Defining trustworthiness in an election year: People Power - July 2016

By Sam Allman

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. I’m tired of the negativity and bickering that have been pervasive in the words of those who have been campaigning to be the next president of the United States. This campaign has already been too long and too divisive for me. I hate to say it, but I quit listening and paying attention to the candidates and what the media has been saying a while ago. 

Maybe you can handle it better than I. But the whole scenario causes me to worry and to feel helpless. For peace of mind and to help me focus on the things in my life that I can control, I have chosen to insulate myself from most of it. My wife says that I put my head in the sand like an ostrich. Maybe I do.

I know our country has problems. Among other things, we are deeply (trillions) in debt, fighting a war against terrorism, and we seem to be sharply divided as a people. Our economy is still weak, the gap between the rich and poor is widening, and the middle class is shrinking. I know that we cannot spend our way to prosperity. 

Needless to say, the choice before us in November is a very critical one. I plan to pull my head out of the sand before election time, so I can vote intelligently. I hope by then the campaign will be more focused on solutions, rather than problems and name-calling. 

Thank goodness our forefathers saw fit to create a system of checks and balances, so that the odds of one person or group sabotaging the country are low. Our country has become one of the best ever, not because we agreed on everything, but because we celebrate the freedom to disagree, speak our minds and tolerate opposing views. The U.S. is great because we have had to learn to compromise, and to tolerate opposition and conflicting viewpoints. Conflict well managed invites creativity and innovation; conflict poorly managed leads to divorce, war and divisiveness. 

Whether we are voting for a president, a senator, a congressman, a mayor or a city councilman, the person for whom we vote and elect matters. We have learned by sad experience that placing someone in a position of power, even in a democracy with checks and balances, is no guarantee that things will improve. Germany made that mistake, putting a despot in office, and that lead to horrific consequences for Germany and the rest of the world.

As election time draws near, I will pull my head out, open my mind and look for the candidates I feel I can trust to lead, unify and help us solve our problems. I love our country and I want to leave it in good hands for my children and grandchildren. I will be searching for people who will be the most trustworthy to do that. Personal trustworthiness is the foundation of people power, as trust is the foundation of all relationships and essential for a leader. 

Trustworthiness is that quality of a person or a thing that inspires reliability. Leaders with trustworthiness can be relied upon to do or provide what is needed or right—they are deserving of trust. My question is: who among all the candidates, presidential or otherwise, can be trusted? Who will do what is needed and right? I think that is the decision we make when we vote. Whom can we trust? 

As we investigate that question, we should immerse ourselves and try to understand what trust actually is. Here’s what I know, adapted from Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust: 1) Trust takes time to build, but only seconds to destroy. 2) Once lost, though difficult, trust can be restored. 3) Trust is real and measureable; it’s not just a feeling. 4) High trust workplaces are more productive and profitable. 5) Generating trust is much more complex than just being honest and having integrity; trust is equal parts character and competence. 6) Trusting people can be risky, but not trusting people can be more risky. 7) Trust can be taught and learned. 8) The trust you build with one person actually builds trust with many. 

As I peruse the above paragraph, what stands out is number five. Generating trust is not just about honesty and integrity (character). It is also about competence. Though you believe everything he says, would you go into battle with an incompetent general? If I were concerned about his competence, I would say, “You go first; you lead, I will follow.” But I would follow only at a significant distance. Though you may believe and trust their integrity and honesty (I have questions) of our political candidates, do you wonder about their competence in managing and leading? Being honest is one thing, but being competent is clearly another.

The stakes are high in this election. We have serious issues to consider when electing anyone to public office. I believe the most critical element is the ability to generate trust in the minds and hearts of others. Personal ethics is at the heart of leadership and people power. Without ethics, there will always be questions and concerns about commitment, motive and intent. Mahatma Gandhi said, “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.” 

The word “ethics” has its roots in the Greek word ethos, which translates to “customs” or “conduct.” It basically means doing what’s right, fair, honest and legal. It’s our standards of conduct against core principles, such as fairness, respect and integrity—accepted principles of right and wrong.

What people do and are lie at the root of people power. It has to do with the nature of people’s behavior, and with their virtuousness. In any decision-making situations, ethical issues, are involved, either implicitly or explicitly. The choices we make or our leaders make in a given circumstance are governed by their or our personal ethics. “To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice,” said Chinese philosopher Confucius.

I believe there are five principles of personal ethics or ethical leadership, the origins of which can be traced back to Aristotle. I believe if we imbue these principles into ourselves, it will infuse us with people power. If we seek to find them operating in the lives of those we choose to be our leaders, we will make better choices, which will create a better future for this country. These principles are: respect, service, justice, honesty and community. 

Respect: Ethical people feel a duty to treat others with respect. “Collateral damage” is not in their vocabulary. People and leaders honored for their people power allow others to be themselves with creative wants and desires. They are not numbers on a list of employees; they are worthy human beings. They approach others with a sense unconditional worth because of their uniquenesses, values and insights, even though they may be conflicting with their own.

It’s easy to identify ethical people; they listen closely, seek to understand, then to be understood. They empathize and are tolerant of opposing viewpoints. They affirm the importance of others, confirming their values, attitudes and beliefs. That respect creates the personal magnetism that is characteristic of ethical people. We feel an attraction or an affinity for them; we relish being in their presence because of how they make us feel.

Service: Ethical people and leaders serve others; they are altruistic. Though they place others’ welfare foremost in their plans, they also find purpose in mentoring, serving, helping and empowering others. Ethical people feel the call of stewardship, which means clarifying and nurturing a vision that is greater than oneself. Ethical salespeople are customer focused; ethical leaders are follower focused. People power is generated by seeking mutual benefit, acting in ways that benefit others. 

Justice: People and leaders with people power are just; they are concerned about issues of fairness and justice. They make it a top priority to treat all people and especially their followers equally. Many of us have been in organizations, on teams and even in families where clearly there were favorites. You all know how that makes one feel. I do believe it is important to teach children that life is not fair. Some are born rich, some poor, some smart, some attractive, some gifted. That doesn’t mean that justice should be meted out arbitrarily. 

Ethical people and leaders are concerned with fairness. They establish rules of distribution and use methods that are fair with regard to punishment and rewards. Those rules could be based on equal opportunity, individual need, individual rights, individual effort or individual performance. Whatever the case, people power requires fairness to be applied as equally as possible. In special treatment or special consideration situations, grounds for differential treatment are clear, reasonable and based on sound moral values.

Honesty: People and leaders with people power demonstrate honesty. Honest leaders are authentic but also sensitive to the feelings and attitudes of others. Dishonest people are seen as unreliable. People lose faith in what dishonest people say and stand for, and their respect is diminished. As a result, that person’s leadership is undermined because others no longer trust and believe what the person says. Ethics includes integrity, which means correspondence between word and deed. Doing one thing and saying another destroys credibility and trust. It sabotages people power. As British primatologist Jane Goodall once said, “We could change the world tomorrow, if all the millions of people around the world acted the way they believe.” 

Ethical people are not deceptive. They tell the truth with a balance of openness and candor while monitoring what is appropriate to disclose in a particular situation. To increase your people power, don’t intentionally deceive and don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Step up and take responsibility for failure, and acknowledge and reward honest behaviors.

Community: Finally, people and leaders with people power build community, which means they are concerned for the common good. They take into account the purposes of everyone involved and are attentive to the interests of the group. 

I have to be clear here. I am not advocating socialism. What has made America great is our entrepreneurial, individualistic, self-reliant, opportunistic-seeking culture. I believe in capitalism, but the paradox is that capitalism is mean—it leaves people behind. Destroying personal incentive to benefit the group doesn’t work; proven is the concept of group loafing when that happens. China has come of age by adapting the principles of capitalism, especially individual incentive. But the needs of the group have to be balanced against the needs of the individual.

Ethical leaders and people with people power are concerned about everyone—action takers and those that may need a little help from time to time. They seek common goals. It’s not about coercing followers to meet their agenda. They seek the common good.

When it’s time I will open my eyes and my mind so I can make a good decision for whom I will vote in all the races. I will search for leaders with people power. Not only do I want to vote for ethical people, I want to vote for competent people. My only thought is, “Whom can I trust?”

Copyright 2016 Floor Focus 

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