Displaying items by tag: leadership, accountability, trust, NSA, Snowdon,
Monday, 26 August 2013 14:32

Leadership Trust in a Digital Age

“Trust is equal parts character and competence... You can look at any leadership failure, and it's always a failure of one or the other.” 

Stephen Covey, The SPEED of Trust


A leader builds trust by aligning his actions with his words. Equally important is his perceived competence and capacity to provide clear direction with transparency and integrity. Not easy to accomplish in a digital age when market, environmental and technological developments are occurring so much faster than the annual business planning retreat. External regulators struggle to keep pace, and internal plans and policies are out of date as soon as they are drafted, exposing leaders and their companies to the risk of falling out of step with employee and consumer expectations.


The recent case of CIA “whistleblower” Edward Snowden is a poignant example of technology and trust in an unhappy union. Just as “big data” is used by companies to mine for large quantities of information on consumer trends, the United States National Security Agency (NSA) conducts online surveillance using the XKeyscore tool to analyse widespread quantities of data associated with user keystrokes on persons of interest to national security. On August 16, 2013, Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times revealed the contents of an NSA audit report leaked by CIA whistleblower Edward Snowdon, claiming some 2777 violations of privacy or court orders due to technical and human error with respect to surveillance procedures.


Snowdonchose to go directly to the public with this information and risk charges of espionage, rather than raise his concerns through formal channels. Why didn’t he present his concerns through formal channels? Clearly he didn’t trust the “system” to address the issue. In a similar case, a predecessor, Tom Drake of the NSA, also harboured concerns about NSA maladministration and the use of ineffective technology. Drake instead chose to work his way through all formal channels to no avail. He felt compelled to share his thoughts when approached by the media on the issue in 2006/07 and was rewarded with an indictment on charges of espionage: an avenue usually reserved for spies. The charges were later dropped when it was found he did not share any classified information.


The whistle-blowing cases of Drake and more recentlySnowdonillustrate how the failure of leadership in a new technological arena has eroded employee and public confidence, ironically, in the ability of the NSA to build a sense of trust in US national security institutions. The Snowdon case demonstrates how the rapid development in data gathering processes and surveillance technology, together with blurred policy regulation with respect toUSgovernment surveillance activity, has caused resistance and confusion. A lack of oversight and constraints has enabled unlawful and unauthorised behaviour by those who were expected to model it.


However, lack of trust in corporations who manage big data extends beyond this example. The overwhelming rally of public support behind whistleblowers such asSnowdonreflects a fundamental breakdown of public trust in leadership’s capacity to function competently and accountably when it comes to the intersection of new technology and the public interest. The breakdown in trust becomes more tangible when you read reports like those of Charles Arthur, technology editor for the Guardian, that this growing level of distrust inU.S.information and data storage technology firms could lose approximately $21 to $35 billion in expected cloud technology contracts. This amounts to a loss of around 15 percent to foreign competitors.


Trust and accountability to your employees, customers and other stakeholders are essential for an organisation and its leadership to move ahead successfully. Maintaining trust requires more than keeping your word. Trust in leadership demands a consistent level of competency in regularly monitoring operations and markets, responding with appropriate shifts in organisational policies and strategies. The rapid pace of technology, innovation, and political upheaval are no excuse. Ensure that your strategies, plans and feedback methods are agile, your leadership is relevant and flexible, and ideally one step ahead of your current business activity. Finally, no matter how big or complex the technology or the business, leaders are accountable. The court of public opinion will see to that.





Di Worrall, Accountability Leadership: How Great Leaders Create a High Performance Culture of Accountability and Responsibility


Stephen M.R.. Covey, The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything


The Guardian: Fears over NSA surveillance revelations endangerUScloud computing industry



New Snowden Leaks Reveal Problems at NSA



The Conversation: XKeyscore and NSA surveillance leaks – expert reaction


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