Trust, Europeans, CEOs, advice, PowerPoint and dog commands

A 2006 European study covering “who you trust” (pdf) rates CEOs as the least trusted source on a product or company information — seriously dead last in every country polled. Ouch!

I have a thought each for CEOs and those not trusting them, and I want your feedback on these newly formed thoughts. Both were spurred into action by my respected friend, Jenny Spadafora, who writes a thinking person’s blog, 12frogs. Thanks, Jenny!

For CEOs… find points of overlap

As I licked my personal wound of feeling mistrusted simply based on three letters behind my name, Jenny challenged me, “How many CEOs do you trust?” My fingers started typing names, which I erased and then typed, “I don’t know them well enough to say ‘trust’.” She continued — pointing out something we saw time and time again as we visited customers at Intuit — people trust people who are “like them”. And… most people don’t feel CEOs are like them.

My advice for CEOs and would-be CEOs (and anyone that wants to lead):

Get to know your customers, employees, suppliers, and shareholders.

From my expeirence, the points of overlap where they see places where you are like them increase interaction quality and more trust will develop — a virtuous cycle.

Quick example, last week, our Customer Service team brought a Dilbert cartoon to me that made fun of a new CEO around an issue that is sensitive here (location). The team felt I was like them enough to appreciate a cartoon, even if it could have been considered somewhat at my expense. I was proud to have gotten to that point in only a couple of months with my being at their office only 1/3 of that time.

Do y’all have examples of this type of “points of overlap” theory working to increase trust?

For those wanting to trust… seek first to understand

Yes, CEOs should hold themselves to a high bar and continue to raise it as they meet their objectives. They should not be scoundrels. That said, the consumer of the information and actions of the CEO should hold themselves to a higher standard. Remember two things:

  1. When you see a dumb decision, there really are often factors you don’t know about, can’t see, or even, can’t understand.
  2. Recall that global optimization (across a corporation for example) often does cause local stupidity (in your department or life for example).

You shouldn’t excuse dumb and stupid acts, bud do raise your own bar in working to understand.

How did Jenny get me here to this point? She wrote an exceptional post on assault with a deadly PowerPoint file. (Please read it because she’s right.) Her first point is about realizing that the PowerPoint is not the novel, but the Cliffs Notes. As an information consumer, either when looking at a PowerPoint, hearing a presentation, or questioning a CEOs actions, understand that you are getting the Cliffs Notes version and there is more to the story. Seek first to understand… then go on the attack if you need to, but make darn sure you’ve done step 1. Hold yourself to that standard.

What do you think? Think these two points can help us get to a better place? Does it matter that CEOs rank last in trustworthiness, or am I just being sensitive?

I’m going with a pun for my shirt today. I’m a word geek, so I have a subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary online. In thinking about this post, I looked up trust, and was amused to find that the second definition was:

b. Imperative: an instruction given to a dog, requiring it to wait for a reward, usu. in a begging position with a tidbit placed on its nose.

So, with that in mind for a definition of trust, I’m:

Waiting for my reward

3 thoughts on “Trust, Europeans, CEOs, advice, PowerPoint and dog commands

  1. This reminded me of Edelman’s Me2 Revolution essay.

    Integrity is the word that comes to mind as closely correlated to trust, or maybe even a proxy for trust, that subordinates are keyed to look for. In the last couple of leadership roles I have had I looked early for an opportunity to claim a mistake rather than claim a success.

    If I hold myself to the same standard that I expect of the people who work for me then I have removed one major reason for them not to trust me.

    In the end I don’t think it matters that CEOs are the least trusted source of information about a company, but what does matter to me is that I am not the least trusted source…

  2. My comment is a bit related to Jeff’s.

    As we are in full-on NFL playoff season and my Patriots are in the mix, I’m in a one-track mind state with the boys in Foxboro (MA) front and center. The key leaders on the Patriots are it’s coach, Bill Belichick, and it’s quarterback, Tom Brady. What I like about these guys as leaders that I think everyone could learn from is that when something goes wrong, they “take” (look to acquire, not shy away from and eventually get hit with it) the lion’s share of the blame when they lose a game. When something goes right, they deflect the credit to their teammates and away from themselves with equal zeal.

    Anyway, Jana, thanks for sending the article. You’ve earned my RSS subscription.


  3. Capen Brinkley says:

    Yes, Jana. It appears that you are being sensitive on this subject, but that is a good thing! The fact that you are not losing sight of the values that made a top dog (pun intended) is what will allow you be trusted further down the corporate hierarchy.

    While there are good CEOs, and bad ones; as long as the good CEOs (such as yourself) continue to act stand by those good qualities and mentor aspiring leaders with those same principles, we will continue to see more companies with good integrity. (Holy run-on sentence!)

    Lastly, I can fully relate to Brian’s comments as I’m sure LaDainian Tomlinson will give full credit to his O-line after he runs it up on New England this weekend. 😉


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