It’s Faux Trust

September 28, 2013

?????????????????I get a lot of gift catalogs and always chuckle when they advertise the “faux plants.” Why they do not call them “fake plants” is pretty obvious. Nobody would want to buy something fake, so they give the items a fancy name as if that is really going to fool anyone. They keep doing it, so the method must be working for them.

I work in the arena of trust, and I think the notion of “faux trust” is one worth exploring. Stephen M.R. Covey dealt with the topic of faux trust behaviors very well in his first book, The Speed of Trust. Stephen identified 13 key trust behaviors and then identified the opposite behavior and also what he called the “counterfeit” behavior: one that looks real but is not genuine. Here is the list from Stephen’s book.

Trust Behavior –  Opposite –  Counterfeit

1. Talk straight –  Lie or deceive –  Withholding information
2. Demonstrate respect –  Not respect –  Faking respect
3. Create transparency –  Cover up –  Hidden agendas
4. Right wrongs –  Justify wrongs –  Covering up or hiding
5. Show loyalty –  Take credit yourself – Being two-faced
6. Deliver results –  Perform poorly –  Doing busywork
7. Get better –  Deteriorate –  Eternal student
8. Confront reality –  Ignore reality –  Evade reality
9. Clarify expectations –  Leave undefined –  Guessing
10. Practice accountability –  Not taking responsibility –  Blaming others
11. Listen first –  Speak first –  False listening
12. Keep commitments –  Violate promises –  Overpromising
13. Extend trust –  Withhold trust –  Extend false trust

In this article, I will pick up where Stephen’s list leaves off. I want to explore the issue of false trust and see what it looks like. If you look at a faux potted plant very closely, you can determine that it is plastic rather than real leaves and stems. Often the one thing that gives away the ruse is that the “Faux plant” is too perfect. Real plants have some imperfections or dead parts that show up under close examination. So it is with faux trust; the appearance is too perfect for the real world, and that becomes one of the telltale ways we can identify the fake. Let’s look at 10 examples:

1. The issue of risk. Real trust involves a willingness to take some calculated risks. Actually, that is one of the ways trust is defined. If I really do trust a person, then I do not need to see whether he is sneaking behind my back. When Ronald Reagan uttered the words “Trust but verify,” he was revealing a kind of faux trust toward the Russians. It sounded too perfect, and it was.

2. The issue of safety. True trust means the absence of fear. If I trust my boss not to clobber me when I have a contrarian opinion, that means I believe he will not find some way to get back at me. Too often leaders indicate that it is safe to challenge the boss, but end up punishing people when they do it. People quickly learn the plea for openness is really a smoke screen, and they clam up.

3. The issue of hypocrisy. Real trust means the leader always does what he says he will do. It is easy to spot the faux variety of trust when the boss rationalizes why he is bending the rules in his favor. It is always possible to explain away the situation, but the damage done to trust will remain like the smell of a skunk long after the animal has left the area.

4. The issue of favorites. Trust is built on a sense of fairness where people recognize why things are being done a certain way. Ironically, it does not rely on treating everyone the same way. In fact, the late John Wooden, former basketball coach for UCLA, made a remarkable statement about favorites. He said, “The surest way for a coach to play favorites is to treat every player the same way.” That sounds like doubletalk until you realize that each player has unique needs, so treating each player the same as every other one will inevitably advantage one player over another.

5. The issue of the Golden Rule. Faux trust relies on treating people the way you would like to be treated. Some people like to use the “Platinum Rule,” which states “treat other people the way they would like to be treated,” but that one does not work either. The true trust relies on treating every individual the right way, not always how you or they would like to be treated.

6. The issue of accountability. Faux trust means holding people accountable when they do something wrong. True trust means giving feedback when an employee does something right as well as when she does something wrong.

7. The issue of sustainability. Faux trust means giving lip service to the environment and doing so to be politically correct. Genuine trust means always displaying a deep respect for the implications of one’s actions on the planet and acting that way always.

8. The issue of values. True trust means actually living the values each day and explaining to people why certain actions are consistent with those values. Faux trust means there is a set of values on the wall, but we really do not act consistent with them in some cases.

9. The issue of care. Faux trust means leaders talk a good game about really caring for employees, but tolerate huge multiples of more than 500 times between their salary and those of the workers. Real trust means not giving lip service to the issue of caring for others.

10. The issue of admitting mistakes. Faux trust means finding ways to hide the mistakes, pretend they did not happen, blame them on circumstances or other people, and find ways to understate their significance. True trust behavior readily admits mistakes because the leader recognizes that to admit a mistake makes her more human and therefore nearly always increases respect and trust.

