The most healthy organizations allow for a balance between trust and cynicism when it comes to the outlook of their members.
Cynicism gets a bad rap. We tend to picture the cynic as the cranky, world-weary know it all on the last barstool to the right, or the tiresome guy in the break room who can’t stop talking about how the system is rigged against the little guy,
We tend not to seek out cynics in our personal life. And if we are ever accused of cynicism ourselves we’ll likely quickly and defensively say “No – I’m not cynical, just realistic!”.
But here’s a reframe: trust and cynicism go together.
Trust is the glue that holds an organization together. Employees will invest more trust in an organization that trusts them.
Our research which led to TED – The Engagement Dashboard, our online employee engagement survey, found that the number one predictive factor for a high performing organization is the deeply held belief that “Management can be counted upon to come through when needed”. That’s trust.
Trust is the currency of leadership.
But there’s a place for healthy cynicism too.
Cynicism says that new hires are not as likely to immediately replace the performance and reliability of the people they replaced so they need watching, accountability and support. Cynicism spurs the creation of financial controls and risk management strategies because it realizes that people won’t always do the right thing.
Cynicism isn’t the absence of trust so much as it is a way of reducing complexity.
For example, you’re driving alone on a rain-slicked road at night. The car coming towards you appears to be veering into your lane, a head on collision imminent.
To fully trust you have to suspend all belief that anything could be wrong – that the driver could be impaired or texting or reckless. You simply continue on your way without making adjustments or allowances.
But a little balanced cynicism recognizes that something could be amiss, allows you to raise your awareness and alertness and prepares you to take evasive action if needed. Without over-thinking it.
Here’s the bottom line for your organization: You can’t do the things that build trust unless you’ve done the things that manage cynicism.
In other words, the accountability and controls which healthy cynicism encourages allow for trust to flourish.
What about your organization?
Are you characterized by a culture built on trust? Or is it one where there is suspicion and unhealthy cynicism?
Are the appropriate standards, agreements, protocols, and standards of accountability which manage cynicism in a way that leads to the freedom that comes from trust?