[Third in a series written about WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.]
Trust is confidence—the reliance on the integrity, strength, ability and security of a person or thing. It enables and creates expectations and hope. Universities that don’t exhibit trust in their own people, the potential students they recruit and the various public and private organizations that support them eventually fail. Recent examples of chicanery regarding admissions at some of the best universities in America cause cynicism. Disingenuousness is a denigrating form of pay to not play. More vexing, the cloud of skepticism casts shadows on all. Universities all over America are requesting verification of student athletes who have been granted scholarships to confirm that those scholarships have actually gone to student athletes.
To be sure, university leadership may have been shielded from this deceit. However, such dishonesty indicates an organizational mission not guided by trust as the apex of university values. Rather, a penchant for power and influence chokes the life out of every other noble institutional value. This limited example is the tip of an iceberg regarding organizational value systems that don’t place trust at the forefront.
Moreover, the disease spreads quickly after it is metastasized. Forbes reports, “Intelligent trust is the key for high-performing workplaces.” We all know what it means to be trusted. In addition, we know the bitterness of trust given but not returned. The accumulation of trust in any organization is frail, built on personal interactions inside and outside the organization, one-by-one. The scholarship fiasco exemplifies that. The Harvard Business Review suggests that inconsistent messages and standards, misplaced behaviors, false feedback, rumors, underperformance and a host of other factors contribute to tarnished trust, labelling such actions as “the enemies of trust.”
Building trust at a university, house of worship, government agency, automobile dealership, supermarket or bank requires common sense, according to Darcy Jacobson. Encouraging communication and dialogue, living by a strong company value set, creating challenging but achievable goals and aspirations and building community are all actions that engender trust. Recognizing and rewarding individuals and teams for results that are emblems of shared values and goals are at the core.
The International Association of Business Communicators defines trust: “Trust is the organization’s willingness, based upon its culture and communication behaviors in relationships and transactions, to be open and honest, based on belief that another individual, group, or organization is also competent, open and honest, concerned, reliable, and identified with common goals, norms and values.” Trust is community property. The ‘weak link’ axiom is in play. One act that generates mistrust must be followed by immediate, decisive leadership action to rebuild a community of trust. Because trust is at the apex of the hierarchy of organizational values, its diminishment negatively affects all—both insiders and outsiders.
Organizational guru Stephen Covey suggests we should expect to win, and to do that strength and stamina to finish strong are needed, as reported by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. Organizational trust is constructed on the character of its members. This is the transformational grip on organizational culture. It is intergenerational no matter what the pundits say. The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Z, iGen and Centennials all value character and shun its lack. Two-way trust is an essential ingredient in the “generational gumbo” that most contemporary organizations serve.
Universities rely on trust as organizational glue; tangible value is not evidenced from products produced, but hearts and minds positively affected. When trust is gone, the enterprise falls apart.
It’s all about leadership. Unfortunately, employees lack confidence and trust in leaders. According to Christine Comaford reporting in Forbes, 63% of employees distrust their leaders. Carol Kinsey Goldman says leaders build trust by showing trust, and they destroy trust by surrounding themselves with yes-men. Samuel Goldwyn quipped, “I don’t want any yes-men around me. I want them to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.” Being vulnerable and not sharing feelings and ideas erodes trust. These all sound like things my mother told me. Deloitte, though not on my mother’s bedside reading list, identifies a “lack of vision” and “organizational silos” as the princes of thieves of trust, destroying high aspirations and good results.
West Texas A&M University is working hard to serve its students, faculty and staff. Imperfect though we may be, we are diligent in trying to elevate these ideas to how we function by strengthening organizational trust.
For a complete version of WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World, please visit wtamu.edu and click on WT 125.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His reflections are available at https://walterwendler.com/.