It’s a sad commentary, and unfortunately, I hear it too often during my coaching calls, customization interviews and from conference attendees. “My company’s management talks about how transparent and answerable they are, but to be honest, they’re opaque and far from responsible.”
How many times have I heard whispered complaints about leaders who say one thing and then do the other? The same leaders are said to overpromise and underdeliver or play favorites rather than being fair, or gossip about employees behind their backs. Instead of being truthful, such leaders are two-faced, deceptive and even dishonest. They hurt and isolate, mock and demean.
Unfortunately, recent instances abound of these actions. For example, the employment website Resume Builder, has found about 36-percent of hiring managers admit they’ve lied to job candidates about their roles and what is expected of them.
Perhaps a more disturbing situation comes out of Revelio Labs, a company that uses data to analyze workforce trends. They found that DE&I roles began diminishing at a faster rate than non-DE&I positions in 2021. The negative trend accelerated through 2022. So much for DE&I? I sincerely hope not.
Not only do these behaviors damage trust to the point where people throw up their hands and walk away, they instill an organization-wide culture of mistrust. When no one talks to truth suspicion replaces compassion, respect and clarity. The door is then opened for high-turnover and unethical behaviors that ripple through the corporate culture. Good people react and leave after they can no longer take it.
That is exactly what occurred during the 2021 “Great Resignation,” and continues to happen two-years later because some organizations have failed to get the point. Fortunately, it is possible for leaders and subordinates alike to speak to truth and rebuild trust. I’d like to start with the following principles:
7 Important Ways to Speak Your Truth and Build Trust
- Be honest and respectful. I believe we can say anything that needs to be said to another person as long as it’s said with clarity, sincerity and respect. I call this speaking your truth which is the opposite of speaking your mind. When you speak your truth, you are responding to what is; when you speak your mind, you’re reacting in the moment. Reacting is never a good idea.
- Don’t “be right,” get it right. Dictatorial leadership died decades ago. Opinions are just that. “In my honest opinion,” is just that. It may be honest and it may be an opinion but it doesn’t make it right. Far better to weigh in and say, “Based on the following studies, plus the input of the team and industry trends, I believe…
- Say what you mean, mean what you say. A leader must be consistent and there should be a solid reason for that consistency. Nothing good can come from changing positions and promises hour-to-hour. If an executive promises a more diverse environment, create a more diverse environment, don’t talk about it.
- Do as I say, not as I do. If there was ever a more inconsistent, untruthful and inauthentic phrase, it is that. The best way to not build trust is to be the opposite of what you say. I remember the scandal of a high-powered CEO who professed great commitment to wiping out sexual harassment. Sadly, the CEO was fired after being accused of sexual harassment by several employees. I say “sadly” because the hypocrisy created great anger throughout the company. Be forthright. A leader should honestly stand for exactly what they espouse.
- Them and us has never worked. Yes, I have heard confidential statements of leaders reluctantly hiring a candidate “because that candidate is –,” though HR strongly recommended greater inclusion. Equality and equity must go hand-in-hand and every employee must be given a seat at the table. Them and us is no way to run a company. It is all of us or none of us.
- Set the example. Trust is based on honesty, as I have stated, but the trust must come from the bottom-up as much as the top-down. No leader in an organization should be immune from honesty. Everyone must be open to opinion. It is refreshing as well as necessary. When a leader is open to honesty, everyone sees it.
- Do the work. I love stories about CEOs who pitch-in, get to know line workers or administrative staffs, practice active listening and being mindful to others. There is great truth in sharing, there is great trust that comes from the act of celebrating every employee. After all, it is their life too and there is no higher trust than “seeing the other.” Do the important work of knowing those above and below you.
Many organizations lost trust during the pandemic. The extra stress exposed the wrongs already in place. The good news is that trust can be restored. It doesn’t take a grand sweeping corporate-wide effort, but with one person at a time, one day at a time. Let others see what you stand for and encourage. Speak Your Truth.