How to be a trusted leader: a response to the agenda of power, corruption & pies – FIFA’s deficit of trust in football

Generations of top-ranking FIFA officials have engaged in ‘rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted’ corruption which has poisoned world football for decades, it was claimed last week, as two separate criminal investigations sparked the biggest crisis in the history of the sport.

Nine officials at football’s governing body accepted bribes and kickbacks over more than 20 years, in return for awarding lucrative tournaments to certain countries, rigging FIFA’s own elections. On the same day, Swiss authorities announced a separate investigation into ‘criminal mismanagement and money laundering’ surrounding the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, throwing the future of both tournaments into doubt.

A 47-count charge sheet filed in a New York federal court detailed 12 separate corrupt schemes allegedly carried out by FIFA officials. In total, they are alleged to have accepted bribes amounting to more than $150m over a 24-year period beginning in 1991.

It was the ugliest day in the history of the beautiful game. Football’s theatre of the absurd has been located firmly in Zurich these last few days. It began with the Feds marching into the five-star Baur au Lac hotel to drag FIFA’s executives from their beds. The choreography of the arrests brought to mind the climactic baptism scene in The Godfather, except that on this occasion it was the mafia that was on the receiving end.

At a press conference, Chief Richard Weber of the IRS Criminal Investigation unit described what the men had done as ‘the World Cup of fraud’. It developed into the hugely restorative spectacle of US Attorney General Loretta Lynch laying out in detail precisely the kind of kick-backs and dirty money, stating that the officials had used their positions of trust to ‘solicit bribes over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament. The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted’.

Outside the FIFA bubble, there was nothing unexpected about what happened last Wednesday. The only surprise is perhaps that it has taken so long. There has been little secret for years about the high-living corruption of the self-perpetuating freemasonry that is FIFA. Corruption is, quite simply, what they do. Corruption is tolerated as long as the money is spread around.

The impunity of FIFA, against the backdrop of skulduggery, saw the arrests provoking Schadenfreude as the extent of the racketeering unfolded. American extraterritorial jurisdiction is often excessive in its zeal and overbearing in its methods, but in this instance it deserves the gratitude of football fans everywhere.

And then it collapsed and got worse into what we witnessed on Friday – the noiseless, compliant procession of FIFA delegates into voting booths, to the backdrop of anaesthetising elevator music, where they calmly re-elected the man who has presided over the dismemberment of the notion that football is the people’s game.

Welcome to Seppocracy where the name of FIFA’s president is a joke across the world. Things fell apart. The centre held. With FIFA’s top executives locked up in detention centres, world football’s governing body voted resoundingly for four more years of the same. Against a backdrop of US authorities warning of further charges in their investigation, president Sepp Blatter was re-elected despite the crisis engulfing the organisation.

Blatter defied critics and opponents to secure a fifth term at the helm, and vowed to fix things ‘Starting tomorrow. I’m being held accountable for the storm. I will shoulder that responsibility’ – Blatter appeared to discount his own responsibility for the scandal. It could yet prove a pyrrhic victory for Blatter, but what happened to the notion of a leader taking responsibility for everything that happens on his watch?

FIFA could have responded to the arrests of many of its top executives by showing that it grasps what has finally happened to the credibility of world football, and stood Blatter down. Instead, most of FIFA put its fingers firmly in its ears. Having it both ways may not be high-minded or noble, human beings are conflicted and contradictory. Gambling and graft have always been sporting competition’s bedfellows, and sport from Pericles to Putin has always been shot through with politics, but this goes beyond the pale.

But it didn’t matter. FIFA doesn’t do opinion polls. It didn’t break. Not enough people, in the end fancied washing their hands of complicit guilt and starting afresh. A handful of blazers behind bars was never going to be enough to persuade them. What cancer reacts to the sudden severity of its own symptoms by curing itself?

The name of FIFA and Blatter is a joke on every football terrace in England, but it can make no difference. The fan, after all, is only where the money comes from, but who has been cut out of the process. FIFA, with its lunches and watches and private planes and five star hotels, exists as the tax on their passion, and it comes without representation.

Trust, a leadership virtue and a core trait of any organisation culture, is patently missing here by some margin, and for me is the most striking issue we need to consider. A fish rots from the head, so it’s no surprise. There is an absolute unspoken trust deficit in FIFA. Certainly frequent headlines reinforce scepticism about who is worthy of trust closer to home, from lying politicians and corrupt bankers, to cheating drug-taking athletes and misdeeds from senior police officers and boardrooms, it’s no surprise trust levels continue at historic lows, but Blatter and FIFA have set new moral lows.

