The First Step in Rebuilding Trust During the Government Shutdown

As I was sifting through updates on Facebook last night, I came across an interesting photo that one of my friends “Liked” on her Facebook page. The picture was of a letter sent from Republican Congresswoman, Ann Wagner, to Dan Strodel, Chief Administrative Officer, requesting that her pay be withheld throughout the shutdown. Ann’s request is not a common one but struck me as an excellent indication of her leadership style. If over 800,000 government employees are unable to work and collect a paycheck, why should members of Congress be exempt. Ann stated in a comment, “As a result of partisan bickering and gridlock, I have waived my salary for the duration of the government shutdown because congress didn’t get the job done. Those who make the laws should have to live by those laws, and I will continue to fight for the people of Missouri’s 2nd District.”

I’m sure some readers may be thinking, “She’s a republican and is part of why the shutdown is occurring in the first place.” In fact, as I was doing some research on Wagner, I came across an article that disapproved of Wagner’s actions. However, regardless of your political stance, you have to applaud her for making such a bold move and not exempting herself from the same fate as the other “non-essential” government employees. That is the mark of a true leader and also a trust building attempt.

In the new book, Trust, Inc., Randy Conley, trust expert at The Ken Blanchard Companies, writes, “Trust is based on perceptions, so each of us has a different idea of what trust looks like. For leaders to be successful in developing high-trust relationships and cultures, they need to focus on using behaviors that align with the ABCD’s of trust.” The ABCD Model of Trust is an acronym that stands for:

Able –Being Able is about demonstrating competence.
Believable – A Believable leader acts with integrity.
ConnectedConnected leadership shows care and concern for people.
Dependable – Being Dependable and maintaining reliability.

Unfortunately, trust in our government leaders has been taking it on the chin for some time now. Fortunately, Conley outlines the five-step process in rebuilding broken trust in the book. The first step in rebuilding trust is to acknowledge that a problem exists, followed by leaders admitting their part in causing the breach of trust. The third step is to apologize for their role in the situation in order to move on to assessing which elements of theABCD Trust Model were violated. The final step is for the leader and the offended party to agree on what they can do differently moving forward. This is clearly not an easy task. Stephen M.R. Covey, another contributing author to Trust, Inc. acknowledges that leaders need to take the first step in order to increase influence and grow trust in a team, organization, or community. Covey states that the first job of a leader is to inspire trust, and the second is to extend it.

I don’t think that the action Ann Wagner took will have much impact on the direction of the other Congress members nor the direction of the government shutdown. However, I do believe that she took the first step to increasing and growing trust in a highly untrustworthy and difficult situation.

As we wrap-up a second week of the shutdown and the two parties attempt to come to a compromise, what are you doing to demonstrate your leadership values? Share your thoughts here or on the How Gov Leads Twitter page, #leadinginashutdown.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Great post, Kristina! One of the best I’ve seen about the shutdown, actually.

I admire and applaud Wagner for taking that action. That took guts and humility.

Kristina Marzullo

Thanks, Andrew! That’s quite an honor coming from such an esteemed fellow blogger. Ann’s actions are highly commendable and a step in the right direction.

David B. Grinberg

Nice post, Kristina. If it’s one thing government needs to rebuild it’s the public trust. Perhaps Trust Inc. should be required reading for every member of Congress.

While it’s a positive sign that some in Congress are relinquishing their pay during the shutdown, much more needs to be done to elevate the institution’s 10% public approval rating.

Another step in the right direction is for Congress to end the shutdown ASAP and then hold a press conference in which leaders of both parties jointly apologize to the federal workforce and the American people for being derelict in their duties.

Mindy Giberstone

Liked the ABCD Trust model discussion.

However, the premise rings hollow to me. With 47% of Congress millionaires, the lack of congressional salary will not have the same impact on anyone voluntarily forgoing pay as it does on government workers whose sole livelihood may be their paycheck. We all know coworkers living paycheck to paycheck. I guess Wagner gets points on the “Believable” scale, but I’m skeptical on the “Connected” scale.

Dale M. Posthumus

This would be a good read not only for politicians, but also for our government employees. Feds have a bad rep for a lot of undeserved reasons, but some are also deserved. What can each of you do to regain the trust of the people with whom you deal? When I worked at USDA years ago, I would get phone calls from frustrated citizens trying to find the right person with whom to talk. They had been passed from person to person several times. If I was not the person, I told them I would try to find out whom, then call them back to let them know if I had an answer or not. A small thing, but I almost always got a “thank you” from the callers.

I believe the private sector does a better job of this, but they are not off the hook either (e.g., Pepco and Comcast in the DC area).