Strengthening Trust

Organizational Trust Flows from
Character Strengths

I see myself as a global citizen and am deeply affected by what I see happening on the world stage. When discussing these issues with global clients, we may disagree on the details, but we all have a deep sense that the dissolution of character in leaders who would pull us into nationalistic opposition to each other is dangerous and needs to be called out.

With that in mind, let’s look at an opening statement from Richard Edelman in the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer:

“We find the world in a new phase in the loss of trust: the unwillingness to believe information, even from those closest to us. We have a world without common facts and objective truth, weakening trust even as the global economy recovers.”

I don’t have to describe to you what it feels like to witness a global crisis of trust in our leaders, institutions, and media. We are all experiencing that lack of trust, whether personally or witnessing it in others. Both globally and particularly in America, many institutions and leaders are seen lacking in the universally valued character strengths that are related to human thriving.

How to start rebuilding trust.

Throughout recorded history, character strengths have been the universal touchstone of human society. I can’t help but wonder what impact we could have on this crisis of trust if everyone honored, supported, and exhibited what all societies have upheld as the hallmarks of personal character.

This may sound like a simplistic solution to rebuilding trust. I relate it back to the work that an organization undertakes to build and strengthen its culture. At its core, culture work begins at the levels of values, beliefs, and principles. It’s difficult to align and guide the organization toward a vision if the thinking behind that vision has not been articulated. Similarly, pointing to character strengths and values is a good, useful place to start the hard work of rebuilding a global culture of trust.

Character strengths are available to us all. Unlike special talents and skills identified by other popular strengths approaches, character strengths are constellations of behaviors, thoughts, and emotions that everyone has the capacity to develop—with practice. James A. Froude, a 19th century English historian, says it best: “You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”

The question facing each of us is whether we will choose to forge our character strengths.

Universally recognized character strengths.

With the support of the VIA Institute on Character, positive psychologists Christopher Peterson and Marty Seligman have researched and indentified character strengths that have been celebrated and honored by all societies across human history, not only the Western perspective. From their research, they created the VIA Survey, a free self-assessment designed to help people better understand their current personal character strengths in order to create more positive workplaces, schools, teams, and lives. I highly recommend the VIA Survey to anyone who’s curious about how embracing character strengths can positively impact the world.

There is a large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology that further proves the business value of creating a positive, virtuous work environment. Empowering leaders to embody character strengths can improve employee health and well-being, leading to reduced insurance and medical costs. Employee engagement and retention are also strengthened, which can dramatically benefit productivity and the bottom line.

As William Ellery Channing once said, “The great hope of society is individual character.” We all have the power to be that hope. Embracing character strengths such as curiosity, integrity, kindness, fairness, humility, and gratitude can be the antidote to our current global crisis of trust. By forging our character strengths through intentional practice, each of us can wield their positive power to rebuild trust in our organizations and beyond.

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