Why did you stop trusting your manager

"Trust is more important than motivation"

Hardly anything has been written and discussed as much in the last forty years in connection with management as motivation and leadership style. These topics dominate management education in numerous variations to this day, and there is no end in sight. You are the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to leadership. I don't consider either of these to be particularly important - at least not nearly as important as the intensity of the discussion with them suggests.

There are more important things that are unfortunately largely overlooked. But it immediately catches the eye when one deals with an apparent paradox that often occurs: There are managers who - if you take the textbook as a benchmark - do everything wrong and still have an excellent situation in their companies and management areas, a good climate and performance-oriented employees.

And there are others who do everything correctly, everything according to the prevailing teaching and management seminars, they heed the management style recommendations and motivational teachings including the EQ advice - and yet they have the opposite: a bad mood in their areas of responsibility, frustrated employees and an anti-performance corporate culture. How can this be explained?

When you get to the bottom of the matter, it almost always turns out that it is not motivation and leadership style, not even emotional intelligence, that are the essential aspects, but the question of whether people trust their boss. If and to the extent that a manager has managed to win and maintain the trust of his environment - employees, colleagues and superiors - all other things play a comparatively insignificant role.

He then created something that can be called a robust leadership situation - robust against the many leadership, behavior and motivation errors that happen every day. Not that they should be excused or even justified; but they subvert even the best managers without their wanting to, and mostly without their noticing. Managers are not as sensitive as some psychologists would like them to be.

So the question is not whether or not leadership mistakes happen; the question is how heavy do they weigh. Organizations must have a significant amount of "thick skin" if they are to function. In companies, and especially in well-run ones, one is not particularly sensitive. You have little time - and basically also little understanding of exaggerated sensitivities. If everything that happens is put on the gold scales every day and if everything that has been said or not is constantly questioned, then a company no longer has an economic event, then it is more of a psychiatric institution - and then can to stop doing business.

Nothing works in an organization without a minimum of mutual trust. The logic is as simple as it is imperative: if and as long as there is trust, you don't have to worry excessively about motivation, working atmosphere, corporate culture and so on, although I obviously don't want to advise against taking care of it. Much more important, on the other hand, if there is a lack of trust, all relevant measures will be ineffective - yes, worse, they will turn into the opposite. Motivation efforts and corporate culture programs are then often understood as particularly sophisticated forms of manipulation and ultimately as downright cynicism. In light of the importance of trust, it is quite remarkable that while there are thousands of studies and books on motivation and leadership, almost nothing is about trust. It has simply been overlooked; and for decades practice has tolerated that - easily recognizable as such - false doctrines were spread in training.

Trust is the basis of every reasonable, humane, but above all every functioning form of leadership. It does not require any special skills or talents and certainly no high-level theories, as they are used today for everything and everything in accordance with the spirit of the times. Contrary to popular belief, trust and its opposite, mistrust, are not emotional phenomena, although certain emotional states may be associated with both. It is also completely unnecessary to immediately speak of a culture of trust, as it usually happens reflexively. What is needed is consistent behavior, reliability and perhaps what is known as character integrity: mean what you say - and act like it; keep what you promise.

Two widespread misunderstandings should be avoided: Note that to mean what you say does not mean to say everything you mean. That would be naive in the reality of our organizations. As a manager you will have to think about what to say, before whom and when. But if you decide to say something, then it has to be meant. Second, note that that doesn't mean that you can't change your mind. Of course you can, and it will perhaps have to be the case more often than before, because the situation in any organization is changing faster today than perhaps ever before. You just have to say that you have changed your mind; and if you want to lead well, you justify it.

Prof. Fredmund Malik is President of the Management Center St. Gallen and editor of "M.o.M. Malik on Management"