The Business of Betrayal

I watched the movie Where the Wild Things Are on my flight home from Holland. The little boy who ran away to his fantasy world touched something primal in me…the need to belong, to have people care about me, and to trust that those in charge won’t let bad things happen.

There is sense of betrayal in the leadership classes I teach, in the blog comments I read and in the conversations with my friends who are struggling to survive. This feeling is not the same as disappointment. It is a deeper sense that we are vulnerable in a world that doesn’t care.

You can blame our politicians or the terrorists. Their actions have generated fear and doubt. But when it comes to betrayal, I think the real source stems from the business leaders who have broken the bonds of trust.

The effect of the economic crisis damaged the already waning trust we had in authority. The knee-jerk reactions of our leaders have brought out the worst in their behavior. They manage by demanding and make decisions based on history. Then they try to justify their behavior using logic and reason which may make sense on paper but not in reality.

There is a myth that claims the best way to run a business is like warfare: you have to gain a tactical and strategic superiority over your enemies.  I’d like to propose a new belief: Inspiring people to help each other create success is a more powerful strategy than driving them by fear.

In his book, Born to Be Good, Dachel Keltner, director of Social Interaction Laboratories at UC Berkeley, claims that true survival of humanity is due to our remarkable tendencies toward playfulness, cooperation, generosity, respect and a deep moral sense. It is our need for belonging, our need to have people care about us and our need to build communities for safety and connection that sustains our existence.

Taking this one step further, when you bring out the good in others and in yourself, you activate the brain regions that improve health and increase creativity and productivity. If executives would focus on building communities (not teams) based on trust and acknowledgment instead of wiping out deficiencies, they would be able to innovate faster and step into the future profitably much sooner than at the pace we are surviving at now.

In the book, Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace, Drs. Dennis and Michelle Reina identify specific behaviors that build and break trust, and then describe steps for rebuilding trust and sustaining it over time, even during periods of change. One of their methods includes The Four Core Characteristics of Transformative Trust: 1) Conviction—declaring our personal truths, 2) Courage—identifying betrayal and mending relationships, 3) Compassion—understanding and forgiving, and 4) Community—building on cooperation, agreements and contribution. I recommend reading the explanations of the Four Characteristics plus all the other engaging stories, best practice examples, and useful tips and exercises. If you want to create work environments where trust grows, where people feel good about what they do, where relationships are energized, and most importantly, where productivity and profits accelerate, read Trust and Betrayal.

What business are you in? Make sure your business is not about suffering or survival. It’s time to shift to hope, collaboration, fun and most importantly, trust.

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