Category Archives: Trust


I singled out a team member from another leader’s organization during an organizational leadership meeting the other day to make sure that he was recognized for the great work he had done in supporting me and my team on a very difficult assignment. Even though I got to report the progress, I thought it was important that the person most responsible for the work received the recognition for the job well done. His senior leadership thanked me for the acknowledgement. I didn’t remember getting thanked very often for acknowledging another team’s individual member in the past. I got the subtle feeling that this sort of acknowledgement behavior may not have been the norm.

This small interchange got me to thinking again. This is always a dangerous process as I am never sure where it is going to lead me, but I thought anyway. I started remembering back in my career to try and pinpoint when and where I adopted and implemented the position that a leader should not take the credit for the successes and good performance of the team.

I can remember working for managers that did not seem to ascribe to this approach to team acknowledgement. We probably all have. It has been a while and I find myself searching my memories for how I felt about it. I would have to say my memories and feeling about it were mixed. I remember feeling proud that the work I had done was being recognized as noteworthy, but I also remember feeling at least a little bit slighted that the manager was individually receiving the accolades.

I can also remember the first time I was singled out and recognized by a leader for delivering an important work product for the organization. There was the same pride in the work, but also a little more pride associated with the specific acknowledgement.

Business is about competition. On the higher levels one business competes with another for available customers and revenue. Organizations within the business compete (and work in concert) with each of the other organizations within the business for funding and growth opportunities. To illustrate this organizational competition just take a look at the budgeting process and how the available funding and growth are allocated in the next year’s plan.

There is also competition within and amongst the various organizations on an individual level as well. There is usually a general desire by individuals within an organization to matriculate upwards in the organization to positions of greater responsibility, and compensation. This is not always the case as there are those that find a role and level that they are happy with and do not try to go farther, but in general this desire for upward progress in the organization is a given.

The competitive issue arises in that as you progress further and further up the organizational charts, the number of positions available to advance to becomes smaller and smaller. Individual contributors usually wish to become managers, who in turn want to be one of a fewer number of senior managers, who in turn want to be one of still fewer directors who in turn want to be one of even fewer vice presidents, and so on.

As an individual contributor we get the opportunity to be specifically acknowledged for the work we do. There probably isn’t anyone else doing the specific work the individual is doing so this is okay. Individuals who do good work seem to be the first ones to be recognized and promoted to the management levels. This begins and reinforces a process where the desire for individual recognition is seen as a key requirement for promotion and advancement.

The issue here is that as you are promoted and rise in the organization the amount of solution content that each individual manager adds to the delivered work product begins to change and decrease. The individual delivering a project has a great deal of input and relationship to the final work product. The director (two to three levels higher in the organization) of the individual delivering the project may be able to provide guidance and directional input on the project but probably limited to little specific content. It is still the individual that is delivering it.

I know I have, and I suspect that many others have worked for managers (a generic term to be applied to people at all relative levels of an organizational hierarchy) who never seemed to advance beyond the need for receiving that individual recognition. These are the type of individuals that seem to gladly accept the full recognition for the work delivered by the entire team. They are a team manager but they are still thinking and acting like an individual contributor.

There are and will always be instances of the type of management behavior being rewarded. It is not however a sign of leadership and at least in my experience seems to be a behavior which eventually catches up with the individual. Leaders eventually identify this type of behavior and react negatively to it.

Leaders understand that their role becomes more strategic and directional, the higher up in the organization they go. They may identify the issue, prioritize the project, and provide the funding and staf
fing to see to it that it can be completed, but they do not perform the work product themselves. They know others must do this, as they have other issues to identify, prioritize and act on. They also know that those who actually do perform the work product should be recognized when they succeed.

These are the types of leaders that are recognized by their teams as a leader to be valued because they know that they will be recognized and rewarded for their efforts. What may not be so widely known is that these are leaders are also valued by other leaders as being able to successfully assemble quality teams that identify and resolve the issues they are faced with. When a leader publicly recognizes the efforts and abilities of the individuals on the team who successfully delivered on their objectives, they are also tacitly pointing out that they as leaders put together that team and put them in the position to be successful.

Giving credit where credit is due is the sure sign of a leader. A leader knows they are in charge and ultimately responsible for the delivery and success of any project. That does not mean that they have the right to, or should assume all the credit for the delivery and success of the project. On the contrary. The leader that understands their role in the project, who focuses on and enables the success of the others on the team, and then makes sure that they are recognized and acknowledged for their success, is also usually the one that gets the most credit without ever having to ask for it.

