Trust is like an echo

(Harry, the CEO of a New York based software company, and Elizabeth, a retired global fund manager, meet for their Saturday morning conversations in Elizabeth’s apartment on Fifth Avenue – or, like today, at the Guggenheim Museum)

Harry entered the building with the same sense of wonder that he had experienced nearly twenty-five years earlier when he had first visited the Guggenheim during a lunch hour and had ended up staying all afternoon in the remarkable building.

Elizabeth had called him earlier in the week and asked him to meet her here for the last day of the Alberto Giacometti Exhibition.

As he stepped beyond the low-ceilinged entrance the rotunda opened out and drew his eye up towards the glass dome seven stories above him. He took one look at the long queue waiting for the elevator and set off up the spiral ramp that gives the building it’s unique shape and atmosphere.

He made good progress and eventually reached the high gallery where he saw Elizabeth standing looking at a sculpture of a tall and elongated figure bent forwards as if walking into the wind.

“Isn’t he beautiful” said Elizabeth, without even looking up at Harry.

“Amazing” said Harry.

“This has always reminded me of my own father. He had that purposeful stride but was always connected to the ground. He was someone who could always be trusted to do what he said – unlike many people I’ve met in my life,” said Elizabeth.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what we were talking about last week. Do you think loyalty is a consequence of trust?” asked Harry, as they started to walk down the white concrete spiral, pausing at sculptures as they went.

“Ah, the trust question,” said Elizabeth as if she had been expecting the topic to come up.

“And why do you think they are connected?” she asked Harry.

“Well if I can’t trust someone how can I show them any loyalty?” said Harry.

“But what does trust men to you?” she asked.

“Trust, is, as you suggested, if you say you’re going to do something and you can be relied upon to do it then you can be trusted,” said Harry.

“So, if a chief executive said that he was going to exploit his workers, and then he did, would you say that he was trustworthy?” said Elizabeth, wandering on to the next exhibit.

“Well he can be relied upon to behave in a particular way, so I suppose he could be said to trustworthy,” said Harry.

“But would you really use such a word to describe such behaviour – a leader who exploits his employees is ‘trustworthy’?” asked Elizabeth.

“No – I don’t suppose I would,” said Harry

“So, if reliability isn’t the singular definition of trust – what do you think is?” asked Elizabeth, moving on to another of Giacometti’s sculptures.

“I think reliability is important but perhaps it also has something to do with having a positive intention towards the other person?” suggested Harry.

“Now we’re getting somewhere. When my husband used to carry out cardiac surgery his patients trusted him because they believed that he cared about their welfare. But trust is more than just reliability and caring – his patients trusted him because of his credibility. He had a series of qualifications from some of the world’s top universities and had a reputation as being one of New York’s top surgeons,” said Elizabeth.

“OK – so trust is a combination of reliability, caring for others’ wellbeing, and credibility” said Harry as he reeled off the constituent elements.

“Even with all those characteristics it’s still not enough to be regarded as being trustworthy – there are a couple of other things missing. Can you think what they might be? asked Elizabeth.

“Geez, I thought reliability was enough – and you’re saying there’s more” said Harry.

“Let me put it this way – is it possible to be trustworthy in one field and untrustworthy in another?” asked Elisabeth.

“Well I suppose credibility is specific to singular activities – for example I don’t know if your husband was a climber but if he wasn’t then I wouldn’t trust him to lead me up El Capitan in Yosemite” said Harry.

“Good,” said Elizabeth.

“Now you never met Tony but he had the most remarkable bedside manner with people – and he made them feel completely safe in his hands. Can you appreciate that?” said Elizabeth.

“Oh, I’ve met plenty doctors and experts in my time who were exceptionally credible in terms of their competence but whose arrogance and ego undermined any semblance of trust – so yes I do see what you mean.” said Harry.