The law in ancient Rome required the engineer who built an arch to be the first to stand beneath it. Perhaps if the impact of the actions of our leaders were as publically visible, we wouldn’t be facing diminishing trust levels in most of our workplaces.

The unspoken toll of the leadership trust deficit in any business impacts productivity, engagement and creativity. Fortunately, most leaders aren’t involved in deliberate trust deceptions at work, for most of us, the good news is that authentic trust, the kind we need in our workplaces, is sought by the vast majority of leaders. If your culture is right, relationships matter more than outcomes to those who practice authentic trust.

A recent study found that 82% of employees say being able to trust their leaders is crucial to their work performance. Yet as important as trust is to high performance, engagement, and innovation, trust workplace levels remain low. The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer found ‘an alarming evaporation of trust across all institutions, reaching the lows of the 2009 recession’.

Yet, when it comes to the people we work with and for, most of us ignore these headlines and judge for ourselves. By observing what organisational leaders say and what they do – their behavioural integrity – we decide to give, or not give, our trust to them. We also perceive through their actions if we’re valued and trusted by them, or not.

As a leader, you need to grow an awareness and sensitivity about everything that matters when building trust. What if you could start by seeing your actions from the lens of those you lead and need to influence? Or listen in on their thoughts? How much trust currency do you have with those you lead or influence? What do your actions compared to your words communicate? What trust-enhancing or trust-diminishing messages are you sending by how you do what you do?

Let’s look at the key trust issues in terms of leaders and followers, and from a leadership perspective, how do you create trust? I think there are just a handful of key issues to consider.

The whole-self Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric identified ‘three appeals of the heart’ to influence others and to build trust:

  • Ethos – your credibility and trustworthiness. If others don’t buy you as a person and believe in you first, they won’t buy you as a leader. Convince them you have the soundness of character required.
  • Logos – it’s about the logic and reasons you put forward to appeal to the rational mind. It’s not just facts, but a sound structured basis to what you’re saying. Simply, do you show common sense?
  • Pathos – the emotions you express when communicating with others, and the emotion you elicit in them, are key. You need to win hearts as well as minds, so be passionate, energising and enthusiastic.

Besides the ‘whole-self’, trust is then built by a combination of credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-awareness:

Credibility People are more likely to trust a leader who they regard as a credible, authoritative individual. The language used helps to assess your credibility, as does your level of confidence when talking about a particular subject. When faced with someone who is well regarded as a leader, we defer to their experience and place credence on their views.

Leaders can strengthen their personal credibility by continuing to develop their knowledge and skill set. Demonstrating continual professional development is a key element of showing credibility. Credibility and credentials are important.  Authority is one of the major recognised factors of influence – but don’t feel the need to try too hard.

Be like the Roman engineer, whatever your work and its associated actions, operate as if you must publically stand for your results. Trust can’t be built without personal accountability grounded in consistent and trustworthy actions. That includes acknowledging when trust was broken.

Reliability This one’s obvious isn’t it, so I don’t need to say much. As a leader, say what you’re going to do and then do what you say you’re going to do. Deliver on your promises, even the small ones, and don’t let people down. Flaming enthusiasm, backed by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success – Dale Carnegie.

Genuine passion and enthusiasm about your work, evidenced by being consistently reliable to your people, and your desire to help, are attractive qualities. Everything about you either says or doesn’t say ‘reliable’. You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.

Own your role in what happens. We all make mistakes unintentionally. We all impact relationships from time to time by our actions at work. But the difference in creating openness for trust to be restored is the difference between seeing yourself as a passenger along for the ride or as the responsible driver culpable for your missteps. Own what’s yours.

Intimacy A good leader connects emotionally, building sincere, long-term relationships, not seeking short-term ‘speed dating’ encounters. You have to be prepared to invest genuine personal time in with your folks beyond the reporting line. Show your folks you have genuine interest in them as people, not simply you being their manager. Listening is the key skill here. This naturally strengthens the relationship as you are making them feel valued. People will then feel comfortable talking with you about difficult agendas.

Even though your co-workers won’t all become your best friends, it is a good base point that they know you as a person. Likeability is a huge factor of influence. Making emotional connections is a key tenet in creating and sustaining trust – people are persuaded by reason, but moved by emotion.

The power of intimacy, shown by behavioural integrity, the alignment of actions and words, can’t be overstated. How will people perceive your actions from this point on? Don’t give anyone any reason to doubt your trustworthiness, or your intentions.

Self-awareness Be yourself; everybody else is taken, said Oscar Wilde. A trusted leader sincerely places others’ interests in front of their own. There is no greater source of distrust than a leader who appears to be more interested in himself. We must be sincere, have our self-orientation under control, and focus on the person in front of us as an individual.

