A Surprising Way Leaders Can Increase Trust
Listen to Episode 115:
Episode 115 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper®, Episode 115: A Surprising Way Leaders Can Increase Trust. This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth. On the web at BusinessAdvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and right across from me, as always, is my business partner and husband Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi, Pam. It’s always a pleasure to join you for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper®. For our first time listeners, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to accelerate themselves − and their companies − to the next level of growth and success.
So, Pam, our regular listeners know that we’re really big on keeping up with emerging trends and new studies that give us insights about things that impact business growth and success. We recently read an article that cited a study that focused on some very troubling trends about the growth of distrust in many institutions including business.
Pam Harper: That’s right. The January 2017 Harvard Business Review featured an article about the most recent results of the Edelman Trust Barometer. Edelman surveyed tens of thousands of people across dozens of countries about their level of trust in four areas; business, media, government, and NGOs.
Scott Harper: And they’ve been doing this now for about 17 years…
Pam Harper: Yes − and for the first time ever, the results showed a decline in trust in all four areas.
Scott Harper: Oh wow…
Pam Harper: A particularly troubling statistic is a huge decline in confidence in leadership. And while we cannot go into all of that here, you can get links to the Harvard Business Review article and the Edelman Trust Barometer by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, episode 115 and scroll down under resources.
Scott Harper: And not only did trust decline significantly in leadership and government − which in some ways is not terribly surprising globally, trust in CEOs specifically declined 12 points this year. This is one of the largest declines in recent history.
Pam Harper: Wow.
Scott Harper: And this has a huge impact on all kinds of business issues ranging from creation of strategy, innovation, entering new markets…
Pam Harper: That’s right, it has a top and bottom line result.
Scott Harper: Absolutely. There are lots of reasons for this decrease in trust in CEOs and the C-suite, and not all of these are under the control of the CEO. However, one of the things that is within an executive’s control is the extent to which they are seen as being open and communicative. And one of the things that we’ve heard and experienced many times is that often stakeholders − employees, partners, other people − feel like the CEO and the C-suite are holding back on things that the stakeholders, very frequently, accurately sense are going on but don’t fully understand.
Pam Harper: That’s right; and it begins the creation of the “elephant in the room.”
Scott Harper: Okay − the elephant in the room, where I know something’s going on, and you know something’s going on…
Pam Harper: I know that you know that I know that you know…
Scott Harper: And we’re not talking about it.
Pam Harper: Exactly.
Scott Harper: The question is, why? Why is there this lack of communication that erodes trust?
Pam Harper: Well, you were talking about it a little bit. It starts out as we were just talking about, and there are a variety of reasons that grow over time, so it isn’t just a stagnant elephant.
Scott Harper: Right.
Pam Harper: It starts out small perhaps, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s about confidentiality issues. Say the company is going through a merger or an acquisition now, obviously the C-suite can’t talk about all aspects of it. But employees and others can sense what’s going on. They can see it.
Scott Harper: Or at least that something is going on.
Pam Harper: They don’t know what it is always but they can sense it.
Scott Harper: And that can really degrade trust.
Pam Harper: That’s right. That’s one. So it’s a very tricky issue to navigate, understandably so.
Scott Harper: Right. And sometimes there are issues that are just uncomfortable. You know it may be conflict among individuals, gr among groups.
Pam Harper: Yes. You see this especially in family run companies. Where you’ve got the family baggage going on.
Scott Harper: Oh, very much so.
Pam Harper: “You know, this happened to me, and we’re not going to talk about this here, but we really are gonna talk about it.” And actually though, it does happen in other settings as well; I’ve seen it happen in publicly held companies. It’s a different dynamic, but it’s still very much along those lines.
Scott Harper: Sure. Frequently it’s, “I don’t want to bring this up because I’m afraid doing that will make it worse.”
Pam Harper: Yes. “Let’s let the sleeping dogs lie,” to mix my metaphor.
Scott Harper: Okay − and the elephant can step on the sleeping dogs right?
Pam Harper: There you go.
Scott Harper: And that can be a real issue. And all the time these things happen and are not resolved, they grow and trust degrades. And it’s not just that stakeholders distrust CEOs; the messy truth is sometimes CEOs can distrust their stakeholders. Or sometimes they just aren’t sure how to open up and create conversation in a way that doesn’t create more problems than are resolved. In any case mutual silence feeds the elephant in the room, and this really results in a significant degradation of trust.
