Deceit, Lies and Fraud. The collapse of trust and why we need to resurrect it.

Updated: May 28, 2019

Last year, I experienced fraud in my business by a senior executive whom I trusted deeply.

Deceit, lies and malicious behaviour specifically targeted towards you feels like death. It’s like a cancer in your mind and a poison in your heart. Have you ever been betrayed? It is confronting, shocking, painful and difficult to deal with. It’s complicated even as you need to keep faith in yourself and your ability to “judge and measure” people correctly. I was betrayed – how did I miss that?? Have I lost my ability to identify trust in others? No one wants to be lied to. No one likes to be cheated. And yet in our world we are seeing more and more evidence that lies, deceit and dishonest behaviour is becoming a cultural norm.

Are we becoming accepting of deceit?

This month I had the pleasure of spending the morning with some of Australia’s best business minds, in an intimate think-tank hosted by 2020 Exchange. The topic, “The Death of Trust”. Ian Elliott delivered his TedX key-note titled the Death of Trust and its Resurrection where he started with the statement:

“Never before in our history has trust been betrayed on so many fronts”.

Take the Royal Commission enquiry into the misconduct of the banks. They have been stealing from us, cheating us and even taking life insurance from dead people. Or perhaps today's news on the Cardinals conviction of pedophilia with young boys.

On too many fronts, lies, deceit and dishonest behaviour is becoming a cultural norm

left to right; David Kelynack CEO 2020 Exchange, Martin Blake Partner KPMG, Richard Boele Partner KPMG, Michele Levine CEO Roy Morgan, Vaughn Richtor Founding CEO ING, Gary Flowers Chair 2020 Exchange, Ian Elliott, Ex Chairman/CEO George Paterson

You might be saying to yourself “well, so what?” Why is this important to me?

Trust is the centre of all relationships. Every human interaction is built on trust. It’s the framework that builds good culture in business, long-lasting marriages and happy children that thrive. Ian Elliott refers to trust as “the point by which the world is able to spin freely on its axis”. Without trust, human relationships stop.  We inherently trust that the Sydney Harbour Bridge has the infrastructure to carry millions of cars from the East to the North of Sydney daily. If we had even a 1% concern that we didn’t trust the structure and integrity of the bridge, the bridge would be closed. We trust the bridge.

Humans have an unconscious bias that people generally do the right thing towards one another. People behave with honesty and integrity. Life would be chaos if we all started to behave out of integrity. There is an unsaid pact from human to human that we won’t cheat, lie or be deceitful. When the cheating happens, its catches us off guard and the infrastructure of the relationship fails on all fronts.

Intermittent trust and honesty doesn’t work

Could we re-calibrate our acceptance of distrust?

From my perspective, lies, deceit and poor behaviour isn’t truly reprimanded. Business ethics are black and white but the law is grey. I am not convinced that there is a true red line that if crossed, bares immediate consequences. Much like touching a burning hot plate, touch it, you burn your skin. There is a clear red line and consequence.

So long as we accept this “grey” behaviour without true reprimand, we will fall down the deep and slippery slope where grey behaviour turns black as people shift into the dark side where deceit deepens.  As leaders we must train ourselves that trust is the cultural norm and being honest and having strong sense of values is how we live a good life. 

Let’s bring back the tenants of respect and honesty and set uncompromising values around deceitful actions. Ian Elliot reminds us that we judge ourselves on our intentions however we are judged by others on our actions. Our actions become incredibly important in our journey of becoming a trustworthy leader.

The Trust Equation

There are a number of trust equations out there but Ian Elliot shared with us his formula which I particularly liked.

The Elliot Trust Formula = (Authenticity + Ability + Actions) x Alignment

All “A’s” are scored out of 10

(10 + 10 + 10 ) x 10 = 300 as a maximum score.

Alignment as the dominant element of trust

Let’s put this in action:

Tiger Woods prior to his infidelity

(Authentic 10/10 + Ability 10/10 + Actions 10/10) x Alignment 10/10 = 300/300 perfect score. He was sports best ambassador. We all trusted him.

Tiger Woods post infidelity

(Authentic 5/10 + Ability 10/10 + Actions 4/10) x Alignment 3/10 = 57 /300

His trust score goes down to 19%. Consequently, he lost all his sponsorship contracts as no big brand name would want to associate their “trusted brand” with an untrusted personality.

This is a simple and effective way to calculate trust.  We can begin to apply this formula in our own reflection of ourselves, our decisions and behaviours as a leader.

Moving on

My personal learning from my recent experience of managing fraud is that the law doesn’t fix your problem. The lawyers give you a channel for discussion and you might feel victory when there is a settlement and the undertaking is agreed, but what has been broken is not truly fixed by this.

These events make a permanent mark in the history of our lives. Yes we get over it. Yes we learn.

I have fully accepted the circumstance that I have faced. I have accepted that this is not only part of my journey of evolving as a leader but also their journey. From acceptance comes forgiveness and from forgiveness comes a higher resonance of being. We are the ones that are making our choices and therefore accountable for our choices. When you look in the mirror, let those choices be ones that bring humanity forward. Choose integrity and trust will prevail.

This article has been written to support the UN Global Sustainability Goals, Goal #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

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