Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

The Ousted Uber CEO: Determining Trustworthiness is Hard!

A lot has been written recently about the ousted co-founder and CEO of Uber who has tried to get his job back.   He had been fired by the board of directors because, after the company was hit with crisis after crisis, virtually all CEO-induced, they had finally lost trust in this individual.  The list of those damaging incidents had grown significantly over the past eighteen months. For perspective, that list includes allegations of gender discrimination, encouraging Uber drivers to use a software tool to confuse competition, stealing self-driving car secrets from a competitor, and an investigation by the Department of Justice into Uber’s business practices.  Why didn’t the board of Uber see this coming a long time ago?

There have been decades of research on the topic of trust.  The findings of a recent Harvard Business Review study show that people’s accuracy in determining trustworthiness is only slightly better than chance.  On the other hand, the various research studies done in this area verify that the following three suggestions can be helpful in trying to assess this character trait in an individual:

1.) Remember That an Individual’s Integrity Can Vary by Circumstance – Many of us believe that people are either trustworthy or not.  This is not the case and it has been verified by many psychologists doing extensive experiments.  Instead, trustworthiness seems to be somewhat dependent on whether and/or how the outcome can impact them.  Net, if you are trying to judge trustworthiness, learn about how the individual has reacted in various types of situations.

2.) Beware: Confidence Can Mask Incompetence – Just because an individual seems smooth and polished doesn’t mean that they are competent.  Unfortunately, people are much more willing to trust individuals who look confident and dress very well as confirmed by a British Columbia researcher.  On the other hand, the author makes it very clear that the best way to assess competence is to do extensive homework.

3.) The More Personal Interactions the Better – Experiments at Cornell University and MIT filmed people having “get-to-know” conversations before they played a game involving monetary transactions and the exchange of information to improve the performance of those transactions.  The individuals who had conversations with the individuals they were about to play with were significantly more accurate in judging trustworthiness.

In summary, deciding trustworthiness is a difficult task.  On the other hand, the findings that are cited from these studies are certainly worth internalizing.

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