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When trust is shattered, don’t rush to pick up the pieces


The Art of Leadership Newsletter

Who would have thought? Donald Trump meeting Kim Jong-un is relegated to page 8 of the national papers, totally overshadowed by the Banking Royal Commission. Daily, we are rocked by new revelations of misconduct from iconic institutions. Rightly the questions have concentrated on searching for answers at the structural level. How and where did systems and processes fail? How did such cultures emerge? But there’s another aspect to this story.

Tens of thousands of people work for these institutions and across the financial services sector. What are the impacts on them? This is an area yet to be addressed and precisely the focus of our blog this month where we explore the far-reaching psychological impacts on employees where their organisations are being subject to examination, and being held to account, by the Royal Commission. We look at aspects such as the shock reactions, impact on people’s identity – who they are at work and personally and how to separate the two roles, the impact of stress and most importantly, the way forward: at individual level, self-management and regaining of personal power, and at organisational level, what leaders need to do in times of uncertainty and to re-build trust.

As specialists in the application of behavioural science in organisations, SMG is at the forefront of working with leaders to help them deal with the psychological effects on employees of the fallout from the Royal Commission and to re-build trust and relationship as a solid foundation for the future.

Virginia Mansell


When trust is shattered, don’t rush to pick up the pieces

“I just want to get out of business. It is all too unethical,” said the woman at the gym, reflecting on a week of bad news about the behaviour of bankers and financial planners.

“I should have spoken up,” confessed another finance industry employee. “I didn’t know,” protested another.

Revelations from the Banking Royal Commission this month mean it is not just customers and regulators who are deeply disappointed in the finance industry, but also many of the people who go to work in these companies.

In these circumstances, leaders need to quickly put into action corporate recovery plans, deal with fall-out, make amends, and strengthen governance procedures. But that’s not enough to make sure that the people in an organisation keep bringing their best selves to work.

When organisational trust has been broken, leaders can’t just simply pick up the pieces and attempt to rebuild their existing relationships. They need to take a more considered approach—one that is informed by the psychology of change. One of the things that changes during times of organisational upheaval and broken trust is a person’s sense of identity, which is often tied up with the brand of the organisation that employs them. When that organisation is seen to be acting unethically, when it is doing harm to customers and giving in to greed and dishonesty, it’s as if the trusting relationship the employee once had with the employer ‘dies’, and with the death of that identity comes a psychological process of ‘grieving’.

The stages of this grieving process has been famously described by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: it starts with denial, resistance, exploration and, eventually ends with commitment. Some people will journey through these stages rapidly. Others can take a great deal longer to move from the initial shock and anger to the final stages of acceptance and action.

Warning signs that people are struggling to accept the new world view of an organisation (and their relationship to it), include displays of indifference, anger, or they may withdraw into depression or hostility.

Adapted from the Kübler-Ross Change Curve

Behaviours may also include presenteeism (overextending as a result of fear) and absenteeism (avoiding coming in).

Rebuilding trust is the key to helping them and the organisation recover. Our view is that trust has a very specific meaning in this context: Trust is the level of confidence your team has in your intent as a leader.

Here are five steps to rebuilding trust.

1. Focus on personal integrity: Decouple your functional role with the organisation, and your basic humanity. People follow people, not organisations. By demonstrating personal integrity, individuals can anchor their trust in first you as a person, then the organisation. This means communicating prolifically, showing empathy and listening without judgement.

2. Read and manage the emotional responses: Identify, acknowledge and normalise the emotional reactions. , then take the appropriate action. During the Global Financial Crisis, behaviours in the ‘resistance’ phase of the change process—aggression, anger, and hostility went unchecked, causing long term damage to organisational culture. Show strength as a leader. At the same time, keep your ego in check, disclose your own feelings, when appropriate, and don’t be afraid of admitting you don’t have answers.

3. Attend to the hygiene factors of trust: Be reliable. Reconfirm meetings, don’t keep people waiting, manage expectations by being clear about what’s expected and what’s not. Identify and eliminate language that presents an “us and them” situation. Encourage collegiate support so people can draw strength from each other.

4. Reaffirm the core values that you subscribe to: Put a stake in the ground on your values. These values should be timeless principles. “Doing the right thing”, for instance, does not belong to a brand and employees can rally around the sentiment, no matter what others in the organisation may have done to the brand reputation. As a leader, you have to be clear about what those core values are and they may be different to the company values that may have been trashed by scandal. It is also worth remembering that if someone is angry that a core value has been trashed, it is an affirmation that the value is treasured. It may be possible to rally around a re-energised agreement to uphold that principle. Communicate those values relentlessly and don’t deviate from them.

