Money Matters

Is trust a leadership trait?

Money Matters
By Sirajuddin Aziz
Mon, 10, 20

Is it? Is it paradoxical? Does it have to be permanent or transitory? Is it negotiable? Can we imagine leadership that lacks trust? As leaders do we have to, particularly as corporate leaders, necessarily be of those who are or have to be trusted? In politics “trust” is an absolute necessity; a definite need to be seen and done, yet regrettably it is today the lack of it, in most politicians, globally.

Is it? Is it paradoxical? Does it have to be permanent or transitory? Is it negotiable? Can we imagine leadership that lacks trust? As leaders do we have to, particularly as corporate leaders, necessarily be of those who are or have to be trusted? In politics “trust” is an absolute necessity; a definite need to be seen and done, yet regrettably it is today the lack of it, in most politicians, globally.

Trust is traded on the floors of self interest. Inherently, trust is something which ought to be an uncompromising trait, but unfortunately, over the last 72 years of our existence, we have as a nation not only blatantly outraged its divine dimension, but have also belligerently, without any sense of remorse or regret, relegated it to the backyard of the least required traits to be a leader, in this Land of Pure. We have demonstrated liberally our collective zero priority for its inculcation, inclusion and obstinate adoption, in our everyday behaviour.

Corporates are not democracies hence the leader of the entity is not an elected position. The CEO doesn’t get the office at the whims and pleasure of the people working within or outside. The CEO gets selected from among the best of the best. He is therefore a nominee of the board / stakeholder, entrusted to undertake traits, as per policy directives of the board. While the leader retains, like a monarch (some choose to be ceremonial), the power to hire and fire people, he however cannot possibly remain oblivious to the possibilities of corporate rebellion, treachery and calumny. He is expected to be ready for such consequential reactions.

If that be the case of reality, so should leaders / managers be corporate snakes, flesh seeking alligators, hunting jackals or a cunning fox? Trust is a noble trait. It follows, therefore should a person be in possession of a noble personality to be accepted and appreciated as a leader/ manager? In our everyday grind, usage and understanding is that life at corporates is both ruthless and unforgiving; if that were not the case, all CEO’s would qualify automatically to be counted as among the most ‘saintly’ members of the society. In context, we witness the corporate leaders to be anything, but saintly. Nobility in business dealings may sound to be a sign of weakness and many do classify such elegant attitude as “misplaced management style”. Trust is a pure emotion. The obvious question is should the pragmatic CEO be emotional or have any emotional leaning towards abstract thoughts like trust, responsibility, integrity, etc. The simplest answer, in my view is “yes”.

When the nature, innate, of a manager is one of trusting, then it doesn’t relate to applying trust on a compartmental basis, like this segment of information is trustworthy, these set of people are trustworthy; nay it is all pervading. Such managers trust not only colleagues but also trust that the competencies delegated too, will be used judiciously, in the over-all interest of the organisation. The trusting manager/leader has in him the capacity to distinguish between honest opinion and insincere proactive insinuations. A dip in ink, not bile, is their frame of thinking.

As a CEO, I trust everything said, conveyed and delivered to me, by all my colleagues, with no distinction applied through any filters; on numerous occasions I knew that my trusting nature was being negatively exploited, and I consciously chose to be in a state of self-deception, that all are trustworthy. A fallacy I knew then, a fallacious thought I know now too, yet its practice, I haven’t abandoned, for inexplicable reasons. The truth is I have never been hurt by this fallacy of thought. It is a firmly held belief that distrust, as a trait deployed by colleagues to hoodwink is undone by time, in its ruthlessness. Being a strong adherent to the trusting nature, which I believe to be a trait inspired by pure nature, I find its practice giving self fulfilment.

It is however not to suggest that a leader with a dominant trait of trust will be less angrier, in explosive situations, than other ordinary mortals, he would be too; the exception being his anger will be tempered and controlled, both in demeanour and choice of words, as against the opposite trends of behaviour.

On the flip side of things, betrayal is a reward and response to many a trusting leader; it is best to keep that possibility in full recognition, and when it happens, be prepared, with a response no more or greater than ‘Et-tu Brutus’! Betrayal shouldn’t be looked at with any sense of regret. It is in the scheme of human psyche. People, who trust at some point in their lives, both personal and professional, are hit by its unexpected volcanic eruptions.

On the shop floor, across countries and cultures, I have witnessed and interacted with managers, whose quality of trust was the first and last of their emotions, towards everybody. Which is a better act? To be trusting and continuously re-correcting or be to the contrary driven by a self consuming streak of suspicion while managing people!

Choosing between scepticism and trust, leader's preference has to be the later; because in it will be found serenity, calm and placidness within; and at least such disposition helped the scribe to eliminate chances of associated anxieties and acidity! Mercurial attitude is more self injurious and doesn’t help in seeing things with clean and clear lenses.

Emerson wrote, “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great”. If Covid-19 is contagious, so is trust; sickness leads to illness; trust makes for more trust. It is best to throw caution to the wind, while burying age old dictums like, “If you trust before you try, you many repent before you die”. Trust and so be it. A good heart is trusting and truthful.

Since the element of trust is instinctive, a leader/manager, who is luckily possessed of it, rids himself of all biases, prejudices, negative inclinations and alignments. He is free to accept and act upon sound advice. The approach to issues is sanctimonious. People who trust can be found to demonstrate in their interactions irritation, impatience but never intolerance. Trust and truth are close cousins. Any blessed with elements of trust cannot be found at fault of either indulging in falsehood or subverting or even suppressing truth. There is never a room for expediency between the adoption of any of these qualities; trust and truth go hand in glove; they are inseparable Siamese-twins. Never allow trust to become the mother of deceit or treachery. “Truth’s fountains may be clear -- her streams are muddy, and cut through such canal of contradictions, that she must often navigate over fiction”.

The temptation to replace trust and truth, because of their lack of malleability like the pursuit of gold, is often done through adulteration, for it is considered a safer and convenient way, not to achieve self correction or refinement, but to sustain distrust and falsehood.

Trust and truth, as necessary ingredients of corporate culture must be bellowed across all levels of hierarchy, failure to do so, is to become accomplice to the prevalence of contrary environment.

Falsehood withers with the blossoming of truth. Only truth, trust should be proliferated. Distrust and falsehood must remain entombed perennially.

If the word of the board / leader is trusted, only then will the rank and file of the organisation commit their entire energies towards realisation of its corporate vision. If “values” of the institution are meant for lip service only, the output invariably will be of very low quality. The dichotomy between word and deed is captured very fast by all employees. Trust will sprout only when the staff witness synergy between core principles of organisational culture with actual implementation of those very principles in everyday work.

Trust is Truth.

The writer is a banker and freelance contributor