Recently a Wall Street Editorial column (1) discussed the need to improve our trust. While the editorial was focused primarily on government and politics, there are key messages for leaders of every institution. Keep these in mind as you lead your organization, and particularly when you are leading transformational change.

Be skeptical not cynical. Successfully leading transformational change requires that you have enough information to ensure that your leadership team and your organization is moving forward in the right direction at the right speed. Once you have aligned on outcomes and measures or milestones, ask penetrating questions to understand your progress and its success – or the lack of progress and the reasons why. Leaders are too often counseled to not be mired in the detail. Sometimes you need to dig in to understand root causes.

When you ask these questions, healthy skepticism is in order. It’s important to believe that your team is made up of good people who are going to do the right thing every time. Questions probing progress will reflect this. If you are cynical, then you inherently are not giving the benefit of the doubt. Either attitude – skepticism or cynicism – will bleed through your dialog. Step up. Be trusting.

Be tactful. I am reminded of the response by BP CEO Tony Hayward after the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He told a reporter, “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives. There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my life back. (2)” While seemingly innocent, he was widely condemned for this statement which was perceived as selfish.

Whether it is to a reporter, the public at large, an employee gathering or your leadership team, use tact. It’s crucial to be able to say anything within your inner circle, yet you can still be tactful. When you are tactful, you keep the audience focused on the topic, and not on your reaction to it. You won’t waste valuable time and energy dealing with your reaction to the situation, thus keeping your transformation on track.

These two points are connected. If you are skeptical and not cynical, it will be easier to be tactful. It comes down to your belief in what motivates others to act. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Hear them out. Ask good questions. Respond tactfully. If you believe in the best of others, that’s what you will receive. This builds trust, which in turn speeds your transformation.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


  1. (subscription required)
  2. USA Today, June 1, 2010
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