Our Deficit of Trust

As the latest WikiLeaks controversy rages, I think an important point is being overlooked. Regardless of your politics or position on the decision to force transparency by disclosing confidential information obtained anonymously, what the exercise really highlights the deficit of trust we have in our leaders and institutions.

While we are starved for leadership—people who are not only competent but courageous enough to make the tough decisions—we make it virtually impossible for them to exist. We set leaders up and then look for ways to tear them down. We are making it difficult for leaders to do the right thing.

I believe most of our country in the “sensible center” but that doesn’t make for a good story. Extremism, conspiracies and dramatic action are most compelling. That’s just not how most institutions work. Let’s face it day-to-day life is not that exciting—which is probably why we ask our media to jazz it up for us.

It takes time to change what’s not working, particularly if we want the changes made to last. And if we are to have any hope of reducing corporate suffering, clearly changes must be made by all of us.

If we continue to view everything as a zero sum game (if you win, I lose) then we stay stuck in strategies that are defensive in nature. That game is all about minimizing your losses and protecting what you have. There is no room for compromise or cooperation. Our leaders are not leading in this scenario, they reacting and that’s not good for anyone.

For us to have what most of us want—transparency, choice, and control—in our public and private institutions, we are going to have to make changes ourselves. To discourage bad behavior we need to acknowledge it without celebrating it. We are going to have to applaud those that are making a positive difference now—and not hold them to impossible standards of behavior. Who among us hasn’t said something we’ve regretted in the past? Does it mean our intentions should be called into question or all of our accomplishments denigrated? No.

We need to make it attractive for people to want to lead so that we have real choice. Leaders need to demonstrate that they deserve our trust but unless we are willing to give them a chance we’re going to get what we deserve.

Amanda Mitchell is an executive coach and strategist specializing in helping senior executives deal with disruptive drama within their teams. An advertising agency veteran, she experienced first-hand the business implications of corporate drama both with her Fortune 500 clients and within the Manhattan ad agency she led. She founded Our Corporate Life (www.ourcorporatelife.com) to help executives solve the problems no one wants to deal with. She has been published in Bloomberg Businessweek, and quoted in Fast Company, CNBC.com, and Monster.com. She lives in New Jersey with her family.

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