Pam Harper: Now something our clients have been surprised by is that it is actually possible to increase trust even under these circumstances.
Scott Harper: Right.
Pam Harper: It starts with being the one to open the conversation and take control of the elephant in the room.
Scott Harper: And that’s not always an easy decision.
Pam Harper: I agree. But if you look at that decision with ripple effects in a positive way, and all of the benefits that can come from it − and they are considerable − it makes that decision much clearer. To do this well you need to have an understanding of the dynamics of the elephant in the room.
Scott Harper: Okay, absolutely.
Pam Harper: In fact, a while back we wrote a report called, “How to Take Control of the Elephant in the Room.” We talked about how to spot the elephants in the room and how to understand more about what feeds them.
Scott Harper: Right.
Pam Harper: One of the things we don’t discuss so much in that report is what’s behind all those symptoms, which essentially comes down to a fear of vulnerability.
Scott Harper: Right; fear of vulnerability on both sides. So the question is, how do you overcome this fear of vulnerability and move to productive dialogue.
Pam Harper: Well that’s what we’re going to talk about in the next segment. Right now we’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll talk more about how leaders can take control of the elephant in the room and increase trust. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: Thanks for joining us on Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We focus on enabling visionary leaders to dramatically momentum in their companies for game-changing results. We’re on the web at BusinessAdvance.com.
Pam Harper: Does this topic resonate with you? Check out related episodes to expand your perspective and take away even more immediately actionable ideas. Just go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, select episode 115, and scroll down to “resources.”
Scott Harper: And while you’re there sign up for our weekly alert of upcoming episodes so you’ll always be up to date.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Today Scott and I are talking about confronting elephants in the room as a surprising way that leaders can increase trust. And we’re especially talking about the issue of what’s behind a lot of the symptoms that we see when these elephants exist − and that is not facing the fear of vulnerability.
Scott Harper: So the fear of the vulnerability − what is that? It’s feeling exposed, it’s feeling in danger?
Pam Harper: I think the best way to talk about it, just briefly right now, is from Brene Brown, who wrote a book called Daring Greatly. Her definition of vulnerability is a feeling of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It’s the combination of those things.
A good way to illustrate this is through a story you and I both know pretty well. That’s a company that we encountered. The leader was very visionary, and they were doing quite well. They were entering into new markets. The big, big challenge they were facing was that despite everybody being all jazzed up − they’re all excited about this, they see the why− all the things that you would expect people to be doing if they’re ready to make it happen − nothing was happening on schedule.
Scott Harper: Right.
Pam Harper: Their milestones were being missed, checkpoints were being missed, so it was clear to this leader that he had to do something different or he would be off track and it would be very difficult, or even impossible, to recover.
Scott Harper: Way in the weeds.
Pam Harper: Big stakes.
Scott Harper: Yeah. He was confused because his executive team was in agreement − they all agreed on the goals and milestones and concepts of what would happen. When he would check with them, they would say “Oh, we’ve got these other priorities that are also important.” But yeah, as you said, the signs all sent the message, “ding ding ding, something’s not right.”
Pam Harper: This is a common scenario for elephants in the room. Now, usually, nobody goes around saying “Hey, we have a bunch of elephants here.”
Scott Harper: Or “We’re going to avoid having a conversation with you.”
Pam Harper: That’s right. This is something that would be an indicator that it might be happening. In this case − in the course of the project, we were able to unearth some very important things. First of all, we were able to gain agreement on both sides that it was important for us to come in and talk with people.
Scott Harper: That’s right.
Pam Harper: Here’s what we found out: On the side of the executives, what was that?
Scott Harper: It was really interesting, because not only were they not really talking to our client, they weren’t talking to each other. Over and over, as we spoke to each one individually, a theme came out: “I’ve got obstacles here that are really beyond my control that are preventing me from doing the things that need to happen. I don’t know how to deal with them.”
Pam Harper: They were not certain; there was the uncertainty element.
Scott Harper: There was the uncertainty element; and also “I should be able to handle this.”
Pam Harper: The risk of looking incompetent. And then, emotional exposure; real vulnerability?
Scott Harper: It was “if I talk about this, am I going to feel weak? Am I going to be perceived as not valuable? What’s going to happen?”