5. Return the power: When an organisation has behaved unethically, it is normal for its high-achieving employees to feel some self-blame and powerlessness. Employees may not have any control over something like a Royal Commission, but they do have some power over their own day-to-day activities. How they respond to events now is more important than thinking about things over which they have no influence. They can also use stress management techniques, such as getting out of the office at lunchtime, getting some exercise, and avoiding spending too much time with people who are overly negative.

When organisational trust is broken, leaders find themselves as a critical juncture. By taking a open-eyed and considered approach to rebuilding trust, they position their organisations to benefit from the creativity and new thinking that comes out of chaos and crisis. The recovery process can strengthen people’s own sense of personal responsibility and accountability, leading to a stronger and more resilient organisation.

Kind Regards,
Virginia Mansell & Mehul Joshi

About the Author: Virginia Mansell, Chairman, Stephenson Mansell Group

Virginia Mansell is an expert and thought leader in executive coaching, mentoring and leadership. Virginia is the author of The Focused Executive, an important resource for CEOs and senior executives determined to perform at their very best.

In 1998, Virginia established The Mansell Group to provide coaching and leadership development services. In 2005, she merged this business with The Stephenson Partnership to create Stephenson Mansell Group, arguably Australia’s longest-established executive development firm. Over nearly 20 years, the Stephenson Mansell Group has worked with more than 6000 executives in more than 500 organisations in Australia and internationally including 30 of Australia’s top 50 companies.

In addition to her own experience as a business leader, Virginia brings to her role more than 30 years in human resource management, counselling psychology, psychotherapy and organisational consulting and executive coaching

About the Author: Mehul Joshi, Partner, Stephenson Mansell Group.

Mehul Joshi is a sought-after consultant, facilitator, trainer, and executive coach in leadership development and employee engagement, with career spanning three decades and four continents.

Mehul is a prolific business writer with published material such as the global white papers, the Mindset of the Millennial, The CX Factor, and Decoding the DNA of Sales Leadership.

Mehul began his career with the BBC in London and, after nearly a decade in the field as an award-winning broadcast journalist, he transferred his communication skills to a global learning and development organisation in New York, becoming a member of the executive leadership team.

Mehul is a facilitator, coach and trainer, having implemented successful interventions for a wide range of clients in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia, including ANZ Bank, CBA, JP Morgan, Telstra, and the Australian Olympic team.

This month at SMG

We are thrilled to welcome a new Partner to SMG, and co-author of this edition’s blog, Mehul Joshi.

Mehul joins us from the leading US multi-national learning and performance consulting firm, TTEC, where he was Head of Leadership Practice, Asia. He was previously a Senior Consultant with the well-known leadership development company rogenSi which was acquired by TTEC in 2015.

We look forward to the opportunity to introduce you to Mehul over coming weeks.

Watch your inbox for Mehul’s blog sharing his insights on … ‘Why Every Leader Needs to Prepare Now for the Royal Commission Hearings’.

We are also very pleased to announce a new partnership with Stone and Chalk, the well-known not-for-profit Fintech hub which fosters and accelerates the development of world-leading Fintech start-ups.

SMG is very excited to be working with new ventures at the cutting edge of technology through the provision of our world-class mentors and coaches, supporting leaders of these exciting start-ups in their future success.

What’s On

2018 Masterclass Series

Stephenson Mansell Group has introduced a series of free 2-hour Masterclasses for 2018. Join us with colleagues from across our client organisations as we share our expertise and knowledge on a range of topics in the leadership and coaching space.

Our next masterclass is on Tuesday 22 May on the topic of “Leading Effective Teams”. This session will explore team dynamics, a subject of critical importance whether in the  formation of  a new team, dealing with a challenging relationship dynamic, or breaking down silos across organisational boundaries.

Places are strictly limited. Please email events@smgrp.com.au to find out more.
Date for your Diary:    10 August –  our next Masterclass on Transformational Leadership.


Have you been flagged as a potential high performing leader?

Look no further than the ‘Perspectives on Leadership for Women Public Program’.
Designed to help female senior leaders to align who they are with how they lead, this program has a practical and hands-on approach and focuses on personal presence and communication; resilience; change and complexity; and finding your mentors and sponsors.