“It certainly connects to the idea of having positive intentions towards other people’s welfare but if it isn’t manifested in one’s behaviour then the extent to which one is trusted is seriously undermined” said Elizabeth, and continued,

“Do you know that doctors who are perceived to be ‘warm’ towards their patients are much less likely to be sued for malpractice than those who simply rely upon their dispassionate competence.” said Elizabeth.

“I can understand that” said Harry.

“Some call it intimacy rather than warmth – but it connects with the idea of a having a positive outlook towards the other person, rather than obvious and pre-dominant self-interest” said Elizabeth.

“Now you said there were another two things that needed to be present for trust to be manifested – so what is the last thing?” asked Harry.

“Quite simple really. I do not need to trust people unless I am making myself vulnerable to them in some way. For example, Tony’s patients staked the ultimate level of vulnerability – their own lives when they trusted him. If I buy a bagel from a deli I make myself vulnerable to them in terms of my health and hygiene – but obviously not to the same level as Tony’s patients.” said Elizabeth.

“A bit like my climbing example – if my guide is holding the other end of the rope that I rely upon to save my life in the event of a fall – then I am required to place a high degree of trust in that other person – and the rope of course” said Harry.

“Absolutely” said Elizabeth as she wandered around another of the remarkable artworks, and mused aloud,

“Trust is a state of mind – not a behaviour – in the absence of vulnerability trust is not required. That’s why so many leaders find it so difficult to delegate – because they don’t want to place their vulnerability in the hands of others – so they do everything themselves.

“Do you think I’m like that? asked Harry.

“No. I genuinely don’t think you are like that. But I’m not so sure about those around you.” she said.

“Are we talking about Bob?” asked Harry.

“I don’t know Bob, but from what you’ve told me he has difficulty making himself vulnerable to others which leads him to try to control and manage everything – even you. Whereas you appear to trust him unequivocally. Am I right?” asked Elizabeth.

“You are correct – I do trust Bob. But I do recognise what you’re saying about him trying to control all variables which leads to more a command and control model of behaviour – although I’ve never thought about that extending to me,” said Harry.

“You see – last week we talked about the need for loyalty to go both ways. But I would argue that trust is the keystone of loyalty – so any absence of trust immediately undermines any sense of loyalty. I’ve always thought about trust in work being a bit like an echo – if you don’t give – you can never get it back,” and with that she wandered off down the spiral and started to give Harry a one-to-one tutorial on the life and works of Giacometti.

Artificial Harmony

Artificial Harmony is one of the defining characteristics of malfunctioning teams. In order to present themselves as a high performing team the members pretend that everyone gets along and that here’s no dissention or disagreement.

Artificial harmony leads people to agree on matters and courses of action that they don’t believe to be the best decision for the group. These types of decisions are made to avid conflict or dispute but ultimately accumulate a series of less than optimal decisions.

In such teams people just want to get along with each other and lose sight of the purpose of the team and substitute that with a form of social contract that is based upon false agreements.

Teams that fail to identify or tackle artificial harmony are eventually destined to fail in their collective purpose.

At Ceannas we’ve been tackling artificial harmony through the development of the Ceannas Team Index that is made up of five fundamental behaviours:

  • POSITIVITY: brings a positive energy to the team
  • CANDOUR: can be relied upon to tell it as it is
  • TEAM FOCUS: committed to team goals
  • APPROACHABILITY: approachable and helpful
  • DELIVERY: delivers on their promises

Where team members can provide candid reflections upon their colleagues’ team behaviours then great things have happened!





There is a growing convention that ‘good’ leaders are those who adopt a more ‘hands-off’ and passive approach, characterised by a lack of intervention, control, or supervision. Passive leadership lies at the opposite end of the spectrum occupied by authoritarian, alpha male, command and control leaders.

At first glance the passive leader looks like a great person to work for, giving those they lead more autonomy, power and influence. Who wouldn’t want to work for someone who let you make all the decisions for yourself?

However – things aren’t quite as simple as they might appear – particularly if the leader remains at the extreme end of the passive – proactive spectrum.

