Consider this, “We can build our leadership upon fear, obligation, or trust. However, only a foundation of trust results in the collaboration and goodwill necessary to achieve our peak performance.”
These words, from organizational design expert Roger Allen, could hardly be more succinct in expressing the central role that trust plays in building and leading high-performance organizations.
Integrity is often the first word that comes to mind when we think of trust but according to Seattle-based management expert Stephen Robbins, trust is based on four additional distinct elements in your relationship with the people you lead:
- Competence. At first, this may seem strange—after all, can’t incompetent people be trusted? Perhaps, but not if they want to lead. Everyone wants to follow a leader they are confident in, who knows how to achieve success for the team and bring out the best in them. They don’t need an independent leader going rogue but rather a collaborative leader who knows how to empower others. No one expects perfection. They expect confidence and humility demonstrated in your ability to fail forward as you learn from others and your experiences. They expect you to provide a safe place where their talents are maximized and contribute to the mission of the company.
- Consistency. Predictability, especially when it comes to following through on commitments, anchors trust. Very few do well under leaders who are unpredictable, intermittent, erratic, and chaotic. It leaves them perpetually guessing and unable to get into a rhythm of high performance with you. If you’re competing in a sport, you want to be unpredictable for this very reason. You don’t want them in rhythm, making shots or catching passes. Disruption throws consistency off, becoming the enemy of production and ultimately profitability. Some high “D” type leaders may purposely act unpredictably to “shake things up” and “keep people on their toes.” However, this leads to a culture of perpetual fear and anxiety, wondering when they’ll be blindsided next. This becomes the focus of their attention rather than the work their doing. They figure, why bother, it’s just going to change.
- Loyalty. To a large extent, your team can only trust you to the degree you are committed to their success and well-being. Max De Pree, the legendary CEO of Herman Miller and champion of the “servant leader” concept, puts it this way: “The leader’s first job is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the leader must become a servant and a debtor.” In other words, great leaders help people understand both where they are and where they need to be. They value their people knowing they can’t do it alone and others need to feel valued. Servant leadership is about succeeding through the success of others rather than at the expense of others. That’s why servant leaders also feel indebted and grateful for those who make it possible to experience the freedom and prosperity of business success.
- Openness. Integrity means, among other things, being honest. Honesty is displayed best in the light where others can see it. Independent leadership styles are at the most risk of not gaining trust and losing what trust their people have in them because they make decisions and say things to others in “the cloak of darkness.” They operate outside necessary protocols. Often this is to avoid resistance, initial conflict, and/or the time it might take to bring everyone along in decision-making. Making independent decisions and avoiding direct conversations is not demonstrating courage and confidence as a leader. It fosters dysfunctional behaviors like triangulation, passive aggressiveness, disengagement and turnover, all huge energy and time sucks on the organization. Leaders must model openness, transparency, and clarity so their organization is more efficient at decision-making and moreover, at executing those decisions. Trust is accelerated in a safe context where openness, directness, and authenticity are rewarded rather than penalized. If your team can’t get to know you, then they probably can’t fully trust you, either. With openness comes the requirement for a certain vulnerability and generally, the leader will need to “go first”.
A study conducted by leadership expert, Brene Brown, found that the number one thing senior leaders felt needed to change in the way people are leading today is having braver and more courageous leaders who won’t avoid the tough conversations. Tough conversations often involve being accountable and holding others accountable. The courage to have these conversations is a requirement for leadership and is essential for building trust.
By investing in building and strengthening these qualities in your leadership, you will be steadily reinforcing your trust relationship with the people who work for you. Those relationships, in turn, become the foundation for building a high-performance organization, particularly in times of change and stress, when people tend to rely upon their personal relationships. If your team trusts you in good times, they are even more likely to stand with you when the times turn challenging.
If communication, collaboration, and conflict are leadership skills your company would like to more fully develop, I have three complimentary next steps for you. You might start by taking a short but powerful assessment to determine your leadership style. Our “Confident Leader Insight Assessment” is a fun and easy step to see where your thinking might get in the way of your best intentions. You can take the assessment HERE. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for the full report. Also, schedule a complimentary 30-minute clarity session with me to interpret your results and help you prepare for a great 2023. Just click the button below to find a convenient time to connect.