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Ken Keller: It’s very easy for a business to make trust disappear

Posted: February 10, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 10, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

A Gallup research study conducted and released in late 2012 found that only 21 percent of American adults surveyed found business executives high or very high in honesty and ethics.

That number was actually an increase by a single percentage point since the 1976 survey, conducted 36 years earlier.

Car sales people, advertising practitioners, stockbrokers, insurance salespeople, and lawyers all rank below business executives. Business executives also out-polled state governors, senators and members of Congress. That, I suppose, is the good news out of lousy numbers.

The low numbers should be an embarrassment to the business community, regardless of industry.

How has this happened? How were these numbers earned? Why are they so low?

Honesty, ethics and trust are earned one interaction at a time, by everyone, inside and out, who touches your organization.

And it starts and ends with leadership.

People who own businesses and those that enjoy a leadership position in an organization often seem to forget that they work under a microscope.

Employee, vendors and clients watch every move, listen to every word and keep a record of both.

Why are they keeping score? Ultimately it’s a matter of trust.

Far too many owners and leaders do not appreciate or understand the impact of what they say to employees, clients and vendors or how they say it.

Words matter; in fact, every single word matters. Written or spoken, even the unspoken word counts. Smart people listen carefully for what has not been said, for what is missing.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I disagree. If you are an owner or a leader, I think that people in your company will always remember what you said and what you did but most importantly, they will always remember how you made them feel.

No one wants to work for an organization or a leader that makes them feel stupid, unworthy, noncontributing. Yet these behaviors are manifested most often verbally and couched under the guise of joking and teasing, are common in the workplace. Who will do their best when this is the work environment?

It isn’t just words; actions count too; positive or negative. Inaction after promised action counts against you too.

From these words and actions, and inactions, trust is built or it crumbles.

There is no quicker path to having an underperforming dysfunctional organization than to have the people in charge lie to those that are employed there. I know, I’ve worked in a place or two like this.

People will only drink the Kool-Aid for so long before they see the inconsistencies. It isn’t long after that they become disengaged.

I don’t think that many leaders blatantly set out to tell lies or half-truths. It is easy to get caught up in the stress of a moment and say something that should not have been spoken. When this happens, the smart leader apologizes and vows not to repeat the behavior.

Lou Holtz said, “Don’t ever promise more than you can deliver, but always deliver more than you promise.” This remains excellent advice for any leader.

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with small and midsize business owners to grow top line revenue. He can be reached at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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