Corporate leaders as a group have largely failed to earn the trust of their employees, and that includes IT managers, who may be particularly lacking in some of the qualities that define a trusted leader.
That's the assessment of John Hamm, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist, leadership advisor and author of the book, "Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership." I spoke with Hamm earlier this week and he made it clear that he sees among employees in corporate America a widespread lack of trust of those in authority in their companies, and that the fault lies squarely with the leaders:
Company leaders have done some silly and irresponsible things over time, as a large group of people. When people in positions of authority or power break a promise or don't keep their word in an area that's meaningful to us, we hold them accountable for things they do and say that affect us. What leaders don't realize is that while everyone's word matters, theirs matters just a little bit more, because they have the added obligation of being in a position of authority over some aspect of the quality of our lives.
What lies at the heart of this failure to earn employee trust isn't maliciousness, Hamm said. It's obliviousness:
Their self-awareness around this is way too low. Leaders don't really want to accept or acknowledge how much their words matter. They sort of want to live in the illusion that, "Oh, I'm just the same as everybody else-I can tell a little white lie here or a fib there." The truth is, I think most of them either don't want to acknowledge or don't really realize how important it is for them to keep their word. I think it can be reckless, it can be oblivious, it can be negligent, but I don't think it's usually with intent. I think when leaders screw this up, they do it as a matter of sloppiness, lack of awareness, lack of regard. There's sort of casualness with it, and they don't realize those consequences.
Hamm expressed the view that it would be a gross stereotype of the technology community to say that the community, while very tech savvy, isn't as savvy when it comes to people skills. But leadership skills may be a different story:
It's probably more prevalent in the tech community that we find people in positions of authority who have certainly paid their dues and earned their stripes technically, but maybe not so much with regard to leadership practices and principles. They may tend to manage the people in an IT department the way they manage the stuff in an IT department, and that just doesn't work. But I don't think there's a set of errors that are germane or specific to the IT community. [That said,] communication in the IT world tends to happen a lot by email or text or some sort of electronic means. One of the things that tech people need to realize is that people still need to be talked to. There's still very much a demand for that personal connection, that getting together, that conversation we need to have with each other. In a dispersed world where so many things are happening on our devices, you need that occasional stop-by to talk to somebody or to have a meeting with a group of people. I talked to someone the other night who said he's never met his boss. He's been working there eight months in a remote IT support job, and he's never met his boss. I suppose they've had a phone call or two, but that's crazy to me. I understand that getting people together is expensive, and that it's hard to spend the time. But occasionally we still have to value that human connection, and I think even tech people value that human connection.
In his book, meanwhile, Hamm has outlined some steps leaders can take to build trust in their companies. Those steps are briefly encapsulated here: