Trust gap can't just be blamed on managers

Jun 17 2005 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Trust is an emotion in shorter supply in Britain's workplaces than in the rest of the world, according to research published this week – but it is not necessarily all the fault of the current generation of managers.

Almost every week, it seems, some new survey or research points to a crisis of trust in management.

To highlight just a few recent examples, in April the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggested UK workers were unengaged and felt under-managed.

In March, Microsoft reported British workplaces were a hotbed of lies and Chinese whispers and in January a study by found UK workers told more than 1.4 billion lies to their bosses in the past year.

The latest survey to look at this area was published this week by global HR consultancy DDI and the CIPD, polling 3,500 leaders and 944 HR professionals in 34 countries.

It reported that managers in Britain had less confidence in the ability of the current generation of leaders in their organisations to deliver business success than their counterparts around the world.

More than half globally – 53 per cent – had confidence in their current leadership, compared with just over a third – 36 per cent – in the UK.

British bosses, it suggested, were "single-minded" about financial performance and yet quick to criticise one another for their failings in the "softer skills" of leadership, particularly compared with their international colleagues.

But before rushing to bash the UK's captains of industry over the head with yet more brickbats, it's worth pausing to ask whether there are any underlying reasons for this apparent disparity.

The intriguing thing about the DDI/CIPD research is that it did not look at the issue of trust per se, but whether people felt they could specifically trust their bosses from a business perspective – in other words whether they feel they were likely to safeguard their jobs.

What came across clearly, points out DDI director Lucy McGee, was that UK organisations were significantly weaker at spotting talent early on and doing the right things to prepare their high flyers for future leadership roles.

For example, virtually all leaders who had at one time had a coach or mentor to support them said they had benefited from the experience, yet just six out of 10 had been offered such support.

"They do not have someone to help them reflect on what they are doing," says McGee. "They are putting the shoes on but forgetting to tie the laces."

Leaders elsewhere in the world were 7 per cent more likely to have been groomed by a mentor along their path towards a leadership role.

When it comes to leadership potential, bosses who do not make a specific effort to have eye on the future do both themselves and their organisation a gross disservice
Similarly, 56 per cent of the HR professionals polled felt giving people special projects was an effective way of developing leadership skills, but just 26 per cent said their employers actually did so. UK bosses were also criticised for having poor interpersonal skills.

Short-sightedly, UK bosses have been failing fully to engage in the business of nurturing their future leaders and have failed to exploit all the available routes to developing leadership, the DDI/CIPD research argues.

With leadership and effective management at all levels at an ever greater premium when it comes to issues of productivity, confidence and trust, this is an area UK bosses do therefore need to get a grip on quickly.

It is all too easy as a leader or manager to get sucked into the day-to-day challenges of running your business. But when it comes to leadership potential, bosses who do not make a specific effort to have eye on the future do both themselves and their organisation a gross disservice.

Yet when it comes to the blame game, UK leaders, it is clear, are not distrusted or failing because they are inherently bad at leading. It is more because all the way up the slippery pole of leadership they have not been given the right skills or tools to develop to their full potential.