WIIFM? (who cares, nobody trusts you!)

A couple of months ago I found myself in the midst of a major disagreement between business partners that had the potential to bring down everything. It was a powder keg ready to explode and battle stations were manned. It got so serious that all communication ceased and insults, erratic behaviour and downright childish tantrums became commonplace. Strangely, more common in private and family businesses than I imagined.

The issue: It was intimated that one of the partners wasn’t being as open as they needed to be on a particular deal and that it was heavily skewed in their favour. Trust was brought into question.

The atmosphere was toxic and required external assistance. How can someone with such a strong track record of getting results and building a business be considered as untrustworthy within the very same context that got them where they are today? How can you be this successful without being responsible, fair, and… trustworthy?

Well, let’s examine ‘trust’ and see why everyone got their noses so out of joint. In their recent global CEO Survey, PwC list ‘Trust’ as the number one key area for Australian organisations to focus on in the year ahead. This is to arrest a trend whereby two-thirds of Australian CEO’s are concerned about a lack of trust in business. PwC view trust as a “leadership issue” and add, “In a period of unprecedented change and upheaval, top leaders are placing value on other human skills, including what might be called courageous vulnerability”.

In simple terms, what PwC call “courageous vulnerability” you and I would call “authenticity”; ie, being real. Being open, honest, endearing, empathic – being human.

None of this, of course, is new. In 2001, as I was beginning my coaching career, I came across the ‘Trust Equation’. It’s in a book by Charles Green and David Maister; The Trusted Advisor. The Trust Equation espoused that one’s trustworthiness is the sum of their credibility (expertise or knowledge), reliability (can we depend on them) and intimacy (how safe people feel around them); divided by their self-orientation (are they focused on themselves or others). It makes complete sense.

In my experience, and why PwC advise the courageous vulnerability path, is that it’s never usually the reliability and credibility parts where leaders fall short. It’s intimacy and self-orientation. Being too robotic, clinical, distant and disingenuous – lacking in EQ – is what gets in the way of becoming more intimate with those around us. Using WIIFM as the first (and most important) filter of any new scenario is what bloats one’s self-orientation. One lessens trustworthiness, one kills it. Both together…

It’s clear to see the challenge for the partner in the example above. Credibility - tick. Reliability – tick. Intimacy – lacking. Self-orientation – big tick. Hence, when it came to the part that diminishes everything else before it, ‘Self Interest’, they found that their recent history of deal-making has been exclusively through the prism of “what’s in this for me first?”

Negotiations could be win/win or win/lose, it didn’t matter, just as long as it was them winning first and foremost. As it turned out, if only they had on-boarded their peers early and viewed that particular negotiation in the context of ‘what’s in it for everybody’, then everything would have been different then and today.

Chris Pezzimenti