Skeptics and Pragmatics

When in doubt about where to start on a topic, I almost always turn to the best companion a writer of any kind can have, the dictionary. Webster’s dictionary defines “skeptic” as a noun, and “a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.” There are a few other definitions, but this is the first one on the list.

The etymology of the word (to be honest when I did some of my initial research I wondered why anyone would want to know the “study of bugs” with association to “skeptics”, but it turned out that I had confused “Entomology – the study of insects” with “Etymology – the origin of words”. Silly me.) comes from the name taken by the disciples of the Greek philosopher Pyrrho, who lived c.360-c.270 B.C.E., and is related to skeptesthai “to reflect, look, view”. In any event, you can see where the word came from and how its meaning was formed.

So what has this to do with business, you might ask since that is what I usually write about.

It has to do with the fact that skeptics and skepticism are normally viewed in a negative light when it comes to business. Management usually wants you to fall in line behind their plans and start executing them. Skeptics are viewed as hindrances to the progress of management’s plans. The plan is done. Let’s get on with it. If we had wanted your opinion we would have asked for it.

Leaders on the other hand will usually seek out those that “reflect, look, view” and “who question the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.”

Please don’t get me wrong. There is a time and a place for skepticism and there is a time and a place for action. However it is always the time and place to ask if you are doing the right thing.

Plans must be continually questioned and revised. Processes must be continually reviewed and renewed. Just because something looked like it would work one day does not mean it will look and work the same at a later date.

The problem is that for the average manager it is easier to continue on with an existing plan, even a bad existing plan then it is to make the effort to revise the plan, or even develop a new plan and to change directions. I don’t know why this seems to be the case in business, but it has been my experience across most of my business career. It seems the risk associated with trying something different is felt to be greater than the risk of continuing to do something wrong.

This brings us to our second word for the day: pragmatics. Much like labeling someone a skeptic in business as a negative characteristic, being labeled a pragmatic seems to have taken on a similar context. It doesn’t seem that anyone has ever been told they are pragmatic enough. You only hear about people being too pragmatic as if that means that they are not capable of somehow grasping the bigger picture.

I think this is similar to the conundrum associated with “whelming”. You often hear of people being overwhelmed when they have too much to handle. You sometimes hear of them being underwhelmed when they are not impressed. You never hear of them being just plain whelmed.

Going back to Webster’s dictionary, for “pragmatic” we get an adjective this time, “of or pertaining to a practical point of view or practical considerations.” When we look at the source or study of bugs associated with this word we get from Latin pragmaticus “skilled in business or law” and from the Greek pragmatikos “fit for business, active, business-like; systematic”. There’s more, but I think you get the picture.

A pragmatic is someone who is skilled in business with a practical point of view. Now the catchphrase here is “practical”, so here we go again. Practical according to Websters another adjective: adapted or designed for actual use; useful. Now we have a pragmatic as someone who is skilled in business with a point of view that is adapted or designed for actual use.

So enough already with the word-smithing.

What all this has led up to is a couple of questions: How is it that the skeptic, the one who wants to see deeper into the topic seems to be perceived as an obstacle to progress as compared to the individual who never questions authenticity and validity? Why is it that the pragmatic, the one who wants to do things designed for actual use is seen to be perceived as not inspiring enough to lead?

Business seems to have evolved over time away from some of these basic tenets that in the past have been the basis for success. History is littered with examples of some very hard lessons that were learned, or more accurately, relearned at great expense, where the skeptic or the pragmatic were ignored, but were in the end proven correct.

I remember working for a company where all of the management and all but one of the stock analysts were convinced that the company and its stock price would only go higher. It was a market boom. Everyone needed to get on board or be left behind.

There was however one analyst who kept saying that the market was overbought and the business model did not even support the existing business and stock levels. He was a skeptic. He was ostracized and ignored.

When the market, and stock crashed and thousands lost their jobs he was proven far more accurate than anyone was even comfortable discussing. The company went from being the market leader to having gone out of business in less than ten years.

I also recall the reviews by the public and the analysts about the banks that were described (rather derisively) as “pragmatic” when they did not participate in the new burgeoning “sub-prime” mortgage market. There was great money to be made. They were going to miss out on the new found fortunes. When the market crashed, and took down most of the economy with it, it again proved that the business practice of making mortgage loans to those that had a high probability of being able to pay back the amount of the loan they received was still the best practical model. It seems that eventually sound business practice will be proven out.