I could go on with dozens of additional examples of faux trust versus the real thing. People in any workforce pick up on any inconsistency on the part of leaders. Their eyes are well trained to spot the plastic trust. Once they see the shrub as a fake plant, then from that point on, they will see the decoration for what it is. True, they do not need to water and tend the plant and it will always look reasonable, just as people in a low trust organization will dutifully comply with whatever rules the boss mandates.

The true test of leadership is to have the courage and strength to deliver genuine trust in every case. Let the competition deal with the faux variety of trust.

Neon Hypocrisy

March 19, 2011

Many organizations (perhaps most of them) have a value that states, “People are our most important asset.” It stands to reason why this should be the case. People are usually the biggest expense item in the budget of an organization. They hold the intellectual capital of the organization. They do the research on future streams of products. They produce the current products or services. They sell the output of the organization. They work with the suppliers and vendors who make production possible. They administer the business and keep things working financially. So, any organization would be insane to not recognize that people really are their most important asset.

You can see the phrase on the values plaque in the lobby of most companies. In fact, it is often the number one or number two value listed because it comes out first as the top brass sit down to dream up things like values statements. The problem is that the dreaming phase does not match the execution phase. It is in the daily actions of managers and leaders at all levels that the hypocrisy of the statement shines like a neon sign to everyone who works in the company. Most managers simply do not act as if they believe people are the most important asset. Most employees walk past the values plaque in the lobby and don’t pay any attention to it. After all, if management is not behaving consistently with the value, why should employees believe the value is operational?

Meanwhile, in the conference rooms, computer notes, offices, private discussions, decision meetings, town hall meetings, and every possible form of interaction, managers are dealing with the business of business and ignoring the neon value sitting out in the lobby.

As younger generation workers begin to filter in from high school and colleges, a greater sense of personal self esteem is arriving with them, and organizations will need to show more respect for people than in the past. Younger generations are not willing to endure corporate jargon that does not match observable behavior, and it is not just a corporate phenomenon either. We can clearly see a trend of less tolerance for duplicity in the broader society as we witness social unrest all over the world from the “Tea-Party” to the riots in Egypt. People seek an environment that fulfills their sense of purpose. They are less tolerant of corruption from the Town Hall to the Union Hall. If leaders are going to spout out platitudes about people being the most important organizational asset, they need to start acting that way!

Just imagine what you would see if an organization really did believe in the neon value. What would it look like? Here are some ideas, and you can fill in other examples for yourself:

1. Managers would take the time to interface with most employees on most days. They would not be cloistered in conference rooms, deciding whether or not to tell people about the impending layoff or how to posture the latest benefits cut.

2. Communication would be intended to help engage people, not be a feeble attempt to spin the latest information in an effort to avoid a revolt.

3. People would have a sense that upper management really wants them to get as much development as possible to be able to rise to their potential, rather than having managers check off the boxes to record that each employee had all the mandatory hazard training for the year.

4. Recognition for good work would be spontaneous and light hearted instead of an obligation to be performed begrudgingly and with insincerity.

5. Flexibility would be evident when employees have personal issues or family matters to deal with instead of maintaining strict discipline so managers will not be accused of playing favorites.

6. Trust would be in abundant evidence in all matters rather than a CYA mentality to document all forms of behavior not according to strict guidelines.

7. CEOs would not tolerate a multiple of 300X between their salary and that of an average production worker.

8. Ethical decisions would be made because it is just good business rather than to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

9. Corporate jets would be sold, so top leaders would deal with the same travel hassles as their “most important asset.”

10. Management washrooms would be gutted and made into cultural centers where all employees could learn to appreciate each other more.

11. Organizations would welcome social networking and transparency rather than try to seek ways to restrict these trends out of fear of being exposed.

12. Managers would spend less energy trying to explain financial performance to Wall Street and more energy trying to improve the culture of their organization.

13. Leaders at all levels would learn the value of praising people who express a concern about inconsistencies. Thus, they would be building higher trust on a daily basis by reinforcing candor.

I believe the neon value is a wonderful ideal. It does express the right attitude toward the value of people. We need to encourage all leaders to make their actions and policies be consistent with the words. Some organizations have been able to accomplish that to a large degree. These groups have reached the status of the best companies to work for in America. Leaders who habitually pay lip service to the neon value will feel more and more like Hosni Mubarak sitting in his palace watching the mob outside throwing stones at the windows.