Pam Harper: Exactly. Now, take that in parallel. You’ve got the people you’re talking about, and on the other hand, the leader, in this case, was saying “I don’t know the best way to handle this. If I push too hard, the one thing I know is, I fear losing people that are essential to our success.”
Scott Harper: Yeah.
Pam Harper: He highly valued them. Again, it goes back to uncertainty and perceived risk.
Scott Harper: Right.
Pam Harper: And the emotional exposure. “I like to know that I’m in control.”
Scott Harper: And I can make things happen.
Pam Harper: I can make things happen. It took a lot of trust for him to decide to work with us to work things out with his team. The good news is that we were able to help them. We provided them with a safe environment, and people realized that they actually did want the same things.
The elephants in the room came out. They were willing to begin to talk with each other and actually be honest about what was happening. Through this, they were able to collaborate with each other on solutions that they never thought they could do before. The momentum they gained was tremendous, and they accelerated their deadlines and their goals by six months, which was worth millions of dollars.
Scott Harper: That’s the key − it’s to really work through the issues of vulnerability.
Pam Harper: Remember that the bottom line lesson is that there’s always more to the story of why something’s happening. The vulnerability piece, the being willing to have these conversations that are really critical, is what we call critical conversation. Before you can make decisions that are effective about what to do next, these critical conversations are essential.
Scott Harper: Well, that’s right, because what really is going on most of the time is far beyond the symptom, the thing that people don’t like that may bring them to the breaking point of saying “We have to do something about this.” Because the folks who aren’t talking to each other have their own perspectives, it’s kind of a secret and you have to peel back all the layers and get to all the things that are going on. Then, when they’re out on the table, then you can actually do something.
Pam Harper: And that’s a good place for us to take another quick break. When we come back, we’ll talk more about critical conversations and answer some of the questions that people have asked us about how to foster them. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: You’re listening Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you Business Advancement Incorporated. On the web at BusinessAdvance.com.
So, Pam, we were just talking about our report “How to Take Control of the Elephants in the Room,” which people can download by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, episode 115 and going to resources. What are three reasons that people should read the report?
Pam Harper: The first is that spotting the elephant in the room is probably one of the more difficult things to do because it can look like different things. We spoke about one way that it appears, but it can be others.
Scott Harper: People may not be even aware that there is an elephant in the room.
Pam Harper: That’s right. A second reason is that we talk about the food that feeds these elephants − that makes them grow big.
Scott Harper: Yeah.
Pam Harper: You want to find that food and take it away as soon as possible. This report does talk about that.
Scott Harper: Starve them out. Okay.
Pam Harper: The third is a great reminder on how you can actually take control of the elephants in the room. It’s a great starting point.
Scott Harper: Okay. so go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, episode 115 and request your complimentary copy of the report “How to Take Control of the Elephants in the Room.” And while you’re there, check out our other free resources and other episodes of Growth Igniters Radio.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Today Scott and I have been talking about confronting elephants in the room as a surprising way for leaders to increase trust.We’re dedicating this segment to answering your questions. These are some of the questions that we’ve been asked about how to deal with critical conversations, as we call them before you make decisions about how to take control of the elephant in the room.
Scott Harper: Okay. The first one is, “All right, I know that there’s something going on, and I sense that there’s an issue. How do I start this conversation, this difficult conversation?”
Pam Harper: The first thing is you have to decide who everyone is that you need to include. Sometimes, it seems like it’s just the people that are immediately surrounding you, but especially if you’re dealing with an issue that might include a partner − whether it’s a joint venture partner, whether it’s a strategic alliance partner, or whether it’s a provider of services − you have to make sure that you’ve got everybody involved who needs to be involved, the stakeholders.
Scott Harper: Okay.
Pam Harper: The other thing is, once you’re pretty well assured that you have those people, is to speak with the individuals ahead of time to help them feel safe. A lot of times what we’ll find is that if we ask “Is this working for you?” They’ll say “No. The situation is not working for me, but I don’t know what to do.” Going back to the fear of vulnerability, if you offer them a way to come forward, we want to make things better. People do want to improve the situation.
Scott Harper: Okay. And in those individual conversations, you may find that they know people who need to be included that you may not know. It adds richness to that conversation.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper: Another question we had is, “How do we keep these conversations from turning into a blaming session?” Like, “It’s your fault, no it’s your fault, no it’s their fault…”
Pam Harper: That’s right. The first thing I want to say is that, to me, that is not candor. Candor is not finger pointing.
