'Trust Is the Key'

As a CEO, you need to be able to build trust with all stakeholders - customers, suppliers and with your board and your employees.

By T.V. Narendran  
Saturday, December 23, 2017

The biggest management lesson I have learnt in my 29 years of professional life is the importance of Trust and Credibility. In our personal lives, we take these for granted. We build trust with our parents as children. We build trust with our spouse as an adult. We help our children build trust in us. However, in our professional lives, quite often, there can be conflict of interests, unlike in our personal lives. As such, it is far more difficult to build trust and credibility in our professional lives. Also, we may not have the luxury of spending many years in a non-conflicting situation to help build that trust and credibility. It is also not unusual to have a situation where we trust someone we have known for six months more than someone we have known for six years.

All through my professional life, I have had multiple experiences that have reinforced my belief that trust and credibility are the most valuable resources that one can build for oneself. It is very fragile and can be destroyed in a fraction of the time it takes to build. It is tested in difficult times more than in easy times. It is a manifestation of one's behaviour over an extended period and over multiple situations. Over time, it becomes an integral part of your professional identity and equity.

Early on in my professional life, while dealing with international customers, I realised that the trust and credibility that Indian exporters enjoyed was very limited. Since Tata Steel was not so well known outside India as we were within the country, we had to build our equity from scratch and work much harder to gain the trust of our customers.

In later years, as we acquired companies overseas, and I was deeply involved in the first of them, Natsteel, there was a different challenge in building trust and credibility among employees from other cultures and countries who were now part of the same team.

More recently, when we embarked on the Kali-nganagar project, we realised that despite all the hard work that we had done for over a hundred years in and around Jamshedpur and our mining locations in Jharkhand and Odisha, one had to start from scratch to build trust and credibility with a new set of communities. We learnt the hard way that we needed to build trust before we were to build the boundary wall and the steel plant.

As a Chief Executive Officer, you need to be able to build trust with all stakeholders - internal and external, your customers, suppliers and with your board and your employees. The journey never ends.

As an organisation and a Group, we believe in "Leadership with Trust" and cannot betray the trust of multiple generations of employees and shareholders, suppliers, customers and distributors and communities who have invested in us.

Many years back, I read an article that highlighted how, as toddlers, we enjoy and chortle when an adult throws us high up in the air as we are never in doubt that the adult who throws us up is there to catch us on the way down. Years later, in the leadership building programmes that we undertake, there are trust building exercises wherein you fall off a table blind folded and your colleagues are there to catch you.

To conclude, for me, trust, credibility and authenticity are the most precious qualities one can inculcate and build. It is not going to be easy and nobody is perfect. But don't be faulted for not trying. If you are able to build it, you can have very difficult conversations and deal with very difficult situations more easily than if you don't enjoy that trust and credibility with the other person or organisation. It is not to be confused with being popular or agreeable, but with being respected for a message even if you are not happy with the contents. It takes a lifetime to build and a heartbeat to destroy.

 By T.V. Narendran, MD, Tata Steel

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