Help, Paula’s Falling and She May Not Get Up

Paula Deen is falling – the Food Network just announced that they are ending their relationship with her, after her admission that she used a highly sensitive word back in 2007.  What she said and what happens to Deen is not the subject of this post nor is it relevant to my thought process, except to illustrate the point that it only takes a nano-second to destroy what you have built – a strong analogy to building and losing trust.

Paula’s going to have a hard time getting up….This might be one that the spin doctors can’t heal.  This beloved personality who put comfort food back on the map lost her status with one word.

And so it is with trust in relationships.  It takes hard work, thoughtful deeds and authentic words to build trust.  But it can be swept away oh so quickly.

bucketI have this visual in my mind about trust.  There is a bucket into which you contribute “trust tokens” by being authentic, honest and straightforward.  it takes time to build sufficient weight for the bucket to be stable and not subject to wind and other natural disasters.

But the one time that your words don’t match your actions, it blows holes in your bucket and the trust starts leaking out.

Sometimes I wonder if leaders realize that employees are really smart.  They listen to what is said.  They watch what is done.  And they quickly see the inconsistencies.

Merriam-Webster defines authenticity as “true to one’s own personality, spirit or character.”  It is my theory that authenticity is one key element of building trust.  Authenticity generates trust because those to whom you are being authentic know what to expect from you consistently, and they can count on your words and actions matching, time after time.

Granted, leaders are faced with situations regularly that require them to take the corporate line, even when they don’t believe it.  One of the more difficult roles of a leader is communicating the organization’s strategy and decisions to employees.  Sometimes the organization’s decisions conflict with what might be best for a particular unit.  Sometimes the decision is hard to understand.  The leader’s role is to represent and support the organization’s decision.  Period.  That doesn’t mean that leaders can’t express their own questions and thoughts.  It also doesn’t mean the leader can’t respond to employees’ questions authentically.  It’s a balancing act, but quite frankly, if you don’t respond authentically, employees will see through the act.

How do you make sure that your words and actions are authentic?  Some thoughts….

  • Reflect on your own values and be clear.
  • Consciously work to align your words and your actions.
  • Consider “political” issues to be an opportunity to practice authenticity.  Don’t fall prey to behaving in a way that isn’t authentic for you.
  • Find a trusted colleague to talk through inconsistencies when they occur, to provide an objective perspective.
  • If you find yourself frequently challenged to behave in a way you’re not comfortable, you may want to start thinking about how well you fit in the organization, and look for opportunities with better fit.

Leadership is all about trust and building trust is the foundation of building relationships.   It takes time to build trust; it can evaporate quickly.  And once the leaking starts, it is even more difficult to plug the holes.

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