10/30/2012 03:34 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2012

With Obama and Romney: Trust But Verify

The Russians have a great saying, adeptly used against them by former U. S. President Ronald Reagan: "Doveryai, no proveryai." Trust but verify. The presidential candidates and others are asking us to trust them. But data shows that politicians are ranked consistently by informed respondents as the least trusted professions.

A current Gallup survey discovered that only 21 percent of people have a high level of trust in the U.S. Congress, the same level as car sales. Clearly, blindly trusting political candidates is a risky approach. How do we know who to trust? Who can we turn to for objective analysis to help us decide? Traditionally, we turned to journalists, who, in Walter Cronkite's (renowned as the most trusted person in America) day, were the hallmark of objectivity. But unfortunately, journalists have become so partisan themselves that only 26 percent in the Gallup survey say they trust journalists. So where do we turn?

I suggest that as U. S. citizens, we have the responsibility to exercise our own informed judgment when voting. Start by giving candidates the benefit of the doubt; after all, they are willing to step up to be civil servants and perform a very difficult job to benefit the rest of us. However, be smart about it. Do your own analysis. Inform your own judgment. Listen to candidates' quotes in context and judge for yourself. Don't trust the spin put on the sound bites by pundits or even the candidates themselves. Judge for yourself.

We trust people based on two things, their credibility and their behavior. By credibility, we mean both their character and their competence. Character includes integrity and intent. Do they walk their talk? What is their agenda, their motive? Do they intend to solve problems and lead or simply administer and manage the status quo (like "arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic")? Competence consists of their capabilities and most importantly their track record. Do they do what they say they're going to do? What is their verifiable history of results in the task at hand?

As for their observable behavior, again judge for yourself. Observe what they do, not just what they say. From your own informed perspective, do the candidates talk straight or spin the facts? In other words, do they technically tell the truth but leave the wrong impression? Are they transparent and authentic? Do they open their agenda and clearly declare their intent? Or do they posture and perform and keep their agenda vague or hidden? Do they take responsibility or blame others or the circumstances? Do they produce consistent results? Do they have a history of clarifying expectations and holding themselves accountable to keeping those commitments? In the respected business bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey said it this way, "You can't talk your way out of a problem you behaved yourself into."

Not surprisingly, the above criteria are the same ones we recommend to organizations looking to hire a new CEO. We suggest that is exactly what we are doing in this election -- hiring a CEO to run these United States of America. What is one of the most important actions you take when hiring someone? Check their references; trust but verify. Verify their capabilities for the role they are filling.

The most important role of a CEO is to lead out in getting results in a way that inspires trust for the next time. Leaders must collaborate to solve complex problems. The genius of our forefathers is that they set up our government so the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch must collaborate. Unfortunately, when trust is low, the best you can do is coordinate. With higher trust, you may be able to cooperate. But real collaboration requires a high level of trust. We need leaders not mere administrators in Washington -- credible leaders that have both the character and the competence to restore trust in America.

Each of us spend our entire lives discerning who we can trust. Be smart. Trust but verify. Exercise your own informed judgment when you vote based on these proven criteria of leadership and trust.