As Steven Covey said, Seek first to understand and then to be understood. People can sense when you lack self-awareness, relationships never develop beyond the civil stage. Transparency is a critical factor in building trusted relationships, folks will warm to you if you are true to yourself and are straight with them in expressing your views. If you want people to reveal their true feelings and their thoughts you need to start the ball rolling by being your authentic self, being self-aware and saying what you really think.

Operate with an inner mirror. Watch yourself be yourself. Are you operating from good intentions or manipulative self-interests? Are you honouring your commitments and fulfilling your promises? Would you trust you?

Trust is not a matter of technique but of character. We are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exteriors or our expertly crafted communications. The glue that holds all relationships together, including the relationship between the leader and the led, is trust based on integrity.

Abraham Lincoln, being no Sepp Blatter, only ever won the right to give two inaugural addresses, not five, and is acknowledged as one of the most trustworthy leaders of all time. Perhaps he should have been better at dodging bullets like Blatter. Hypocrisy was the winner as FIFA voted for yet more Blatter, and a vacuum of trust. Yet for me it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest, that holds human associations together.

See beyond self: the art of being a trusted leader

Tomorrow’s General Election seems to be culminating in a contest of negatives, as opinion polls confirm voters have a low opinion of both potential prime ministers. In a way, there is nothing new in this. My earliest political memories and energies were provided by a flowering of left-wing views under Tony Benn’s banner, who never gained popular support, and the growth of free-market fundamentalists harnessed by Margaret Thatcher, who won, but was never popular in my neck of the woods.

Hostility to politics-as-usual has been stronger since the financial crash, and the inherent lack of trust in business – banker’s bonuses, tax evasion, zero hours contracts, PPI mis-selling – and the outcry over MPs’ expenses. In a contest of negatives at a time when all politicians are distrusted, the most striking finding in a Com Res poll last week is the question that uses the word ‘trust’.

Only 31% agree with the statement: I trust Cameron and Osborne to make the right decisions about the economy – but this compares with 21% who agree with the same statement about Miliband and Balls. If there is a lesson to take from the two manifestos, it is that both are intent on neutralising each other’s perceived weaknesses, rather than promoting their own values and trust based agendas.

Labour will neither admit that it would borrow to invest (a necessary flexibility as all Keynesians would support) nor set out where serious cuts would be, and the Tories will not explain how they intend to make £12Bn of welfare cuts – their numbers are so absurd as to be beyond credible discussion. Who can you trust? Why would you if this is their clarion call for your vote?

Miliband has blamed the broken promises by the Lib Dems on scrapping tuition fees and the Tories on curbing immigration for helping erode trust in all political leaders. Last week’s BBC Question Time highlighted the question of trust as an important theme.

Cameron was asked why anyone should trust him on the NHS. Miliband faced questions of trusting Labour over the economy, whilst Clegg battled down questions on how he could be trusted given his broken promise on tuition fees. It’s a question the Liberal Democrat leader has faced on many occasions. Clegg sought to turn the question of trust back onto his rivals, saying neither Cameron nor Miliband would come clean on the compromises they would have to make to win power.

There is a trust deficit in politics as with big business. While rear-view mirror approaches to dissect and repair what went wrong on an organisational level are warranted in many companies, offering strategic initiatives for work-culture enhancements, that’s not the answer for most people who want to impact trust today.

Trust is a key leadership trait, and can’t be built overnight. It requires time, effort, diligence, and character. Inspiring trust is not easy to build. To be a trusted leader, trust must be carefully constructed, vigorously nurtured, and constantly reinforced. Although trust takes a long time to develop, it can be destroyed by a single action and can burn down with a just touch of carelessness, as many politicians know to their cost. Moreover, once lost, it is very difficult to re-establish.

The financial sector also seems to be confused because it fails to distinguish between intellectual trust and emotional trust. The customer has no intellectual trust when he believes his bank will go bust or its senior managers earned bonuses way out of kilter with performance. He displays a lack of emotional trust when he does not believe his bank will give him a fair deal. The crash caused a reawakening of concern about the soundness of banks, so intellectual trust became an issue for the first time in years. But the lack of emotional trust is absolutely not new. Have people ever trusted the financial sector to give them a fair deal?

Perhaps both business and political leaders should also think about trustworthiness, rather than trust per se. Trustworthiness demands reciprocal vulnerability. Trustworthy leaders recognise times have changed and that they are no longer in control, they think and behave more like social activists in their leadership styles rather than conventional CEOs. Accountability is everything, social and moral principles come before profit. Do our political leaders have a moral compass, or self-interest, as their guiding principle?

For some people, asking a politician for advice on public trust is like asking the Grand Old Duke of York for tips on military strategy. While only a third of people trust business leaders to tell the truth, for politicians the figure is just a sixth. As politicians have discovered, trust is easier to lose than to gain. Rebuilding trust cannot start unless dissenting voices are brought together. No one can learn if they do not listen.

