In Zero We Trust….

Trust is the foundation of pretty much everything.

Without trust, it’s hard to have either a personal or business relationship.

It’s also hard to build a civil society, because lack of trust undermines the willingness of citizens to engage and get involved.

This week, the Edelman Trust Survey was released and while the results were not surprising, the findings were pretty dismal.

The public’s trust in key societal organizations—government, business and the media, has taken a nosedive from already low levels.

The decline in trust in government was greatest, falling 14 percentage points, while trust in business fell 10 points, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) 9 points, and media 5 points. The survey was taken before this week’s brief government shutdown and can kicking to early February.  The last time this stunt was pulled the U.S. economy lost an estimated $20 billion…that’s billion with a b.

The survey was conducted in 28 nations and none experienced the decline in trust that the U.S. has endured.

“The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of the communications firm that conducts the survey. “This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economic issue or catastrophe like the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In fact, it’s the ultimate irony that it’s happening at a time of prosperity, with the stock market and employment rates in the U.S. at record highs.”

The root cause of the fall, says Edelman: lack of objective facts and rational discourse in the U.S.

To see the full report visit this link:

No country saw steeper declines than the United States, with a 37-point aggregate drop in trust across all institutions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, China experienced a 27-point gain, more than any other country. I find that odd, but I guess all the Communist Party has to do is demand trust in order to get it.

The collapse of trust in the U.S. is driven by a staggering lack of faith in government, which fell 14 points to 33 percent among the general population, and 30 points to 33 percent among the informed public. The remaining institutions of business, media and NGOs also experienced declines of 10 to 20 points. Why does this matter?

Because it’s hard to rally a nation if ‘we the people’ don’t have trust, are divided politically and walk around touting our own facts.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once admonished a colleague that while it was Ok to have his own opinions, he certainly was not entitled to his own facts. That old saw seems to have been abandoned.

So what do we do?
I think an answer is what is being called “new localism”—which essentially believes that if we can’t fix the nitwits in Washington maybe we can solve problems and build trust in our communities.


While Washington has struggled with its most basic functions (passing a budget, keeping the government’s lights on etc.) there are cities of all sizes throughout America that have created vibrant economies, fixed distressed neighborhoods, improved public safety, reformed schools and created a better quality of life for its citizens.

Local government is where the opportunities lie—but only if we can attract talented policymakers, leaders and professional staff. Because let’s face it, building great cities isn’t easy either. But it is possible.

I have long told prospective elected officials that local government provides a rich soil for achievement and innovation. But they have to do a few things in order to succeed and if they skipped those things they would surely fail or fall far short of their potential.

So what is the secret sauce?

How do you succeed locally?

We’re glad you asked…(and that’s not just an aside, I do appreciate your emails).

First, it helps to have a vision or a North Star that the community creates, develops and defends against the inevitable push back from those who fight change, don’t bother to show up or adopt a mindset of now that I have moved to town—nothing else should ever change. We call it: “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder.”

Elected officials are successful when they want to get things done; when they shape change rather than resist it.

They get in trouble when they see themselves as “goalies” there to block any and all ideas—or any and all ideas that aren’t theirs.

Now that doesn’t mean that good elected officials don’t have a role to play in defending their cities from change that would be harmful, hurtful or out of character. The best ones know the difference between the former –which is needed in order to grow and survive–and the latter which can ruin a community.

The best elected officials build trust by being inclusive, open-minded and fair. They serve more than their base. They know that once elected they have to shift from campaigning to governing which demands decisions and those decisions should respect the rule of law, support community visions and take in the long term interests of the community not their short term political needs.

They understand that they will be called on to make and defend tough decisions but once those decisions are made they need to move on. In politics and in life, you win some and lose some.

The best leaders listen. And while almost every politician claims to be a listener, you can easily tell who is truly listening and learning and who is merely paying lip service.

But if you do truly listen, you will reap the rewards. Listening builds trust.

But listening doesn’t mean obedience—it just means you respect people enough to hear their concerns. When the roll call vote is called, you have to vote your conscience which sometimes will aggravate your friends and neighbors. So it helps if you acknowledge their concerns and where possible try and find a way to compromise so that decisions can be win-win, not a zero sum game.

My test for local success is whether you are supported by the doers in your community—the volunteers, the business owners, rank and file employees, senior level staff, key organizations and important community groups. If you can earn and keep their support you know you’re doing a good job. Again, that doesn’t mean blind loyalty—it just means that you have made enough decisions that they support so that they respect your work, trust your judgment and go to sleep at night knowing that on most issues you will do the right thing.


Pre-Election Day Thoughts


After a record $4 billion of ad spending, Americans head to the polls tomorrow to elect everybody from County Commissioners and School Board members to Senators and Governors.

If the polls are correct—and I suspect they are—it’s going to be a good day for Republicans from Alaska to Arkansas. But those same polls also show deep dissatisfaction with both political parties and the general direction of this country. American voters are unhappy with their government and their elected leaders, with rare exceptions.

There seems to be something inherently wrong with our politics and we seem to be attracting something far less than our best and brightest to public service.

Government—at all levels—has been demonized and often with good reason due to waste, fraud, corruption, abuse and incompetence. But we’ve also been told that government is our problem and no longer is the source of solutions and that is a dangerous belief system, because it tends to be self-fulfilling.

The truth is, we need government, limited, effective, fiscally responsible and competent to deal with common problems and opportunities and we don’t seem to be getting it.

As a result, problems ranging from infrastructure neglect and terrorism to climate change and immigration reform go untended. Unfortunately, problems that are neglected don’t tend to disappear, they tend to fester and get worse.

Somehow, someway, we have to find a way to work together again and get things done. If we don’t, our children and grandchildren will inherit a range of deep seated problems and future generations will look back at us and wonder—what were they thinking?

I believe that solutions begin with finding capable leaders who have an ability to engage those who they represent.

But after a barrage of negative TV advertising that was long on the “other candidate is horrible” and short on any ideas, I’m certain we are not going to get that leadership when the polls close tomorrow.

I will vote—as I always do—but like others I almost can’t believe the paucity of choices on the ballot.

This less than inspiring slate—which seems to be a nationwide malady—ought to be a powerful wake up call for voters. We need to do better. Better candidates, better campaigns, better ideas, better debates and better coverage of races so voters can get beyond the horse race and really understand what solutions or ideas candidates bring to the table.

Years ago, I stumbled on a quote in a magazine about a candidate running for Mayor in a small Maine town. She said that holding office “was a job to do, not a job to have.”

I clipped that quote and carried it with me during my seven years as a local elected official to remind me that my responsibility was not to take the easy or politically expedient path, but to do what I felt was right. Like everyone else, you find that sometimes you stumble. But for me that quote was a guidepost, a reminder that politics was an opportunity to make change, solve problems, involve people and try to ensure a future for others. The commission’s I served on called it moving ‘the big rocks’.

Too many politicians think of service as a career and are afraid to actually do the job. They play dodge ball with the issues delaying the inevitable and leaving problems for future generations to deal with.

We deserve better.

Great leaders are hard to find. But we better start trying.

Every day I interact with smart, visionary people, most of whom would never consider running for office because they see politics as dirty and inconsequential. It needs to be viewed differently; recast as public service and transformational.

I think the voters are hungry for good leadership and vision. I think they would welcome bold ideas, honesty and being treated like adults.

Just my hunch.