How can leaders tackle a crisis in trust?

Many employees are searching for meaning at work and want an employer they can be proud of. How can transformational leaders show a willingness to distribute authority and collaborate in place of competition?

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Conversations about trust and leadership have never been more relevant. We know the world is changing at an ever increasing pace - there is disruption and the inevitable spike in insecurity.
We hear endless stories of who, what and why things are so broken; feeding on our negativity bias and fuelling our desire to blame a lack of trust and find those to blame. 

The recent Edelman Trust Barometer 2018 shows that our trust in business is still declining following the dramatic decline in trust across all sectors (see 2017 report). Impact Hub Islington are holding a town hall meeting on 22 March to offer the chance to debate with transformational leaders who are delivering tangible solutions to this ‘crisis in trust, crisis in leadership.’

Leadership styles moving with the rapid pace of change

The world is changing at an ever-increasing rate and yet management structures are often more or less unchanged. Old industrial age hierarchal ways are based on self-interest, competition and an era when long term strategies, jobs for life and a leader who was perceived to know all the answers made a lot more sense. 

To rebuild trust and restore faith in the current system, institutions must step outside of their traditional roles and work toward a new, more integrated operating model that puts people — and the addressing of their fears — at the centre of everything they do. Edelman says, 'Capitalism depends on public trust for its legitimacy and its very survival'. Successful companies need to explain with great clarity how the fulfilment of their purpose benefits society — this purpose has to be authentic, meaningful and at the core of the business and the people who run the business. Paul Polman, a leading light on this, says the right to produce products long into the future is given to firms who contribute to human progress. 

Bringing your whole self to the workplace 

This transformational leadership requires a willingness to show vulnerability, distributed authority, collaboration in place of competition and engage radically with all stakeholders. Leaders need to be honest about the uncertainty of the future and create spaces for employers to allow the business to dynamically evolve. We cannot underestimate the discomfort this causes and the clear risk to leaders in being able to change their minds, admit mistakes and bring attention to future risks. Many leaders will have risen to the top of their organisations under a very different set of behaviours with humanity actively discouraged in the workplace. 

Crisis of trust is a crisis of leadership 

Purpose has to be authentic, meaningful and at the core of the business and the leaders who run the business. It cannot be bolted on to the side - perhaps as a knee jerk reaction to try win over customers or to attract the best talent. (Having realised late in the day that millennials and in fact most employees regardless of age, industry, or nationality are searching for meaning beyond just pay and an employer that they can be proud of). 

Robert Phillips, co–founder of Jericho Chambers, is very clear that 'trust is not a message, it is an outcome.' And 'trust is a behavioural change not a communications one.' Clever communication is often used to prop up bad leadership. Phillips outlines a new model not based on public relations or spin but public leadership and public value. There is no magic wand to restore trust. Reputation is built over time and through actions. Building a fairer more inclusive society is a much better use of time than spending time on blame or using trust as a proxy. He challenges people in their workplace to give up the pretense of control and embrace the chaos. 

Liberating people through clarity of purpose 

Sacha Romanovitch (CEO of Grant Thornton £500m accountancy business) has a strong interest in the role of leadership in dynamic organisations and how a strong coaching culture releases potential and generates growth. Her goal is to shape a vibrant economy where all can flourish – through who they work with, the work they do and especially what they speak out on. She has a firm belief that clarity of purpose liberates people to deliver sustainable partnerships that build trust and unlock the potential to create environments where business and people thrive. Sacha is passionate about sharing her experience of systemic change from self-interest, competition and hierarchy to shared purpose, collaboration and connected communities in service of a new vibrant economy working for all. Introducing shared enterprise has opened the opportunity for all Grant Thornton’s employees to share in profits and she made waves capping her own reward. Championing social mobility, including chairing Access Accountancy, in 2017 the firm was recognised as number 1 in the Social Mobility Employer Index

From ego–system to eco–system 

Otto Scharmer (Senior Lecturer at MIT and author of Theory U and Leading from an Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies) explains that the quality of results in any system comes from the quality of awareness from which people in the system operate. He addresses what he calls the 'blind spot' in global discourse and how responding to disruptive change requires leadership that connects to an emerging future rather than reacting to and perpetuating patterns of the past. It requires a shift in the inner place from which we operate; a suspension of judgment, redirection of attention and letting go of the past. The mindset of decision makers needs to be open, attentive and adaptive. Going from ego to eco requires observing the system from all perspectives particularly those who are most marginalised. The goal is to co-sense, co-inspire and co-create. 

Vision for the future of work 

Robert Phillips says corporations of the future should look less like a traditional hierarchy and more like a social movement within which the CEO (be it of large corporation or start up social enterprise) needs to think and behave as a social activist. Robert’s vision of public leadership has four pillars — activist, co–produced, citizen–centric and society–first. Sacha Romanovitch describes workplaces not as machines but as living and breathing eco-systems. Her wish is that the future of work is work in service of benefiting the whole of humanity and where creativity is focused on things that matter. Robert, Sacha and others will discuss these topics at a town hall meeting on 22 March 18:45 at Impact Hub Islington.

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