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May 2010
Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence

Wisdom to lead minds:

"Samson killed a thousand men with the jaw bone of an ass. That many sales are killed every day with the same weapon"


Four ways leaders bust trust in the age of the sceptic

We build trust consistently over time. But even good leaders can blow it with one stupid act or one poorly framed sentence.

It is lunacy to ignore this equation. Yet lunacy prevails in so many corners of business and Government.

The following common and innocent looking approaches will blow your trust quicker than thought. Because your audience will have you judged even before they have time to think about it.

1. Make it all about me

This month Qantas CEO Alan Joyce sent an email to his airline's frequent flyer members, announcing the reintroduction of A380 flights after that part of his fleet had been grounded for two weeks by an engine explosion.

A series of incidents in the last two years have progressively dented Qantas’ previously impeccable safety reputation, causing increasing concern among travellers, regulators and the media.

Joyce used 23 to 30 self-references in 11 sentences, depending on your definition of a self-reference (in this case including I, we, our, us, Qantas, the A380 fleet). That is two to three self-references a sentence, leaving readers in no doubt where his focus is.

2. Be unbelievable

Also this month Premier John Brumby addressed his followers and Victoria's electors after the election night count had shown his best outcome would be a hung Parliament after a devastating swing against his Government and the loss of at least 11 seats.

He stressed the good economic performance of his Government, that he'd learned lessons from the result, and that he and his party had a vision to try even harder if allowed the opportunity to govern as a minority Government.

Commentators on the night and following morning felt that most voters would see him as denying the obvious and underplaying the defeat he had suffered.

In the same vein the often used but deeply unpopular telephone message "Your call is important to us" is widely disbelieved by callers who then move to a labyrinth of menu choices in level after level of canned messages.

The easy and almost clichéd claim "We care about our customers/stakeholders/staff" is so readily tested by their target’s individual experiences that leaders need exceptional cultures to make it stick.

"The result is guaranteed" might sound strong to the leader, but listeners who have seen organisations like Ansett, Enron and Lehman Bros fail are unlikely to believe in the face-value of guarantees.

3. Show you don't get it

Earlier this year the ANZ Bank ran a campaign theme "We live in your world." Perhaps some customers buy this, but many with home mortgages, small business loans or credit cards saw a self-delusional Emperor wearing no Clothes.

Leaders who claim they are just like you, or they speak your language risk similar trust busts. Similarly, those who call for others to trust them are signalling to all that they misunderstand what it takes to be trusted.

4. Let me tell you why you are wrong and I am right

We often hear leaders say "What you need to understand is...," or "It was outside our control," or similar words that show they see the facts better than others. Even when they do, others most often will hear a leader who isn’t listening, who doesn’t really understand his or her audience or the situation.

The same response often follows statements like "The truth is... The fact is...What this really means is...," "Our products are safe," or "This is the perfect answer for you."

These are only four of many common trust busters we hear leaders frequently using. Often they mean it, and sometimes it is even true, but mostly they are delusional to think this stuff works in today's society of sceptics.

The tragedy is that leaders like Joyce and Brumby are first-class leaders who have a string of quality achievements behind them. Organisations like the ANZ Bank are highly successful and worthy of a better reputation.

But they can badly let themselves down in an instant when they fail to take their audience seriously.

What are your Biggest Leadership Communication Challenges?

Hit return and tell me what would make the most difference to your leadership success. What is that one thing you would you like to change that would give you that 80:20 boost to your results? What’s stopping you making that change?

More next month...


Geoff Kelly works with leaders who are frustrated that others don't fully support their ideas and strategies. He mainly works with corporate leaders around the world, but also leaders in Government and Not for Profit. He is also a popular speaker on this and related subjects. See www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au, email [email protected] or call +613 9678 9218 for more information


© 2009 - 2010 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
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