DATE NOW FINALISED FOR MELBOURNE Perspectives on Leadership for Women – 5 September & 10 October 2018

Sydney – Perspectives on Leadership for Women – 19 October & 16 November 2018

Brisbane – Perspectives on Leadership for Women –   26 October & 30 November


Executive Presence and Impact Workshop with Peter Kingston, Specialist Communications Coach

The first of our Executive Presence and Impact Workshops in February sold out. Tickets for the 19th June program in Sydney are selling fast … Make the most of this opportunity to experience an immediate impact on your presence, and deliver with improved confidence; understand how to quickly connect with audiences; and learn the secret to speaking less and saying more.

What  attendees said about the first workshop:

Peter is very engaging and personable – He respectfully challenges and moves you out of your comfort zone”.

“Peter Kingston’s attitude and facilitation was outstanding

Click here to register.

What’s Trending in Leadership?

Taking-up the theme of this month’s blog, dealing with psychological stress and trauma in the workplace can have flow-on effects throughout all aspects of an individual’s life.

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health shares some of their top recommendations to help employees  respond to trauma in the workplace and provides strategies to help them cope with the impacts.



Re-establishing trust between leaders and employees after unethical business behaviour is one of the first steps in moving forward to re-build brand and business.

Here we share ‘50 Practices for Leaders to Build Trust’.

Frances Frei, of Harvard Business School, delivers this pointed TED Talk on ‘How to build and rebuild trust!!


As a leader, facing co-workers following a company’s public crisis is never easy.

Here Skip Prichard, explores some tips when leaders find themselves in really tough situations.

Bruce T. Blythe, CEO of Crisis Management International,  offers a case study of crisis leadership and outlines some simple guiding principles on how to be an effective leader in the midst of a crisis.

Meet our Team

This month in ‘Meet our Team’ … Meet Bruce McKay.

Tell me a little about the industries and/or areas you specialise in?

My background is in Science, Technology, Engineering and  Mathematics with a specific focus in Resources (my university degree is a BSc with Honours in Geology) and I enjoyed a successful international professional and executive career for thirty years. For the last twenty years I have pursued a portfolio career and my own experience plus as a non-executive director has allowed me to offer insights into executive leadership, Board/management relationships, governance and strategy development across a range of industries

Tell me how you first became involved in the coaching/mentoring space?

I first met Peter Stephenson in the early 90’s and I was impressed when he moved on from his outplacement practice and pioneered executive coaching. In 2000, I attended a Stephenson Partnership breakfast and when I congratulated him on the initiative, he invited me to join the team.

What do you find most challenging about being a coach/mentor?

Ensuring that I am “in the moment” and truly present for a session to be able to guide participants to develop their own answers and solutions to their challenges.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about starting a coaching or mentoring program? 

Approach it as a great opportunity to seriously look in a mirror, learn more about yourself and your relationships with others and grow as a person and leader. It is stimulating to see how effective and rewarding coaching and mentoring can be when the chemistry, engagement and commitment are aligned.

Is there any advice you would give to someone who is progressing their career towards a key leadership role?

The professional skills that got you to your current position are not going to take you to higher levels: leadership behaviours, relationships and emotional intelligence will have as much influence on your success as your IQ or your technical knowledge

Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life?  Tell me about them.

My father – his commitment to his faith, a life of service to others and a strong sense of duty have always inspired me in my pursuit of being of service to others.

As you know we are always growing and learning. Is there any one thing you would like to take the time to learn more about?

Nothing particularly specific: more expanding my general knowledge and understanding. What science and medicine is learning about the brain and the body is fascinating – I would like to be more aware of developments in neuroscience and the way human physiological and behavioural systems interact … but I am not planning on a new career.

What are some of your passions outside of the office?

My wife and I are keen golfers: we are also keen travellers on “soft expedition” cruises. Our daughter and their families live in Adelaide so we enjoy extended stays there where we have bought an apartment as a “home away from home”. I remain as active as I can and walk most mornings … and I enjoy red wine.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I started school in Alice Springs over 60 years ago … and now I am on the Board of a secondary school in Alice Springs.

Where will we find you on your days off?

Walking, golfing, at art galleries, with family in Adelaide or at home musing over cryptic crosswords or Sudoku puzzles.

My greatest inspiration is …   family, especially my wife Lynda but still the memory and achievements of my father.

The greatest lesson I learned was …   I’m not as smart as I liked to think I was: I learned it quite early academically and I continue to learn it through experiences in life and work.

Anything else you would like to share?

In 2008 I had the privilege of completing the Kokoda Track with colleagues from SMG which in some ways was a life-changing experience. Our collective achievement demonstrated the value of preparation, leadership and teamwork.


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