Trustworthy Leadership is the Spark that Ignites Innovation

Trustworthy Leadership is the Spark that Ignites Innovation

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

From the Industrial Age days of monitoring the wages and hours of child laborers…. all the way to the management of talent. Talent Management: promoting innovative cultures by envisioning custom-made roles within the organization. We gain the competitive advantage through the strategic leverage of intellectual capital, i.e. talent. We trust that we’ve found the perfect fit.

Still, somehow, the news is filled with stories of breaches of organizational trust: violations of personal boundaries (e.g. unwanted sexual advances), hacks of our personal information (thanks, Equifax) and incompetent leaders landing safely with parachutes of gold.

This is tough for those who work in HR. We are often overwhelmed by compliance concerns, or worse, illegalities. Demands to protect our organizations may conflict with our responsibility to protect employees. 

The ugly truth is that those who have power, do not always use that power wisely. Most organizations are constructed to preserve and protect the power base, making efforts to establish trust suspect, but NOT impossible.

The underpinnings of trust — safety, open communication, with no secrets, are not impossible standards. Doing what we say we will do, communicating problems rather than hiding them, alerting employees and customers instead of blindsiding them, are achievable.

However, trust can be undermined in environments with double standards, or where HR is seen as an antagonistic force rather than an advocate for employees.

Power lies with the management in an organization to build trust, to establish a safe environment. It’s up to those at the top to not only advocate for the business, but to create a workplace that invites and encourages all, at every level, in every role, to contribute, to be fully engaged, and to speak the truth as they see it, with respect and professionalism.

Futurist Daniel Burris sees trust as essential to success in our rapidly changing business environment:

“In a world filled with uncertainty, you have to ask what you are certain about. The number one thing I’m certain about is that the future is all about relationships. If you want a positive future, then you need to have positive relationships with your employees and customers. And if you want positive relationships, you have to focus on the glue that holds a positive relationship together.”

That glue is trust. The three ingredients for trust glue are:

  • Professionalism
  • Honesty
  • Open communication & collaboration 

Trust is essential to building a culture of innovation. Innovation requires risk taking behaviors at all levels of an organization. 

Human resource practitioners are the keepers of trust with employees. Our responsibility is to model professionalism, honesty, and collaborative communication in all our transactions, and to insist on such behavior when acting in a business partner role. 

When there is no doubt regarding our integrity, there will be little, if any, push back when we remind others in the business to reinforce trust with employees and stakeholders when policies and other decisions are being made.

Remind your leaders that the fierceness of competition demands fully engaged employees who trust them to make the best decisions they can. Trustworthy leadership is the spark that ignites innovation.


Pat Sharp (Bio)

Pat is currently launching Tournovate BIG, a gamified approach to infuse companies with innovative thinking and create a sustainable culture of innovation. Pat has worked across a spectrum of industries: financial and professional services, entertainment, manufacturing, and media, including: ENA, Willis Towers Watson, Deloitte, Motorola, and several growth stage companies.

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