Building Leadership Trust

Trust, like respect, is earned, not given. Great leaders know how to establish trust with people around them, and just how valuable it is. Trusted leaders have teams that perform better, are more loyal, happier and more productive. To build trust with your team, these are the things you need to do in the workplace, but this also applies to technical community as well. The volunteers are your team.

According to the PASS Special Board Minutes of October 2020, the Board are investigating two potential NDA breaches. One potential breach involves a sitting Board member, who released NDA and commercially-sensitive information about the future of PASS. The other potential NDA breach involves a candidate sharing information onwards.

I’ve asked the candidates to respond a few times publicly ( here ¦ here ¦ here ) and eventually got a response from Matt Gordon and another from Steph Locke. Thank you to Matt Gordon and Steph Locke for responding. You can read Steph’s thread here. I’m sorry I completely missed Steph’s response earlier and I’ve updated this post to include it. I agree with her that I also more Qs than As and the minutes are opaque, which is why I’ve suggested some actions below. Here’s Matt’s response:

The potential NDA breaches could not have taken place at a worst time; during an election. For me (and numerous silent others), it is hard to make a decision about your vote when one of the candidates has potentially participated in an NDA breach and there are few, if any details.

A potential breach of NDA horrifies me as a data professional who has been in the industry since 1997. The irony is that PASS are supposed to be an association for data professionals. If they can’t get our own NDA right, then they are not in a position to advise others about it. It destroys credibility and it can only be gained again by doing the right things. I believe Tim Ford is doing the right things, right now, but will it be enough to repair trust? As he says himself, informed voting is the ultimate form of governance, but I need more information to be truly informed about this situation.

Call to Action

A number of actions need to happen to ensure the integrity of the election, and a fair path for each candidate. I’m also keen to ensure that the community choose their candidates based on the best available information.

Come out, come out, whoever you are

In the workplace, employees need to know that they won’t be punished for making mistakes. Mistakes can be powerful learning tools that ultimately make things better. Employees who aren’t afraid of making mistakes will be more likely to try harder and work creatively to find a solution. They’ll strive to solve a problem rather than giving up.

It’s the same with volunteers, and that includes Board members. I am waiting to see which candidates will come and out say that they are not the candidate mentioned in the minutes. I need more detail before I can cast my vote. This issue isn’t about transparency; it’s about one piece of information, potentially more, being given by one Board member to one candidate, which was not given to the other candidates. That’s not a transparency issue, that smells like an election issue. I want to know what they did with that information; were they aware it was under NDA? How was it shared, and who to? Why wasn’t it given to everyone? Fundamentally, it is about trust.

I am also waiting for the sitting Board Member to identify themselves. If I was them, I’d recognise the consequences of my actions for myself and the community, identify myself to save casting shadows on others, apologize, and consider whether I can continue in the position at all. Trust needs to be rebuilt, and it’s going to come out anyways.

Independent Review

It will be harder to prove that the candidate knew that they were receiving NDA information as well, but it is also hard to get rid of the smell. It’s not fair to the other candidates and I need to know that community leaders adhere to the same NDA as if it was a professional organisation. If it was important enough to have an NDA wrapped around it, then it was important. All candidates should get the same runway when campaigning.

Myself, and others in private communications which I won’t share here, feel uncomfortable about casting a vote given the lack of information to date. I understand that a full investigation is underway, and I understand that. I have served the UK justice system by serving as an independent legal expert witness in court cases, the details of which are confidential but I am successful at it. Plus, legal people love people who can help them with Excel, so there’s that.

That’s why we need an independent review to take place outside the PASS Board, Microsoft, and current Board candidates. I am happy to put myself forward to participate in a panel as an independent reviewer. I believe it would be harder to have Microsoft involved since two of their employees are on the Board, and this may introduce a conflict of interest or difficulties in junior Microsoft staff questioning more senior staff members.


For transparency, you need to walk the talk. PASS should be more transparent, and all the candidates have it on their ticket. However, the irony is that I am not seeing transparency here, either. The candidate under investigation is unknown, and, to me, that casts a shadow on all the candidates; I do not know if it is someone who is a current candidate or someone anonymous who was knocked out earlier. I’d like to see them practice transparency by publicly stating that it was not them. If they have done so, I have not seen it.

At the very least, the sitting Board Member owes people a profound apology. Teamwork is going to be crucial for PASS success. For that, it has to be fair and open and people are going to have to work together. Each of the candidates are good, and they all bring something to the table, but this issue reflects on all of them when I’m thinking of casting my vote; I don’t know who has potentially broken the NDA, but, as a data professional, that’s crucially important to me.

Travelling the Harder Path

My wise brother once said to me: it’s lonely at the top. As I have progressed upwards in my career, that has become increasingly true, and I have sought friendships with other leaders. It may seem that I walk alone in narrow streets of cobblestones in pointing these issues out. I have always chosen the harder, less travelled path, and usually alone.

In this issue, I am not alone but there are people who are afraid to speak out and have thanked me for doing so. Being alone does not make me wrong, anyway. It just means I am willing to stand up and do the right thing. I am willing putting my personal feelings for individuals aside and thinking about a bigger vision, and setting the scene for others. That’s what strategic thinking is, and it doesn’t make me popular but it doesn’t make me wrong, either.

When I left the MVP Program after ‘the final lash’ in a long list of my death of a thousand lashes as an MVP, former Microsoft Regional Director and SQLFamily member, only one of the current candidates reached out to offer support. That was Hamish, and I remember his kindness and his willingness to reach out to someone who had been forced to hand back an award in order not to suffer anymore.

It was important to me because I had lost a lot of ‘friends’ at that time; a few hundred people disconnected from me on LinkedIn, I lost Twitter followers. People that I’d known for years, if not over a decade, had betrayed my trust by diminishing me when I needed them most. The fallout from that is taking me a long time to recover, and I want them to know that they have had ravaged my ability to trust again, ever, and the hurt that they have caused me has deeply hurt me. It does, however, make me more determined to speak up where others are silent, since I can try to set an example to limit the effectiveness of silent spectators in squeezing people out. I can be the leader and the ‘voice’ that I’d have liked those people to be for me, and they have inadvertently inspired me by showing me the type of person that I don’t want to be.

I know that many of the candidates actively dislike me as an individual but I see a bigger picture here that means I am willing to forego that fact: I want a fair election with a fair chance for everyone, and that’s more important to me that my feelings towards people or their feelings towards me. That’s what strategic thinking is for me; the ability to neutralize how you feel, recognize the emotions, and then let them go so you can see a clearer vision with no turbulence. Some of you may recognize Buddhist thinking here, and you’d be right.

Leadership says who you are

Leadership involves honesty, integrity, and ethics. Values and principles are crucial.

“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger” – Buddha.

Decisions made now should not be made in anger. Take time, think about it, and do the right thing. Leaders need to know that a new set of criteria is judging them, and they need to rise to unique challenges of PASS while demonstrating their interpretation of leadership.

With anger, leaders can become immune to the destructive consequences of their decisions on those around them. Everyone needs to cultivate an atmosphere of openness and collaboration, and sorting this issue out properly is a good start for a fresh chapter at PASS.

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