The Disconnect Between Trust and Broken Trust

Note: Continuing down the path on the subject of trust, here is another case history from the client file when I had to be the messenger that informed the client that he had broken a bond of trust, and he was completely oblivious to it! Enjoy.

In 2004, I met a gentleman (I will call 'Tom') at a hospital conference in Colorado. He was seeking a new position as a Foundation Executive, and I told him I would keep him in mind. In 2006, while doing a project to build a new facility at a hospital, I learned that they were looking for a full-time executive to head up their foundation. I immediately thought of 'Tom' and let him know how to go about announcing his candidacy. The CEO of the hospital, aware of my experience in this arena, asked me to help him screen the resumes he had received. I came up with a short list of three suitable candidates, but he wanted to add one more; a person's CV and experience that wasn't reflective of the job description we had advertised. He insisted, so we put her in the mix as a remote backup should the first three not pan out.

The Interviews
We brought all four candidates in for interviews with a good representation of the people this person would have to work with, and the CEO asked me to serve as a member of the selection committee. The first three were all excellent, but Tom stood head and shoulders above all, including #4, who shouldn't have been there at all. The committee made their recommendation to make Tom an offer, but the CEO overruled us all and offered the position to the fourth candidate, which left us all shaking out heads in disbelief. We were right; he was wrong; she lasted a year and was bounced out when everyone else on the Executive Team came forward to the CEO and said she was totally incompetent. I completed my engagement soon after that and, after informing Tom I would stay in touch, I moved on to other projects.

Hello, Texas!
I stayed in touch with Tom and in 2007, he asked me to submit a proposal to perform an organizational assessment where he was currently working, at a large system hospital in San Antonio, Texas. He was then the CEO of a large Foundation supporting the largest Catholic hospital in that city and they were planning for a new facility, devoted entirely to treating children. No small undertaking, this project would top the $300 million mark when completed, and at least $100 million would have to be secured through a charitable campaign. They had never raised this much money before and wanted to be sure they had the commitment of the entire community and the hospital leadership before undertaking the project.

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
In addition to reviewing all pertinent documentation; financials, bylaws, history, resumes/job descriptions of all people involved, I find that interviewing the people closest to the project and in leadership positions usually tells me more than any written materials. I started down the path and I:

  1. Met with Tom's entire staff of 10 people individually and confidentially;
  2. Met with the hospital CEO and his entire Executive Team;
  3. Met with the Hospital Board Chair and all members of the two Foundation Boards; and,
  4. Interviewed all current major donors and potential foundations in San Antonio.

The Findings
It was almost deja vu in many ways to last week's experience in 2003 in a similar environment; only it was worse! Tom was completely oblivious to how many people he had angered by not following through on promises, he had broken trust with by saying one thing and doing another, and the worst strike against Tom was his entire staff was ready to walk! Added to that last item, the hospital CEO, who, although a complete jerk, didn't like Tom and had no confidence in him.

Keeping Him in the Loop
Learning from my last study experience in 2003, I had kept Tom abreast of trends that were emerging as the assessment progressed, but he didn't seem to be bothered by any of the bad interpersonal news. He was solely focused on the aspect of what the major donors and the foundations had to say and whether they would support the new Children's Hospital.

The Hard Conversation
I had changed my SOP since the 2003 debacle at the other hospital and required that the CEO and the Board Chair meet with me privately before any public presentation of a report. In this case, since most of Tom's issues were staff related; his team and with the hospital CEO, I decided to meet with him alone and first to deliver the bad news. To say he was incredulous about the depth of enmity people had against him would be an understatement; and, it was not repairable, either.

"What the Hell Happened Here?"
I decided to probe a little to help him see what part of this total disconnect he was responsible for and it quickly became apparent; he had little to no regard for this "soft" part of the workplace equation; he was entirely focused on "hard" results. (NOTE: I am not changing the subject here, but another person I admire greatly is Jim Collins and one of his rules for business success is the ability for leaders to face the cold, hard facts, no matter how bad they are.) In this situation, Tom was stuck; the "hard" results he was looking for in raising $100 million would not be possible unless he were able to deal with the "soft" part of his world - his impact on other people. Still dismissive of this all-important factor, he then turned to me and asked, "What the hell happened here?" He proceeded to blame me for his failure to connect with others in a human way! I listened quietly and then asked him, "What's wrong with this picture, Tom? Are you trying to make me feel like I am responsible for the challenges in your relationships?" His reply was, "Of course not, but this would have never come about if you hadn't asked all of these questions about me!" I almost laughed out loud, but I managed to hold back and responded by simply stating, "Tom, neither you nor I can control what other people do, think, or say; you can only control yourself and how you interact with them."

What Happened Next?
He then asked, "What do we do now? Can I fix this? I shook my head 'no' while I responded slowly that I thought it best for him and his future to meet with the CEO, offer his resignation, and ask for some consideration for his ten years of service. This would allow him to look for another position in the next 90 to 120 days and for the CEO to provide him with a reference reflective of the results he had achieved during his tenure there. He hung his head and agreed, all the while I think that I needed to get in touch with the CEO ASAP to broker this arrangement before Tom called him! I did, the CEO did, and Tom did.

Aftermath
Tom moved on to a University setting, and I hear he is doing well; although I never have heard from him. I am probably too associated with a somber moment in his life, or maybe he still blaming me!

Next Week: A Tale of Broken and Then Regained Trust.