Posts from March 2021

I was shocked when I saw the results of the recent Ipsos MRBI Trust Barometer which showed a very low level of trust in Charity CEOs. I was not expecting them to be so low on the scale. 
I began to wonder how CEOs might respond to these findings in a way the builds, rather than further diminishes trust in CEOs? 
Let me declare my conflict of interest before I go any further – I once was a Charity CEO. And in my current work, many of my clients are Charity CEOs. 
My immediate reaction was twofold a) to feel empathy – it is not easy to hear that you are not trusted; b) I wanted to rush to their defence by trying to find a satisfactory explanation and come up with quick solutions which would solve the problem. 
This was my initial reaction. Then I became curious and questions began to form. 
Why do the public have such low levels of trust in the role of CEO? I suspect that the public trust the Charity CEO that they know personally. 
Is it something to do with a growing distrust in business CEOs more generally, who are often seen as self-serving, over paid, and with a sense of privilege and entitlement? 
The public continue to trust charities. Their huge support, especially in the last year, is evidence of this. How do we reconcile this level of support with low levels of trust in the CEOs? 
CEO salary levels have become public knowledge in the recent past, the inference often being that they are payed too much. Do the public have expectations that CEOs will be voluntary, or only paid a modest sum? And when they read about salaries it undermines their trust? 
In what ways do charities – CEOs, Boards, other staff and volunteer contribute to this situation? No one, or very few people, would set out to deliberately undermine trust, but sometimes well intentioned actions, or something being prioritised over something else, has the unintended consequence of undermining another’s trust. 
Engaging with the findings in an open, curious, honest way may help in some small way to restore trust. For example: 
Engage with the findings in a way that does not dispute them or explain them away. This may come across as being defensive and will further undermine trust. These findings are not the full story but they are part of it. 
Give an account of what it is like to be a CEO and to feel you are not trusted. You don’t need to be defensive, you are not a victim. But you are a human being with experiences and feelings. Be prepared to share the impact it has on you. Be prepared to be open, honest, and vulnerable. Put a human face to this statistic. 
Perhaps it’s time for the not-for-profit sector to establish a Trust Project, to explore trust in the sector and its CEOs. It would bring together a broad range of stakeholders to explore the issues, hear the different perspectives, make sense of what is going on, and suggest ways forward. Engaging multiple stakeholders is key to this, this is not just a problem for the sector to solve. Perhaps something along the lines modelled by the Citizens Assembly? 
I heard it said once that 'Trust arrives on foot, but leaves on horseback'. Apparently its a Swedish proverb.  
I was having a conversation this morning with a client about their preparations for a blended approach to work places when offices begin to reopen. They have a staff of 50 and are usually located across a number of office locations. 
I though I'd share it here; It is not an exhaustive list, but it might be useful for other similarly sized or smaller organisations. 
We identified a mixture of technical problems and adaptive challenges. The distinction? You 'plan the way forward' for Technical Problems whereas you 'learn the way forward' for Adaptive Challenges. I find that this is a useful distinction. 
The Technical Problems include: a) identifying roles that are suitable for remote working b) assessing home work spaces and providing appropriate equipment c) having conversations with staff to see what their personal preferences are - not everyone likes remote working d) supporting staff; f) considering longer term office requirements; g) and managing performance. 
The Adaptive Challenges include: a) building relationships without the informal interactions that usually happen in a workplace; b) managing remote teams; c) building and maintaining trust - its more challenging when you don't regularly meet people. 
I had an experience recently which brought home the value to me of 'micro' connections with other people. It illustrated one of the down sides of working from home - we miss at lot of the informal interactions that happen during the day. 
I had to go into my local stationery story to buy a replacement ink cartridge. In the shop I chatted with the sales person about the weather, the impact of Covid on their business - both plus and minus, and we wished each other well. Then I nipped across the street to get a take away coffee - more connection points - a greeting, a smile, a thank you. Then back to my car, which was blocked in by a lorry making a delivery. A brief conversation with the driver. He was only going to be there a few minutes so I explained I'd sit in my car and enjoy my coffee, and biscuit cake (a little comfort eating!) 
Later in the day I realised how I valued these interactions and how much I missed them. 
This highlights for me the challenges that organisations will face over the coming months and years, with a blended approach of home and remote working, in replicating these important 'micro' interactions. They build connection, trust, confidence, understanding, and a shared culture.. 
I was flicking through a selection of leadership reading and came across this quote 'If you want to be liked, get a dog!'. I laughed out loud when I read it. And not many leadership quotes have that kind of impact on me. 
This is not a justification for being distant, aggressive, inconsiderate, demanding, dismissive and undermining. 
It does make real sense, particularly from two perspectives. 
1) I recently heard a CEO using the phrase 'loneliness of the long distance CEO'. He was capturing the aloneness that a CEO experiences because of the responsibilities that rest with them. And while they can be advised and supported by others they have the responsibility to consider all of the perspectives and make a final decision. 
A consequence of this is that people in leadership positions will not meet everyone expectations - or put another way 'they wont always be liked' 
2) We all have different tolerances for handling tension and conflict. Some seek it out and others avoid it; and there are other positions in between these two ends of the spectrum. Avoiding conflict can be driven by a number of things, including not wanting to risk the relationship by naming uncomfortable truths.  
Or put another way 'wanting to be liked'. 
Cuddly Dogs
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