Interesting news from the private sector. A recent study by Booz & Company stated that nearly half (46%) of all senior managers surveyed doubted their chief executive’s capacity to navigate their organisation through the current economic crisis. Scepticism from the workforce is par for the course but doubt from people at the top about their organisational leader is something new.   

I wonder what a similar survey would produce for the NHS? Of course we can only guess but it’s reasonable to assume that a proportion of chief executives would be viewed by senior managers in the same way as their private sector counterparts. For chief executives in this unfortunate position it means they are not leaders. Leadership is built on an emotional relationship and leaders are created by followers and not, as we sometimes think, by self-pronouncement. In the case of chief executives they are created as leaders initially by the people around them, in other words their senior team.

The Booz survey also questions the value of that equally challenging emotional variable – trust. There is a clear correlation between our view of an individual’s competence and the degree to which we trust them. So, if senior managers doubt their boss’s ability then also it means they are unlikely to fully trust them. In the coming months chief executives will have the levels of trust in their relationships tested as much as their economic competence as they make the necessary difficult decisions to manage the impact of the recession.  

Trust is at the core of all successful relationships but it can be a difficult nut to crack, as, for example, politicians and bankers have demonstrated in recent months. If organisations are to successfully navigate through a crisis then trust in the leader is crucial if senior managers – and all staff – are to go the extra mile. The trouble is that trust is an action-based concept. Trust is developed over time as we get to know people and we trust them on the basis of what we see them doing, not on the basis of what they say they are going to do. To develop sustainable trust requires consistency of message and action, clear communication and a willingness to tackle – and be seen to tackle - difficult issues.  

Trust is also linked to nationality. A 2004 survey indicated that Scandinavians were the most trusting with nearly 70% saying that they could trust others. The British (along with Americans and the French) were the least trusting with less than 30% saying they trusted others. This won’t make it any easier for our hard-pressed chief executives in the months ahead.