Skeptics and pragmatics, of one type or another need to be sought out and encouraged. They idea of not taking things at face value and doing things that are designed and adapted for actual use should never go out of style or favor. We need to remember that just because someone is a skeptic does not mean that they are an obstruction to be overcome. Just because someone is pragmatic does not mean that they cannot be a visionary and inspirational leader.

Leaders today need to be looking for skeptics and pragmatics for their teams. After all, chances are that at least one of them will be proven to be one of the leaders for tomorrow.


We would all like to think that business is run as a meritocracy. That would mean that those who have actually earned favored or leadership positions would be the ones that occupy favored or leadership positions. Either unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you choose to look at it, that is not entirely the case. Personalities, friendships, alliances and past histories all come into play when leaders and their teams are selected. In multinational companies it also seems whether we want to believe it or not that location and cultural heritage can come into play when leadership positions are discussed. The politics of business, the perceptions of who we are and how we act can be potentially more important than our business accomplishments and capabilities when it comes to opportunities for leadership roles.

I would be surprised if that last statement did not elicit a collective “Duh” from everyone.

Leaders want a diversity of thought on their teams. By having differing points of view pitfalls such as “group think” and “blind spots” are avoided and stronger team solutions are arrived at. Leaders also usually want a uniformity of support on their teams as well. This means that they like to know that they have people on their team that they can count on regardless of the situation.

On the surface this may sound like an irresolvable dichotomy; a desire for a diversity of thought and opinion and a unanimity of support from the same people on a single team. The balance is struck by the astute leader that can select members of the team that are all driven to achieve the best results, no matter whose solution is selected or implemented. The dynamic is maintained by team members who understand that there are other members on the team who may have equally passionate opinions and points of view on issues, and who focus on the solution, not the individual who has proposed it.

For the leader politics is about having trust in the team. For the team it is earning and maintaining the trust of the leader and working as an individual within the team. For the individuals of the team it is about the meshing of personalities and styles with the leader. A good example of this phenomenon can be seen when a new leader or CEO is brought into an organization. The new leader will usually review and interview the existing team, and then replace either part or possibly all of the team with new team members that are known entities have experience with and are trusted by the leader. The replaced team members probably have done nothing wrong. They were just unknown entities that had not had the opportunity to fully gain the leader’s trust and were replaced by people who had already proven their abilities and trust to the new leader. Were the replaced team members less capable? Probably not since they were already performing in those roles for the previous leader, but that’s now a moot point as they were not given the opportunity to fully prove their capabilities to the new leader.

That is an example of the politics of business at some of its highest levels. It usually plays out to a similar extent at just about every level within an organization. Leaders at all levels of an organization have a tendency to “like” to have certain people, and certain types of people on their teams. These are the people who have engendered a political trust by the leader. They are to some extent know entities. They have known capabilities and approaches to solving issues. They have demonstrated allegiance to the leader, and performance in the past and are expected to do so in the future.

Politics even more so comes into play in trying to make the transition from an unknown entity as part of a team, to a known, “liked” and trusted team member. There are no hard and fast rules that can be put in place here other than one: as both a business person and a team member you must be true to your nature. Do not try to be all things to all people. It is even worse if you try to be different things to different people.

There are a limited number of positions on any team. Not everyone can be on the team. There will be some leaders that will not be compatible with who you are and how you go about your responsibilities. The same will probably go for their teams. For example, in a matrix and consensus structured organization, individuals with an authority-responsibility disposition may not be as fully comfortable or successful as they would be in a general management or profit and loss structured organization. The same would go in reverse where matrix comfortable individuals would probably have issue in the P&L structured organization.

Unlike governmental politics where it seems the process is to find the best way to tell people what they want to hear, business politics seems to be more about finding the best way to tell people what they need to hear. Public arguments and friction caused by differing opinions and aggressive message delivery styles will probably not be considered the most politically astute way of communicating what the leader needs to hear in the business environment.

Some people might argue that I have the political savvy of a petulant fourth grader. To some extent this might be true although I would hope that I would have learned a little since then. Early in my career I learned that I seem to migrate toward leaders that were more results and less process oriented. This did not mean that it was only results that counted. There was obviously more to it than that, but it at least put me in an environment that matched my business performance tendencies. I understood this and did not try to become a process or qualitative team member. I carried this objective, results and quantitative approach with me as I matriculated in management.

Now the politics of business for me are more associated with assessing the management structure that I am in to understand if they are quantitative-results oriented, or qualitative-process oriented. I understand where I am a better fit and where I am not. For me to be a member of a qualitative team would be a stress on them as well as myself. Likewise it might be a stress for a process focused individual to be a member of my team, since my tendencies are not in that direction.

Just as you should work to understand your business styles and tendencies, so do leaders need to look to understand your business styles and tendencies. Leaders look for both diversity and compatibility in their teams. As leaders take on new roles and need to create new teams, or as they look to fill roles in their existing teams in will be business style and team compatibility that will become more the deciding factors as most potential candidates will be fully technically competent or they would not have been considered in the first place.

What may be viewed as politics can also be viewed as leaders looking for a comfort level with the individual members of a team, and the team as a whole. Those that the leader has worked with in the past, either directly as a team member or as part of another type of issue, may have a “political” advantage or disadvantage, depending on how that leader has viewed the style of their business conduct. Beneficial experiences and compatible business approaches can in some instances potentially favorably sway decisions that might have been made on merit alone. Just as dissonant experiences and compatibility can potentially unfavorably sway decisions in the other direction.

Business opportunities, promotions, assignments, etc. will not always seem to go to the most deserving or the one who may have best earned it, from each individual’s perspective. There will always be a personal experience, compatibility and trust factors associated with each leader’s decisions. We would all like to look at this as “politics” when it comes to how someone may or may not have ingratiated themselves with a particular leader. Leaders always evaluate p
eople, both those on their teams and those that are not. Understanding this, and combining it with finding the appropriate business performance style to provide leaders with the information that they need to know may be the best solution to dealing with business politics. It provides the opportunity to demonstrate business capabilities without generating conflict or dissonance. Leaders can look for capability and compatibility for their teams and individuals can look for resonance in leaders for their business approaches and styles.

I wish I had learned this one a little better earlier in my career. I was under the mistaken impression that being right or delivering on objectives was the only thing that mattered. It matters a great deal, but when everyone believes they are right in their own approach and are delivering on their objectives to one extent or another, it may be the other criteria, or politics that make the difference.


The earliest written form of communication is generally accepted as Cuneiform, the pressing of triangular shaped marks into clay tablets, and it dates as far back as the thirtieth century BC. It was developed and used by the Sumerians, and was used primarily to keep track of their business dealings. We know this because we have found pieces of these clay tablets and deciphered them. Who would have thought that we would be reading someone’s five thousand year old inter-office memo today? It just goes to show you that even then you needed to be careful about what you committed to writing.

Up until relatively recently we committed our written communications to some sort of physical media, in most cases paper, as Sumerian clay was relatively messy and somewhat cumbersome to deal with. We created an entire set of businesses and industries associated with our paper mail communications. Some prospered and grew – the US Postal Service. Some grew and then somewhat quickly died. We can look at the Pony express as an example on one end of the mail continuum and any company that made enterprise postage meter systems at the other end of it.

We created a great many laws associated with our paper communications. It became a federal offense to open someone else’s Mail. You didn’t read other people’s mail and other people did not read yours. In short, what you wrote to someone else on paper and sealed in an envelope was a private communication between you and that person only. If you wanted to keep a copy of your correspondence, you trotted over to the copier machine and made a copy before you sent it. It was this way for so long that it was almost a given cultural base-line as to how a person’s written communications were treated.

Now let’s fast forward to the Email and Instant Messaging (IM) world of today. For Emails we no longer have a physical media or piece of paper that we commit our communications to. We have an image of a piece of paper on our screen. We can fill it with whatever information we please and send it to as many recipients as we choose, and we can do it almost immediately. If we have private or proprietary information to exchange we can limit the number of recipients and mark it with such Sensitivity settings as “Personal”, “Private” and “Confidential”. That should mean that only the person that we sent it to should see it, right?

In the age of open communications on corporate Email systems you should assume that every piece of communications that you send is going to be read by more people than just the person (people) it was intended for, regardless of how personal or proprietary. Moreover, you need to realize that once sent all documents will reside in relatively non-volatile memory until they are actually actively purged or more likely till they are archived onto a truly non-volatile memory device (CD?) for storage and possible retrieval at a later date. That means once written, it will probably exist in one form or another forever.

I wonder if people five thousand years in the future will be excavating our CD and data depositories, reading our Emails, and thinking about them in the same way we think about Sumerian clay tablets. Remember clay tablets were state of the art five thousand years ago. I don’t know how long plastic CDs are supposed to last but I expect that it is longer than clay tablets.