There appear to be four reasons why a leader might tend towards Passive Leadership:

1.   Those leaders who are lost in the functional detail of their own role to the extent that they ignore everything that goes on around them;

2.   Those leaders who have an extreme aversion to being perceived to be authoritarian or micromanagers;

3.   Those leaders who believe that performance is a personal issue and that it’s up to individuals to set their own standards, behaviour’s and attitudes;

4.   Those leaders who are philosophically committed to empowering others, providing autonomy and establishing democratic and egalitarian cultures;

Repeated studies into Passive Leadership have shown that far from creating the kind of positive cultures we might expect is can lead to a range of negative outcomes that run counter to the leader’s intention:

Bullying: Passive Leadership can generate bullying and aggressive behaviour that flourishes in an environment where such behaviour is ignored or overlooked.

Such outcomes are consequences of the Passive Leader’s unwillingness to identify, communicate or enforce explicit standards of behaviour – leaving people to work out these standards for themselves.

Poor productivity: The Passive Leader typically pays little attention to productivity and the completion of tasks, seeing both of these to be the personal responsibility of the individual.

Such leadership behaviour can fracture any sense of common purpose in the organisation, leading to demotivation, frustration and low self-esteem.

Lack of vision and sense of purpose: This problem is aggravated when the Passive Leader fails to offer any definitive personal vision for the future, preferring instead to solely delegate the generation of that vision to others in the organisation.

This lack of proactivity can frequently lead to interminable meetings, proliferation of committees and groups, and an absence of decisive direction – ultimately leaving people confused and uncertain.

Procrastination: When it comes to making difficult decisions the Passive Leader typically adopts a ‘wait and see’ approach characterised by delaying or avoiding decisions. Such behaviour leads people to take things into their own hands, which, in turn, can lead to increased incivility and volatility in the workplace.

Reactive leadership: As one might expect, situations inevitably deteriorate to the point where the Passive Leader has to take ‘reactive’ action – long after an successful solution could have been implemented.

Status Quo Bias: Such is the Passive Leader’s unwillingness to take decisive action that it leads them to prefer the status quo and avoid innovation and change leaving the long-term survival of the organisation at risk.

As is ever the case, leadership requires the leader to make wise judgements about which behaviours they need to manifest at particular times and in particular contexts.

However, the leader who is determined to never explore other reaches of the ‘passive – proactive spectrum’ of leadership really does run the risk of ending up leading a team of people who lack any sense of purpose or direction; who demonstrate incivility towards each other; who don’t have a clear idea about what good performance looks like; and, who work in an environment where they live at the whim of a leader who reacts to situations in an unpredictable and erratic manner.

If I have observed any leadership trend in 2017 it has been to see more and more leaders being trapped by the expectation that they should only adopt the traits of Passive Leadership – yet when such a leader has given themselves permission to shift into more proactive behaviours the results have been quite remarkable.


Will you leave a leadership legacy or just baggage

A couple of weeks ago I posted a brief note on LinkedIn about a conversation I’d had with a chief executive of a successful global business. The chief executive said to me that one of the most important, yet often unrecognised qualities, of a successful CEO was to be able to differentiate between ‘legacy’ and ‘baggage’.

That post received quite a bit of interest and was read by over 5,000 people. However, a good friend of mine suggested that there was another distinction which could be made and that was between ‘’legacy’ and ‘heritage”. She pointed out that we should have a healthy respect for heritage of our businesses, and a healthy scepticism as to whether legacy is true heritage that deserves to be handed on and looked after or whether it is just familiar and much loved baggage.

I found this to be a very helpful nudge to consider the relationship between ‘legacy’ and ‘heritage’ and it got me to thinking about the nature of the differences between the two related concepts.

So let’s start with an admission – in any thesaurus ‘legacy’ and ‘heritage’ appear as synonyms for each other, so much of what follows might simply be a rather self-indulgent act of hair splitting.