Trust within an organisation is further complicated by the fact that people use the word ‘trust’ to refer to three different kinds.

The first is strategic trust – the trust employees have in the people running the show to make the right strategic decisions. Do top managers have the vision and competence to set the right course, allocate resources intelligently, fulfil the mission, and help the company succeed?

The second is personal trust – the trust employees have in their own managers. Do the managers treat employees fairly? Do they consider employees’ needs when making decisions about the business and put the company’s needs ahead of their own desires?

The third is organisational trust – the trust people have not in any individual but in the company itself. Are processes well designed, consistent, and fair? Does the company make good on its promises?

Clearly these three types of trust are distinct, but they’re linked in important ways. Every time an individual manager violates the personal trust of her direct reports, for example, their organisational trust will be shaken.

In this era of distrust, leaders, whatever their organisation, need to be trust creators. One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to assume that others trust them simply by virtue of their title. As a leader, you are trusted only to the degree that people believe in your ability, consistency, integrity, and commitment to deliver.

The good news is that as a leader you can earn trust over time, by building and maintaining eight key strengths of behaviours and actions. For example:

Clarity: People want transparency that removes ambiguity. Be clear about your vision, purpose, values and expectations. When a leader is clear about expectations, she will likely get what she wants, communicating priorities will see people become productive and effective.

Empathy: People put faith in those who care beyond themselves. Trusted leaders never underestimate the power of sincerely caring about their staff. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is not just an old saying, it is a bottom-line truth. Follow it, and you will build trust.

Character: People notice those who do what is right ahead of what is easy or populist. Leaders who have built this trait consistently do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, whether they feel like doing it or not. They earn trust and respect as a person for doing what should be done, consistently. Simply, they make the right moral judgement.

Aptitude: People have confidence in those who show competency and capability as a leader. According to one study, the key competency of a successful leader is not a specific skill but rather the ability to learn and grow. Arrogance and a ‘been there done that’ attitude erodes confidence. There is always more to learn, so make a habit of learning to stay ahead of the game.

Connectivity: Trust is all about relationships, and relationships are built by establishing genuine connections. Creating and sustaining relationships is a key leadership challenge. By building a network of trust based relationships, a leader will gain credibility, useful when difficult decisions are called for.

Commitment: In times of adversity, it is the leaders who stay strong, resolute and determined that hold the respect of people, who trust their judgement. Wartime leaders like General Patton, leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lech Walesa, because they saw commitment and sacrifice for the greater good. Commitment builds trust, it creates a sense of purpose.

Reliability: In every area of life, it’s the little things done consistently that make the difference. The little things done consistently make for a higher level of trust and better results. The great leaders consistently do the small but most important things first. A leader is a dealer in hope, and behaving consistently inspires trust, respect and support. Equally, they don’t hide when the going gets tough, they stand up and show they are reliable.

Accountability: A leader is ultimately accountable for their decisions, behaviours and actions, you cannot expect people to follow you blindly without giving them justification. Being honest should be a trait that is taken for granted, but just how many of our political leaders answer a straightforward question with a straightforward, direct response?

As difficult as it is to build and maintain trust within organisations, it’s critical. An established body of research demonstrates the links between trust and corporate performance. If people trust each other and their leaders, they’ll be able to work through disagreements. They’ll take smarter risks. They’ll work harder, stay with the company longer, contribute better ideas, and dig deeper than anyone has a right to ask.

If they don’t trust the organisation and its leaders though, they’ll disengage from their work and focus instead on rumours, politics, and be unproductive. The building blocks of trust are unsurprising, they’re old-fashioned managerial virtues like consistency, clear communication, and a willingness to tackle awkward questions as highlighted above.

What do the enemies of trust look like? Sometimes the enemy is a person, a first-line supervisor who habitually expresses contempt, sometimes it’s knit into the fabric of the organisation, a culture that punishes dissent or buries conflict. Some enemies are overt, and some are covert – a conversation you thought was private is repeated and then grossly distorted by the rumour mill.

Because any act of bad management erodes trust, the list of enemies could be endless. Practically speaking, though, most breakdowns in trust can be traced back to either inconsistent messages and standards from leaders, misplaced benevolence or false feedback. The lesson is simple – to be a trusted leader,

In the words of Arnold H. Glasgow, A trusted leader takes a little more than his share of blame; a little less than his share of credit. They see beyond self. It’s not about their personal status, bonus, or achievement, it’s about something bigger. They link the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, and help others view the landscape of purpose. They enable us see they do respect us as individuals, and that they acknowledge they have to earn our trust.