Trust and the Moral Duty of Candor

Abundance Management Organizational leadership


Key Point: Candor and transparency are vital components for establishing trust. The most recent Deloitte Consulting Ethics & Workplace survey found that when the economy turns around, 1/3 (34 percent) of employed Americans plan to look for a new job. When asked what factors contributed to their plans to seek new work environments, 48 percent of employees cited a “loss of trust,” and 46 percent said a “lack of transparency in communications.” The British CIPD Employee Outlook survey for 2010 found that overall trust in leaders is low across the board, with only 1/3 of employees agreeing that they trust their senior management teams and 38 percent disagreeing. Nearly 47 percent of employees who strongly distrust their senior management are currently looking for a new job compared to just eight percent of workers who strongly trust their leaders.

So why is trust such an issue? My experience is that much of the trust issue stems from the unfounded belief that people in organizations can’t “handle the tough truth.” Scott Weiss, who has written a great book DARE: Accepting the Challenge of Trusting Leadership, states the following in reference to this outdated management perspective. “This is an insulting and paternalistic assumption that infantilizes employees and disregards their own needs and aspirations. It also overlooks the grapevine and the rumor mill that will fill the information vacuum anyway, probably with distorted information.”

I strongly agree with Weiss! During my career, I have come to understand that not only can people handle the truth, they act in remarkably constructive and honorable ways when confided in. When I’ve had to share tough news and uncertainty, people almost always responded with class and dignity that moved me. They usually hung in with me until a definitive “end.” And when I’ve been asked by “higher ups” to withhold or distort information, I have fought and most often flat out refused to comply, sometimes putting my career at risk. Weiss goes on to say in DARE: “Uncertainty about how an initiative will go is a poor reason for information brokering. In the final analysis there just aren’t any good reasons for keeping the workforce in the dark about material facts that affect their lives. Straight talk is always the best policy. In difficult times it may be the best retention strategy that organizations have.”

Character Moves:

  1. When you lead a team and feel that you need to withhold or “spin” information for “their own good,” STOP IT (legal restrictions not withstanding). If you’ve been around organizations for more than a few days you know there are few secrets (if any). We live in such goldfish bowls anyways. Everyone has a confidant they tell… We whisper but others hear us… We huddle in odd meetings, and people notice… We leave “secret” memos at copy machines, etc. So be straight and candid before the rumor mill creates more uncertainly. More importantly, it’s just the respectful and right thing to do.
  2. The principle to follow is; if material facts impact other people lives, tell them the truth so they can make informed decisions. Do not avoid tough news. Turn the ship into that ugly wave coming your way.
  3. When others trust us, we assure them that they can rely on us to act on their behalf, to protect them when we can, and to take them into our confidences where their own welfare is concerned. Treat it is a sacred duty to protect that trust, even when others argue against it.
  4. When you hear unfounded emotional rational like, “If we tell they will quit working hard,” “they’ll lose all initiative and motivation,” “they’ll immediately start looking for new jobs,” “the good ones will leave first,” etc. Challenge these statements. How would you behave? How would you expect to be treated? Would you trust YOU?

Trust in The Triangle,