You must assume that people, other than those for whom the communication is intended will in all probability also see the communication. The simple fact is that because it is so easy to forward Email, almost all Email gets forwarded. Information gets shared. Administrative assistants have access to executives Email accounts and will manage their Emails for them. Mistakes happen. Very little of our written communications should continue to be considered proprietary going forward.

While we may have the image of the piece of paper on our screen, and while this may make us think of and associate that proprietary mail process and federal offense of the past, we need to realize it no longer applies. We need to plan on the fact that people other than the people to whom the Mail is addressed will see the information.

That brings me to Instant Messaging. That is the on-line service that allows you to exchange messages in almost real time with someone. That should be secure, right? After all there are only the acknowledged participants in the IM session, correct? Not so fast.

Has anyone heard of a “Print Screen” command? There is a command button over on the upper right side of the keyboard that is labeled “Print Screen”. This is the button that can be pushed in order to capture an image of what is currently displayed on the screen as a file. This file can then be saved, or treated like any other file you may have. What do you attach to Emails? You attach files to Emails. That is correct. I have received Emails with copies of IM session communications attached, as part of their “documentation”. I am sure that the other person in the IM session did not expect me or anyone else to be a party to that conversation.

Email has changed the way we conduct business. It has sped up and improved many aspects of business. However we seem to continue to use and regard our electronic communications capabilities with the same sense of proprietary security that we regarded previous mail systems. I have seen too many times either through inattention, or by specific direction, Email information that gets shared that was not intended for sharing. Since I don’t think there is a way to stop the sharing, that means that we all need to be a little more aware of what write in our Emails.

After all, I bet the person that wrote the five thousand year old message in Cuneiform on the clay tablet didn’t expect to have all of us reading it either.

“Trust” in the Matrix

Matrixed organizations continue to be a significant organizational structure for businesses today. They are designed to enable rapid adaptation to the manifold issues currently existing in the business environment. The idea is that without the fixed hierarchical organizational structures there will be less corporate inertia / momentum and greater receptivity to change when it is needed. In a matrixed organization groups work together in a less hierarchical structure where each group focuses on their area of functional excellence and then combine it with the other groups to create the best solution for the business. One of the key aspects of the matrix structure is that each group must trust the other groups to be focused on the business’ best interest and not each individual group’s best interest.

While matrixed organizations have many positive attributes I have found that “trust” while needed for optimal performance is a difficult commodity to maintain.

People invariably like to feel that they are getting the full set of inputs when they are asked to participate in a matrixed organization project. Operations want to make sure that they are getting the full customer story from sales. Sales want to make sure that delivery is not padding the costs, and so on. The result is each group in the matrixed organization starts to create their own sub-group that will be responsible for making sure the other groups are in fact doing their jobs. This is both expensive and inefficient.

Because there is no clearly defined Responsibility – Authority relationship structure in a matrixed organization, all aspects of the organization will have a tendency to evolve to the position that they have the responsibility to oversee and assure that the other departments are performing their tasks appropriately. They don’t trust the rest of the organization. This can occur because they are attributing their own untrustworthy characteristics to other groups, or they have in fact observed the improper behaviors, or any number of other reasons.

Regardless of what has caused it, when the matrixed organization loses trust between its component organizations, progress slows down.

Agreements are slower to be reached because each group must now verify the work of the others. Multiple reviews must now be held as each group vets the others work. The situation gives rise to new centralized functions whose only responsibility is to gather information and provide reports on the work and progress of the component groups. More and more time ends up being spent reporting and defending the work that has been done, and less and less time gets spent doing new work.

As difficult as it may be to do in this situation, members of matrixed organizations need to believe in the competency and appropriate business behaviors of their co-workers, just as they should demand that their co-workers should believe and trust in their competencies and behaviors. This will mean that everyone must fight the urge to continually revisit and review the contributions of the component groups. It also means that when multiple requests come in for multiple reviews, they will need to be refused.

I am not saying that all input should be accepted at face value. Henry Kissinger coined the great phrase “Trust but Ratify”, and that should be the case here. However, once a review has been held, it will be time to move on. Progress is not made in or during reviews. Progress is made outside of reviews.

In order to make progress, get the business moving faster, and achieve the desired goals, all members of the matrixed organization need to spend a little more time trusting each other to do their job and a lot less time questioning, reviewing, and verifying that each other are in fact doing their job.