Can politicians restore nation’s trust?


I’ve always admitted I’m a Pollyanna when it comes to politics — meaning that I still cling to the belief of “public service” and that there are well-meaning public servants who try to do the right thing and work for the American people who are paying their salaries.

It’s getting increasingly more difficult to maintain my naivete, especially when considering Washington D.C.

Why can’t they just do their jobs?

Our conniving, show-me-the-reelection-money U.S. representatives and senators are the ones who steered the car to the fiscal cliff in the first place. We deserve better.

I’m not alone in my frustration with the broken policy-making system.

Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, penned a great opinion piece Dec. 27. In it, he writes:

“… a reality has become too obvious for the world’s dazed inhabitants not to notice: The greatest threat to the upward arc of human progress is the collapse of public policy making.

“That is the biggest cliff of all.”

I don’t know what they’re doing in D.C., but it’s clear what they’re not doing. The work we sent them there to do.

Because I’m no expert, I do try to read and listen to others who are much closer to the political scene. And here’s how Bloomberg Political Analyst Matthew Dowd put it in an interview Jan. 4.

People don’t like each other in Washington anymore, he said. There’s no socializing, which means there are no relationships, no social power among legislators.

And he’s not just talking about “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” type of deal relationships; he’s referring to really knowing each other, and creating, gasp, friendships that stretch across ideological aisles. Then, when the hard work comes (oh, hello, upcoming debt ceiling/tax increase/spending cut conversations!), there’s actually some trust among lawmakers.

I’m guessing trust is a foreign concept across the Potomac these days.

The lack of trust is not only sad, but it’s costly. The late Steven Covey wrote that “significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.” I can’t vouch for the first, but we’ve all seen evidence of the second in the recent cliff-hanging debacle.

Covey, who wrote a whole book on the importance of trust and leadership, said the ability to establish, restore and grow trust among stakeholders is “the critical competency of leadership needed today.”

“You cannot be an effective leader without trust.”

Therein lies the rub. We don’t trust politicians, they don’t trust each other.

Rebuilding the nation’s trust — restoring my trust — won’t be easy. We don’t have confidence in our leaders’ character nor their competence. We may like the results they get (competence), but if they’re not honest or sincere, they will lose our trust. We may believe in their character, but if they can’t get things done, we lose faith in their abilities.

What can they do? I’m not smart enough to figure that out, but Covey was. Here’s his list of 13 behaviors that build and maintain trust:

1. Talk straight

2. Demonstrate respect

3. Create transparency

4. Right wrongs

5. Show loyalty

6. Deliver results

7. Get better

8. Confront reality

9. Clarify expectation

10. Practice accountability

11. Listen first

12. Keep commitments

13. Extend trust

It’s a great list for all of us to aspire to follow, but I think I’ll send a copy to Washington.

By Susan Crowell


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