Trust is a Key Organizational Ingredient

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Businesses that look to the next generation of leaders have created their own templates: a composite profile of the traits that are necessary to thrive in the C-Suite. What is/was considered leadership potential differs in organizations. And because priorities differ, some emphasize authenticity; some a high EQ; and some, strong strategic thinking.

How a leader is selected depends on what a company believes is the most pressing matter, such as stiffer competition, stock price or the need to enter and thrive in new markets. But the key ingredient is trust.

Maybe this is due to the approaches businesses are taking with respect to redefining what comprises leadership, while de-emphasizing the hierarchical structure of business. The age-old vertical structure virtually screamed, “I am the top dog and here is my inner circle.” Think of the leaders of yore: Lou Gerstner of IBM, Jack Welch of GE and Maurice Greenberg of AIG (though the latter, while clearly the leader, did not exercise the trust factor).

With the trend toward decentralized management or a more horizontal structure, there is less of a wall or boundary between the company leader, his/her employees, vendors and other related third parties. This diminution of perceived power means that titles become less important. What has gained more traction is the ability to ingratiate oneself with whom you will be cooperating on reaching predefined goals or an understanding of how relationships will be forged.

Trust is the Key

As Warren Bennis had said: “Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.”   If a company leader or a managing partner can influence others to trust him or her, they will have an easier time of collaboration. And if these individuals follow a clearly articulated set of values and principles, any deviation from the norm will be called out and rejected. And the staff level will not matter.

When developing leaders, trust must be the core principle. Trust can be between two people or an organization and another institution, or myriad other possibilities. The person who trusts will certainly be risking exposure; the person seeking to be trusted needs to take all the steps to ensure trustworthiness.

Keep in mind, that trust cannot be cultivated and grown if only one party maneuvers to be trusted, but will not make the effort to trust another. This will result in a breakdown of relationships between individuals and businesses. Leadership development requires to trust and be trusted.

Because of the transformation of business to the next generation(s), the textbook teachings of values, patience, tolerance – as well as trust – will undergo tremendous pressure. I expect that there will be some middle ground struck that minimizes the chances of sounding “above the fray” or being moralistic; either one is a turn off because they sound like distrust.

How does one trust without being sure? If you need to confirm, this can destroy a relationship. (There are–and need to be–exceptions: Reagan and the Russians in the 1980s.) It all comes down to minimizing risk while maintaining the relationship.

Will the next generation come up with a winning formula based on what we see happening in business today, such as in Silicon Valley or Wall Street?

It is important for the next generation to believe in the concept of trust. To trust and be trusted, leaders must self-assess and be sure they can trust themselves; announce to the company or the practice what the goals and their intentions are; practice what is being preached; and create a culture where trust leads to inspiration and enthusiasm.

Whether in business, government or academia, all this is not easy, to be sure. But it’s sure worth a try.

About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at