Do you believe them?
Trust. It’s a short word but a highly valuable one in the world of leadership and business. It’s become all too common lately to hear how our trust in politicians and some of the UK’s most important institutions has become eroded. From the banks (the UK banking crisis) to the church (Wonga anyone?), nobody has been spared.
Maybe it’s the hyper social media frenzied world we live in that has proliferated the feeling that we don’t trust those in power as much as we used to, or maybe this new world of media has just shone a brighter light to expose the failings.
In this article BLM will look at the concept of trust in our leaders and what it has come to mean in the business and political world; and why it remains arguably the most important leadership trait.
Doing it the hard way
Mark ‘Billy’ Billingham MBE is a former SAS operative and paratrooper. He’s also a successful businessman (multi-million-pound security company); former head of security to some of the world’s leading stars (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) and most recently one of the stars of Channel Four’s SAS: Who Dares Wins.
Whatever he’s done, he’s done it the hard way and so knows a bit about leadership.
For Mark, trust in our political leaders have never been at a lower ebb. But they only have themselves to blame.
He says: “The problem I have now with our leaders is that it all seems to be about self-gain and not for the good of the country.
“They’re looking for pats on the shoulder or to trade insults, rather than thinking about what is best for the environment, what is best for the elderly – how do we take care of our kids. This is having a major impact on trust.
“The handling of Brexit has eroded trust too. Whether you’re for it or not, the people voted, and you need to deliver it. You can’t go back on that – it’s a huge dereliction of duty. “Honesty, integrity and experience are the most common leadership traits you find in successful people and trust hangs above them all. You need it. You can’t be a leader without it.”
James Boyd-Wallis, director at Fourteen Forty, says that he can’t remember a time when our trust has been lower in our political leaders.
He says: “It’s difficult to remember a time when political leaders have been less trusted by business and the public. From the expenses scandal and the allegations of bullying and sexual harassment to the failure to deliver Brexit, our faith in politics has been severely undermined in recent years.
“To rebuild trust, politicians must be more authentic in their communications – demonstrating both clarity and honesty. In political discourse it is common for politicians to use ‘weasel words’ – a word or phrase that enables them not to answer the question or deny an answer later. While this is accepted among politicians, real people view it as dishonest.”
Uniquely British system
Simon Milton, CEO of Pulse Brands, doesn’t necessarily agree though that our trust in political leadership is at an all-time low and says you need to look at how we compare with the rest of
He explains: “I don’t buy the idea that Parliament is at its lowest point in terms of trust. We have a political democratic system that started in the 1200s. It is uniquely British. Yes, it is not perfect but show me a better democratic system. The issue is that we have hit an existential crisis around Brexit. Half the country believes we will be better served being part of Europe while the other half feels we will be better on our own. It is a philosophical outlook. Neither one being right nor wrong.
“If anything, we are paying much more attention to the core principles of what builds trust and how all our great institutions should behave. We are now so much more aware of some of the shocking behaviours we have seen in some of the great institutions we were brought up to trust. So a lack of trust is now just part of the world we all operate in. The flip side of that is a massive increase in understanding and awareness. Although ignorance of what is really happening behind the scenes might be a far more peaceful place to be!”
So, why is trust such an important leadership trait?
On why trust is such an important ingredient for any successful leader, Simon says:
“Trust is the foundation for any business or organisation. It is only by having trust that somebody will buy from you, talk about you and remain loyal to you. But more important for me is the question around what builds trust? And this fundamentally comes down to behaviour. Being totally transparent. Delivering on your promises – importantly not over-promising. Being fair.
“You gain trust for standing for something and staying true to that. You need courage to ensure you don’t waver and humility to both take people with you and be clear about the challenging path being taken. It means taking care of the small things like how you treat those who might not support you. Ultimately you get judged and earn trust through how you behave, not what you communicate.”
On the importance of trust in leadership, Sylvia Sage, Programme Director, Corporate Learning Solutions says that keeping your team safe is a key element: “In Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Simon Sinek talks about real leaders creating a circle of safety for their teams and their organisations. This is important so they can feel safe, trust each other and collaborate to manage the challenges of the external world, instead of spending all their energy fighting threats from within.
“If people trust their leaders, they can get on with their real work. Without trust and safety, people will spend all their time jockeying for position, worrying about being in favour. Performance, innovation, and wellbeing suffer – and staff turnover is high. If you want to keep good people, look after them – keep them safe.”
James Boyd-Wallis says that without trust you can’t communicate anything to your staff or customers:
He says: “Trust is important because it is the first building block in any relationship. If trust is missing, everything else falls apart. Clear and honest communication is essential to building trust. Trusted leaders will better connect and engage with their employees or constituents. Business leaders will see a benefit on the bottom line, politicians will be more popular.”
So, with trust clearly a major building block to success, what do the men in the top jobs says it means to them?
In their own words – what do Boris & Jeremy think trust means?
Neil Sean is a political interviewer and media training expert. From CEOs to MPs, he recently sat down with the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and fellow conservative runner up Jeremy Hunt and asked them ‘what
“Trust is all about leadership. People have to put their faith and trust in you, to make sure that you can complete the job in hand. It’s not a difficult dynamic, but there’s many complexities. And as we’ve seen recently, trust has been broken on many levels.
“I don’t believe trust in public/business is at a low point, I think it’s all the age that we live in, and the information that’s so instantly available. When you look back at previous political giants, they didn’t have the barrage of news, social media, and public comment to deal with. I don’t believe that we’re in a low point at all.
“In order to recover trust, you have to do what I just previously said. Deliver, empower, and more importantly stick to what the electorate has asked you to do. It’s quite a simple equation, and that is my plan.”
“As a former entrepreneur, I think you naturally have, or develop, leadership skills. Trust normally comes with success and the ability to deliver what you said you were going to do.
“Trust always hits a low point when things go wrong, but the bigger problem is how you deal with these issues. I’ve always believed in working hard, being transparent, and above all else, making sure you eventually give the result that the people requested.
“Trust, as it’s famously been quoted, needs to be earned. And I think that we’re seeing a new era of trust being developed, and I would like to think that this question won’t need to be asked to future generations.”