It's
not an issue of malice; it's an issue of inattention
What is the biggest mistake
managers make when trying to rebuild trust that has been broken?
Trying to minimize a problem or put a quick fix on something
that may not lend itself to a quick fix. Sort of like trying
to cover a still-open wound with cosmetics. A common example
of this is when, after a trust-breaking episode, an executive
says, all too rapidly, something like "Well, we've taken
care of that problem and we're sure it'll never happen again.
Now let's all get back to work!"
If one member of a team has
a dominating style or an outsized ego, how does this affect
organizational trust and what can a leader do?
There are lots of us in business with " big" styles
and "big" egos. But when they verge on the dysfunctional,
people rebel, either overtly or quietly. The quiet rebellions
are often the most dangerous. You have to know how to identify
the whisperings, get the issues out into the open, and solve
them quickly before mistrust spins out of control. As a leader,
it's your job to keep those styles and egos (yours and other
people's) in check.
You write that inconsistent
messaging is one of the easiest ways to lose trust. What is
the most common example of inconsistent messaging and its
Again and again, we'll hear about a leader who shifts the
priorities of the company or a department, apparently midstream,
and without sufficient explanation to the rest of the company.
If you're going to shift direction or change goals, you must
let everybody know why.
Why is it so important to
be fast when acknowledging a breach of trust?
If you let it linger, people wonder where their leaders are,
and why they are ignoring it. Are they trying to cover it
up or spin it? Are they paralyzed by it? Trying to deny or
minimize the breach? Even if you don't yet have the answers,
you still have to be visible and to be straight with people.
What leaders or companies
are breaking ground today in trusted leadership?
It's less a question of breaking ground than it is of making
trust an explicit part of leadership behavior, and doing one's
best to perpetuate that. I see those efforts in large companies
like National City Corporation, a large bank in the Midwest,
and smaller places like Health Dialog, a company involved
in improving health care delivery through better patient-physician
How is today's economic
slowdown affecting standards of trust in the workplace?
The most obvious effect is echoed in five simple words: "Will
I get laid off?" When a company is desperately trying
to stay afloat in hard times, sometimes people unite like
never before in the fight for the company's well-being, while
in other situations, the office becomes a survival competition
where everyone is fighting against each other to make sure
he or she won't be the next to get voted off the island!
What trust concerns should
be heeded when companies implement performance reviews, incentive
programs, and flexible work environments?
- Consider whether your rewards criteria
overvalue individual performance over success of the team.
Otherwise you are bound to foster unhealthy competition.
- Set guidelines, not policies. Policies can come back
to bite you when they're too black and white. And the more
bureaucratic and political the policy, the greater the risk
of losing trust.
- Just because you've explained a policy clearly once, be
prepared to explain it clearly many, many times. People
don't always understand it the first time.
- Don't install them unless you fully intend to maintain
them, support them, and ensure compliance with them across
the organization. Otherwise, it will hurt you more than
it will help you in the long run.
- Try not to implement anything you might have to unwind
later. It's hard to backtrack on these kinds of things.
People take them too seriously.
What is the one piece of advice
that all managers should try to remember each day in order
to maintain trust?
Remember the Four "O's": Openness, Objectivity,