Scott Harper: Okay.
Pam Harper: It generally tends to work best because we’re talking about something that requires trust. Then we need to set the stage by looking at it from a positive outcome − “what is it that we want to get from this conversation” − and to approach it in a spirit of collaboration.
Scott Harper: Seek something that everyone can agree on and contribute to.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper: Okay. You talked about a safe environment, creating a safe environment for the conversations. That’s nice in theory, but it doesn’t always feel safe. How can leaders who want to have that greater conversation create that safe environment?
Pam Harper: It starts with bringing people into you. We talked about having this invitation to join in. Once people are together, it’s about setting ground rules and saying “Look. This is going to be a positive conversation – no finger pointing.”
“There are plenty of things to go around. What we want to do is to seek an outcome that’s going to get us towards that big purpose that we’re trying to accomplish together.” At the same time, as a leader, it’s important to keep track of not just the content, but the nonverbal language. In our last episode, I spoke about a time when I faced down a group that was definitely angry about some of the things that were going on.
Scott Harper: You were talking to them, and yeah, I remember you telling the story. They were crossing their arms, they were frowning, they were not looking at you.
Pam Harper: That’s right. What became important to me was to create a safe environment to enable these people to feel comfortable talking about what was going on. I chose to disclose. I chose to tell them why I was there. That provided something of a safety. I told them “Look. I’m here to help you, ultimately.” I had been able to provide them with enough other cues that I was not some evil spy. Providing that trust, and it comes from not just what you say, of course, but it comes from the way that you say things, the way you look when you’re talking. It’s nonverbal language as well as the verbal language. That all contributes to that sense of safety that takes down the level of risk and that fear of vulnerability that people talk about.
Scott Harper: It does. Also, another thing that we’ve spoken about multiple times is, in a conversation, especially when there are multiple people, monitoring not just the content and the nonverbal language, but who’s talking and who isn’t talking.
Pam Harper: That’s right. You have to keep an eye out on everybody. It’s a little bit like patting the head and rubbing the tummy. Too much attention paid to what people are doing, and you’ve lost focus on the topic. Too much focus on the topic, you lose your ability to pay attention to what people are doing that can give important clues about what they feel. It’s constantly monitoring. The other thing I’ll add is that injecting a little bit of a note of humor; humor can really help.
Scott Harper: Yeah.
Pam Harper: Safety is the foundation for critical conversations to be successful.
Scott Harper: This brings us to the next question, which is “Okay, there’s all these things we have to keep track of. When should we be thinking about bringing in somebody to help us with this issue?”
Pam Harper: The more sensitive the issue and the more emotionally charged it is, the more important it becomes, a greater potential upside there is to bringing somebody in who’s experienced with finding the issues, being able to notice what’s going on, being able to pat the head and rub the tummy at the same time, and generally collaborate with everybody in the sense of saying “I’m going to help you to create that safe environment so you can feel vulnerable, so we can amp up the nature of the conversation and really make the things happen that we want to have happen that are going to be big stakes.”
Scott Harper: If there are disparities in power, obviously it can also help because it puts a sort of buffer in.
Pam Harper: It depends on the issue, I will say. And there are times to go it alone.
Scott Harper: Right.
Pam Harper: If you are dealing with your peers and you are good at all the other things we were talking about … it’s something that, again, it’s an escalating thing. You have to choose when you’re going to bring somebody in. The more complex the issue is, and the higher the stakes, the more it makes sense to bring somebody in.
Scott Harper: Okay. So Pam, we’ve talked about the elephants in the room and the things that feed them, and some of the things that can be done to diffuse the situation and move forward. Any final thoughts for this episode?
Pam Harper: So a surprising way for leaders to increase stakeholder trust is to decide to trust stakeholders, and ourselves as leaders. One of the things we can do to help this is to be willing to identify the elephants in the room and to open the conversations that it takes to resolve the real issues. The more that you do this on a regular basis, the more you can ignite momentum for success and continue to sustain it as you grow.
Scott Harper: Thanks Pam. And thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, download the report “How to Take Control of the Elephants in the Room,” share on social media, find out about upcoming episodes, or open a conversation with us. Go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com and select episode 115.
Pam Harper: Until next time this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success and leaving you with this thought:
Scott Harper: So what elephants are looking in the corner of your room? And what will you do to bring them out so you can increase trust and accelerate success?