Much of my work involves executive interviewing and workshop facilitation. It puts me in a place where I speak to many business people from all levels within the organizations that I help. What's been striking of late, is the emergence of a general feeling of discontent. From top to bottom, people are pointing to a sense that they have lost all trust in their organizations.

The sentiment has been building for many years. But, now it is so widespread, that I believe business leaders must begin to recognize the impact that this shift in outlook can have on an organization.

Is There Any Doubt That We Mistrust?

The last few years have been marked by significant examples of systemic deception and fraud in virtually every aspect of society. Consider these examples from the last few years:

  • Professional sports has been riddled with tales of cheating and misconduct including stories of juicing in baseball, NCAA recruiting and academic fraud, FIFA racketeering and the NFL's never-ending Deflategate-all of which makes us question the sanctity of the games that we watch for enjoyment and relief from the daily grind.
  • Religious headlines have included everything from pedophile priest cover-ups to televangelist scandals involving drugs, prostitution and extortion, distracting us from what it takes to keep the faith.
  • If recent Wall Street banking and automobile industry scandals aren't enough does Tyco, Enron and Worldcom ring any bells? Clearly, business scandals have been lighting up the nightly news hour for the past two decades contributing to the pervasive mistrust of big business.
  • While violence at Trump rallies and lead-poisoned water in Michigan have been superseding the corruption and sexual misconduct stories of late, there's enough political misdealing to keep the pundits shouting at each other every day and to forge a deep suspicion of all politicians in all of us.

From sports to religion to business to government, people have been bombarded by stories that corrode our trust in the very institutions that we once looked to for guidance and a sense of community. What's the impact of this societal shift in mindset on our businesses?

Here are a few ways that the effects can be felt:

  1. Malaise sets in among your team. This vague sense of mental or moral ill-being effects productivity and espirit de corps. If left unchecked, it will impact company performance.
  2. Disenfranchisement of your line staff. People disengage from the mission of the company in the face of despair and mistrust. Allow your team to feel that regardless of their best efforts, their work doesn't matter and results will suffer.
  3. Entitlement of your leadership team. Inspired by some of the stories that they see in the media, people in leadership positions can often develop a false sense of their self-importance. They attempt to gain the privileges that they think are afforded their favorite captains of industry. Once this occurs only bad things can happen.
  4. Self-aggrandizement replaces teamwork in the workplace. Reinforced by all the hoopla in the press, many people come to work each day with a belief that only rock stars get ahead. Consequently, some of your team may begin to try to be recognized as one. Self-promotion takes precedence over teamwork and it's every person for themselves!
  5. Leadership becomes trivialized by the rank and file. When company morale is at its lowest, a leader without a solid message-one that people can relate to and want to become part of-is rendered useless. You can do all of the pontificating that you like, if your message isn't resonating with the rank and file you will soon be trivialized.

What can we do to Right the Ship?

Give people something to believe in!

Yes, leading a business in these times of great mistrust is daunting. To offset the effects, efforts must be aimed at enhancing a sense of "being in to together" within your organization.

I've written on this subject quite often in this column. I'm a strong believer in establishing a feeling of community to energize a team. Besides shaking them out of any feeling of hopelessness that they may have outside of their work, giving them something bigger than themselves to be part of inside of the workplace, provides a platform for you to lead and establish a shared sense of destiny that winning organizations sustain even in the worst of times.

To close, the feeling of mistrust that pervades society today contributes, more than we may recognize, to the morale challenges that are threatening our businesses today. I hope that, by bringing this observation to light, we will all begin to do what we must to enable our businesses to regain footing and flourish for years to come.

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