News & Insight
January 2003

Your Career Path to Success It's a Matter of Trust

By Bill Morin<br /> Chairman and CEO<br /> WJM Associates

Every January, about 2,000 of the smartest, most accomplished leaders from the worlds of government, business and academe meet for five days, usually in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss one of the burning issues of the day. I'm talking, of course, about the World Economic Forum. It offers a platform for leaders to address the most pressing global, regional and industry issues that cannot be adequately debated in industry-specific or region-specific settings. Last year, the meeting's theme was "Reevaluating Leadership and Governance"; the year before, it was "The Digital Divide." This year, the theme was something much more significant, and much more fragile: "Building Trust."

Trust is at the core of all ethical behavior. Simply defined, trust is the belief that other people around you have your interest at heart, and do not bid you ill will.

Several weeks before the World Economic Forum took place, Time magazine paid homage to the issue of trust when it selected Cynthia Cooper of Worldcom, Colleen Rowley of the FBI and Sherron Watkins of Enron as its "Persons of the Year." These three managers put their careers at stake by reporting behavior by their superiors who betrayed their trust.

Building trust will be the number-one challenge for organizations, governments and corporations in 2003. In the corporate world, if you don't have trust that there is an ethical management concerning a person's investments, then all is lost. Unfortunately, today we find ourselves in a void. Call it what you will, investments will be hard to find if corporate leaders do not rebuild quickly the faith that leaders will play fairly and ethically in the corporate ball game.

How can trust be rebuilt? Here are five suggestions:

  • Be truthful in communication. Present numbers accurately and tell shareholders, customers and employees what's really going on.
  • Provide products and services that do what your advertisements and sales people say they do.
  • Give honest, straightforward feedback about employees' performance. The game of politics, although not eliminated, will certainly be diminished in an effort to let people know where they stand and what they must do to perform better.
  • Believe in and practice statements of corporate mission statements and values. Don't just display them on the cafeteria wall. In reality, organizations will live their values day-by-day through observable management actions that speak louder than words.
  • Finally, govern yourself before you have to be governed by the law. Develop your own rules to protect the public, employees and customers before the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Internal Revenue Service has to intervene.

Follow these steps, and we won't need to have conferences about "building trust" any more.

On Dec. 24, Bill Morin discussed his article "Six Common Beliefs of Executives Who Fail" with host Ted David on CNBC's "Morning Call."

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