Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust-They Don't Lie

At first glance, this title might be self evident....of course you shouldn't lie as a leader and if you do, you will lose trust.  However, there are circumstances when it is not possible to reveal everything you know....even when directly asked.

Often a leader is included in conversations involving confidential information.  Confidential information that cannot be shared can take many forms.  Sometimes the leader is involved in commercially sensitive market information involving company performance and there are legal prohibitions from sharing that information.  There are also times when organizational changes are being considered, including those that involve downsizing or reductions in force, but no decisions have been taken.  Sometimes a leader is involved in decisions that have been taken but "embargoed" until an agreed public release date.  Sometimes a leader is involved in promotion or key position conversations and all parties have agreed not to discuss any candidate's selection or non-selection.  Sometimes a leader will be asked to help evaluate a merger or acquisition decision.

Early in a leader's tenure it's important to be clear with her team that there will be times when she's not able to share all the information she has.  Promising that she'll share what she can, when she can, helps create understanding.   Nevertheless, there are always rumors floating around every organization about sensitive subjects.  Leaders inevitably get asked to confirm or deny these rumors in team meetings or organization "town halls".  Good leaders have to develop honest responses to these questions without lying.  If you truly don't know, say so.  Sometimes it is enough to say " I know and I cannot discuss it".  At other times it's necessary to explain why it is you cannot discuss it; examples of honest responses might include:
"A decision has been taken, but is not releasable and I cannot comment on until the public announcement"
"That would be market sensitive information and I'm not able to comment one way or the other"
"As soon as any decisions have been taken that I can share, I will"
"I really can't comment on that one way or the other"
"I'm never going to be able to confirm or deny any question involving mergers or acquisitions, until a public announcement"

My point is there will be times when the leader cannot share everything she knows.  Being honest....not lying....especially when sensitive information is involved.... helps build trust.

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