[Introduction] You're Being Watched: How Everything Leaders Do, Say and Are Sends a Message


“People want leadership. And in the absence of genuine leadership, they will listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership, Mr. President. They're so thirsty for it, they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.”

- Lewis Rothschild, chief domestic policy advisor, “An American President”

The Key Point:

Sincere leaders – who know that everything they do, say and are communicates something about their sincerity and act upon that knowledge – will have more engaged followers and get exceptional results.

People are starving for sincerity – for something and someone to believe in.

That’s because there’s an epidemic of insincerity out there. Whether it’s fake news or fake photos. Twenty-seven hour celebrity marriages. Reality shows that are anything but. Fine print that’s far too small to read and way too complex to understand. Radio commercials with disclaimers that come so fast our speakers start to smoke. Political scandals and ads that pretzel-twist the truth. Religious scandals where the most trusted become the most wanted. College scandals where the only thing not admitted is the truth. Insider trading that leaves the rest of us feeling like outsiders. Resumes so overinflated, they’re in danger of popping. Not just wallets, but identities being stolen. Slippery advertising words like “virtually” and “water-resistant.” Even product packaging that tells you what you’re seeing isn’t “actual size” when the “actual size” itself is nothing to write home about.

Yes, there’s an epidemic out there, one that can leave people feeling worn out and wrung dry.

As Goes the World, So Goes Business

As you’d imagine, the business world can’t escape this epidemic. It reflects it. Feeds it. Basically, sits smack dab in the middle of it.

In fact, all you have to do is open any “Business” section in the newspaper, or click on any “Financial News” link, to read the latest about a company that got caught doing something wrong, trying its best to “apologize” in a way that doesn’t take accountability.

Oh, yes, as for that apology. It will be chock full of dreaded “corporatese,” another major disease in our epidemic of insincerity. Words like “We apologize if anyone was offended,” and “We’ve reached out to dialogue with the impacted parties.” “Corporatese” – a made-up language of made-up words that makes what happens in town halls and between meeting room walls seem like make-believe.

These scandals, this epidemic, and the fact that people can’t even trust a simple car commercial to tell them what’s real – all lead to people losing trust. And losing trust is one of the hardest things we ever have to do. Because, without trust, we’ve got nowhere to stand, and every tunnel leads down not out.

In these trying times, we need trust. We need a reason to believe.

We need leaders.

The Big Five

This book focuses on five key elements of leadership communication:

People are starving for leaders they can trust.

They decide whether they can trust leaders by observing them and making decisions based on how they feel about what they see.

Leaders need to know that they are constantly broadcasting messages in everything they do, say and are.

In these messages, leaders will either build or destroy trust.

Leaders who are aware of this, and act sincerely, will be more likely to build engaged followers and drive exceptional results.

So, why start with leaders to turn back this epidemic? Because leaders, by their very nature, model behaviors for all of us. And they’re in the most powerful and influential positions in key organizations and institutions around the world. If they understand this, therefore, and if they can drive stronger trust with those looking to them, imagine what these ripples could do.

People Are Starving for Leaders They Can Trust

To be as objective as possible, we must ask ourselves if this is all just circumstantial evidence? Are we simply picking out random observations and drawing conclusions that won’t hold up? Is there really an epidemic of insincerity?

Let’s look:

In 2018, PwC’s 21st Global CEO Survey found that most CEOs (65 percent globally) are concerned about declining trust in business. (Author’s Note: All research will be cited/footnoted in final manuscript.)

According to Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, a leading American public relations and marketing consultancy firm, when reflecting upon the results from the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, the firm’s annual trust and credibility survey: “The last decade has seen a loss of faith in traditional authority figures and institutions.” Findings from the survey include the following concerning takeaways:

“There is a growing feeling of pessimism about the future, with only one-in-three mass population respondents in the developed world believing his or her family will be better off in the next five years."

“Among the mass population, just one-in-five believe the system is working for them and 70 percent desire change.”

Fortunately, there was some good news in the survey, “Despite a high lack of faith in the system, there is one relationship that remains strong: ‘my employer.’ Globally, ‘my employer’ (75 percent) is significantly more trusted than NGOs (57 percent), business (56 percent), government (48 percent) and media (47 percent).”

The bad news, well, yes, I’m guessing you see this coming, is that NGOs, business, government and the media aren’t taking bows about their perceived level of trustworthiness.

According to a 2018 Harvard Business Review study, nearly two-thirds of global senior executives believe trust among people, businesses and institutions is declining.

At first glance, the 2019 survey results from the Financial Trust Index survey administered by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management show increasing trust in financial institutions (from 22 percent in 2008 to 28 percent at the end of 2018). But, if you take a moment to reflect on that number, you realize how distressing it is that going from 21 percent to 28 percent in terms of trust over a period of ten years is considered “progress.” Another startling finding in the survey: trust in large corporations was “very low in 2008 (11 percent) and, while seeing an increase to 16 percent today, remains very low.”

Not surprising to anyone with a TV or access to the internet, or who has recently sat around the family table at a holiday gathering, a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center found that Americans largely perceive trust in Washington to be shrinking, with almost two-thirds of respondents saying they thought trust in each other had declined, too. The study also found the following:

“Two-thirds of adults think other Americans have little or no confidence in the federal government."

“Majorities believe the public’s confidence in the U.S. government and in each other is shrinking."

“Some see fading trust as a sign of cultural sickness and national decline. Some also tie it to what they perceive to be increased loneliness and excessive individualism.”

Yes, not a pretty picture. But there is hope. We’ve been in worse predicaments and found our way out of them. And when we did, who led the charge? Do names like Churchill and Lincoln and Washington and King ring a bell?

So, Why Do We Need Leaders?

In his 1954 book, Motivation and Personality, Psychologist Abraham Maslow shared his theory that people in all cultures have certain genetically-based needs that do not change. He described these needs in a hierarchical fashion, with some needs being more fundamental than others. As these needs are satisfied, he explained, other higher needs emerge.

The first four needs, as Maslow hypothesized, are the following:

  • Physiological – hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc.

  • Safety/security – to be out of danger

  • Belongingness and Love – affiliation with others, acceptance

  • Esteem – to achieve, be competent, to gain approval and recognition

After these needs are met, as Maslow saw it, people naturally look to address the next higher-level group of needs:

  • Cognitive – to know, understand, and explore

  • Aesthetic – to find symmetry, order and beauty

  • Self-Actualization – to find self-fulfillment and realize one’s potential

  • Self-Transcendence –to connect to something beyond oneself, to help others find self-fulfillment and realize their potential

If one accepts the basic tenets of Maslow’s theory (and notable recent research does, though some do suggest modifications), it’s easy to understand why we need leaders –because we believe leaders will help us meet some or all our needs.

For example, a community may elect a mayor who will hopefully bring prosperity to their

town, helping people meet their physiological needs –

– while also going every Sunday to hear a minister who helps them along their religious path for self-transcendence