Monday, September 24, 2012

Mistakes that Leaders Make, Part 2: Betrayal of Trust

We live in times of extreme pressure in our society, our organizations, and in our schools. Everyone wants to regulate all aspects of our schools, from the teacher evaluation system, to the food service program, to transportation  of students, operations and maintenance, and let’s not forget student achievement. For years I have described education as the “whipping post” for every societal ill and misfortune.

What people tend to forget is that  schools are “human organizations”. And, in that kind of environment there will always be a need to build relationships, support needs, and nurture a caring  environment for kids, as well as the adults in the system. Thus, the need to build trust will always be  paramount  in human organizations.

Trust is defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. It is a key element in the leader relationship with others. For a new leader to assume a new position in a new organization, there will always be some kind of a “honeymoon” period, but it is also the opportune time to develop a trusting relationship with all staff members, ensuring in a long-lasting leadership role in the organization.

“People today have a need for connection with their coworkers, and trust makes that connection possible. People have a need to understand others and to be understood in return; to use their skills, talents, and full range of capability; to challenge and be challenged; to share information
and receive information; and to count on others and be counted on” (Reina & Reina, 2010, p.5)

Nothing sours the trust relationship more than the perception that “betrayal” exists. In schools and other human organizations," betrayal" can be found if trust waivers from leaders unable to handle the pressures of their positions, or their ability to manage the political landscape of the environment they are responsible for. Unfortunately, “betrayal” is seen as a compilation of many factors, such unmet expectations, disappointments, broken promises, and misunderstanding statements or communication. Reina & Reina describe that betrayals are not relegated to big issues only, but to incremental actions that snowball into a dismaying and confounding perception of mistrust or betrayal.

“What gradually erodes trust and creates a climate of betrayal in our workplaces today are small, subtle acts that accumulate over time. When we don’t do what we say we will do, when we gossip about others behind their backs, when we renege on decisions we agreed to, when we hide our agenda and work it behind the scenes, and when we spin the truth rather than tell it, we break trust and damage our relationships.” (Reina & Reina, 2010, p.7)

Being vigilant about maintaining trust requires leaders to do the following:

1)      Honor agreements
2)      Invest in staff by providing honest feedback about work performance and personal actions that disturb the organization.
3)      Cultivate shared decision making as a tool to demonstrate willingness to listen to staff and community members.
4)      Keep staff and community members informed of everything pertinent to the needs of  students.
5)      Never talk behind the backs of others.
6)      Keep the lines of communication open for everyone
7)      Hold everyone accountable, do not play favorites
8)   Admit your mistakes, be honest with yourself and your community.[1]

“Trustworthy leaders are safe—safe to talk to, to share problems with, and to share fears and concerns with. They are safe to be human with. As a result, people are safe to challenge the system and perform beyond expectations. Employees feel more freedom to express their creative ideas. They are more willing to take risks, admit mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.” (p.10)

The most important role of a 21st Century School Leader is to maintain the trust of the organization in facing the challenges and pressures of change. Fight the good fight.

[1] Reina, D. & M. Reina. (2012). Trust and betrayal in the workplace: Building effective relationships in your organization, 2nd Ed. New York: Barrett-Koehler Publishers. 

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