The origin of the word legacy is late Middle English, denoting the function or office of a deputy; with the root coming from the Latin word ‘legatus’ – person delegated.

In modern parlance dictionaries typically have two definitions of the word legacy. The first is related to a legacy being something that is acquired by inheritance, such as a gift by will, especially money or other personal property, e.g. he left a legacy of £1000,000 to his daughter. The second definition is where something is transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.

Now at the risk of being accused of twisting the facts to suit my argument I’m going to suggest that one of the key elements of legacy is that it is much more of a deliberate act that heritage – which I will explore in a moment.

In a general sense we often use ‘legacy’ in a negative context, such as when we want to overcome the ‘legacy’ of the past – but that relates much more to an activity/way of thinking/code of ethics which was once popular and has now become outmoded – however none of these were necessarily deliberately passed on to the next generation, instead they were simply remains from another time, i.e. part of a heritage.

Lots of things can go into the heritage of a particular society – or business for that matter – features such as traditions, languages, buildings and monuments that were created in the past and still have historical importance. These are the things that form a critical part of the cultural heritage of a country, a place or an organisation.

One of the fascinating things about having been a Director of Education, where I had responsibility for over 200 schools, was observing the legacy left behind, and inherited, by headteachers/school principals. If there was a general pattern to be observed it was that the legacy of an individual was more often than not wiped out by their successor – regardless of whether their predecessor had been effective or ineffective.

This is why new leaders often come into an organisation and seek to update the vision, mission and values – always ensuring that they involve everyone in the business in the process. Nevertheless, despite this involvement, it still results in the last vestiges of the old regime being consigned to the dustbin.

I think this is the key point that the CEO was making to me when he suggested that too many leaders are unable to differentiate between ‘legacy’ and ‘baggage’. Too often anything that ‘hasn’t been invented here’ (by ‘here’ I mean by the present administration) is seen to be baggage that can be discarded without any negative consequence.

True legacy seems to be more directly connected to the prior leadership who pass on something positive to their successors. Heritage is the culture – represented by the traditions and artefacts that constitute a ‘way of doing things’.

It is of significance that the CEO was the leader of a very successful family business. Evidence points to the fact that family businesses are much more aware of the importance of legacy where a responsibility is passed down to the next generation – rather than just simply inherited as we might our heritage.

It’s this notion of obligation towards what has been passed on that differentiates the two concepts for me in business.

The danger is that if we don’t a see a line of sight between one leader and the next – as we do in family businesses – then the heritage of the business is fragile as there is no sense of obligation to maintain what has gone on before.

All too often, new leaders pick and choose what elements of their heritage they want to discard, and those elements they want to uphold – without any of the associated sense of obligation to the critical features of practice that have sustained family businesses.

I’m not sure if I’ve properly responded to my friend’s comment in the course of this article, but the very process of researching and thinking it through has certainly helped me – and has already been of assistance in a couple of conversations with CEOs about what they have inherited as a legacy and what legacy they want to hand on to their eventual successors.

The bottom line appears to be that wise leaders think very carefully about the deliberate act of legacy in terms of the past, the present, and the future and use this knowledge to make careful decisions about what they pass on, uphold or discard, and finally, what to pass on.

All this took on even greater clarity this week when I met the chairman of a large business who described the tendency for some CEOs to get involved in ‘ego projects’. These are leaders who want to leave an imprint upon an organisation and such is their determination to leave a legacy that they embark on extravagant projects that are primarily about raising their own profile. I believe this is essential difference between ‘legacy’ and ‘baggage’ – a legacy is something that enhances the future – baggage is something that unsustainable and offers no benefit to the future.

So, in conclusion, ask yourself this, what positive legacy do you intend to pass on to your successor? If you can’t answer that question then perhaps it might be worthwhile thinking about the value of what you’re doing at present if it can simply be discarded as ‘baggage’ – the moment you leave the business!