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How Eliot Spitzer and You Can Begin To Restore Trust After A Big Mistake

100876027-173139175-1.240x160Recently it was announced that Eliot Spitzer, former New York Governor who admitted paying prostitutes for sex and was forced to resign in 2008, is planning to run for New York City Comptroller.  It begs a curious question:  if a person has fallen from grace and people no longer trust the person, how does he or she redeem him/herself and become trustworthy again?  This question not only pertains to leaders, but to organizations as well.  How does an organization restore trust with its employees after it has been broken?

Trust is an elusive word:  one of those “I know it when I feel it” definitions that is difficult to describe and very quickly broken.  In trainings I’ll ask:  how quickly do you trust someone?  The answer is always that there is some delay time between connecting with someone and actually trusting the person.  Then I’ll ask:  how many things need to happen before you distrust someone?  The answer is always:  just one.

Stephen M.R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, suggests that trust is a function of credibility, which is based on two components:  character and competence.  Character is determined by one’s integrity (honesty, humility and courage) and intention (motive and degree of genuine caring about people).  Competence is determined by capabilities (talents, knowledge and skill) and results (performance, track record).

Covey goes on to suggest that the quickest way to decrease trust is to violate a behavior of character (integrity and intention).  We have seen this with countless politicians like Spitzer, organizations such as Enron, BP Oil and Firestone Tire and athletes such as Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong.  In some ways, it astounds us that people and organizations think they can get away with it (get more than they give).

Covey then states that the quickest way to increase trust is to demonstrate a behavior of competence (capability and result).  To restore trust he suggests that you first must identify which of the four elements has been breached (integrity, intention, capability and/or result) and then select from thirteen key behaviors to plan the restoration.  So, let’s use Elliott Spitzer as our current example:  in 2008 he broke integrity and intention – both elements of character and the most common roots of broken trust. To restore his trustworthiness he now must demonstrate most or all of the following behaviors:

Character Behaviors

– Get to your point quickly

– Ask others for feedback

– Treat those who can’t do anything for you with great respect

– Don’t hide information

– Apologize quickly; don’t cover things up

– Give credit freely

– Keep confidences


Competence Behaviors

– Hold yourself accountable

– Make things happen; get the right things done; don’t make excuses for not delivering

– Continuously improve; be a constant learner

– Respond well to feedback; make course corrections

– Address tough issues directly

– Don’t assume expectations are clear or shared

This same list is applicable for organizations, isn’t it?  It’s true for us as a nation as well.  We’ve lost trust in many of our institutions:  government, judicial system, banking, media and so on.  If we could just do the thirteen items listed above, it would go a long way toward restoring trust.

Take a look at your own organization and your own leadership.  Do you work to build trust through your character and competence?  Do you restore breaches of trust by demonstrating competency in this list of thirteen behaviors?  Well, Elliott Spitzer has his work cut out for him, doesn’t he?


More thoughts on trust


Deborah Mackin’s recent book, Survival of the Hive: 7 Leadership Lessons from a Beehive, addresses topics like trust, leading by example and creating a followership.   Make sure to pick up a copy today!

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