Leadership is a complex endeavor … and yet it seems so effortless and uncannily daring for some charismatic and shinning leaders that suck the air out of the room the moment they walk in.
Yet when people seek to analyze what is it that makes a Great Leader — they seek to explain their “light” as some sort of superhuman quality, and they seek complex scientific based explanations, as to the Why of the person’s glow.
Now we all know that simple folks tend to make things more convoluted than they need to be, but the Leadership Science that has developed around the last half of the previous century, and today’s way of estimating leadership based on Corporate hierarchy is a non starter.
We tend to identify today’s so called leaders with the managers inside the various corporate structures. We see these managers acting like Bart Simpson lookalikes, playing at production, unleashing their micromanaging evil genius, and indulging base emotions preying upon the workers, the salary men, and women, stranded bellow them in the corporate tree.
Alternatively you can view these micro-managers as the morons from the “Office” working next to you in your cubicle stacked tight in the corporate office.
That’s about the level of “leadership” you see in your daily life. And that’s before you turn on the TV, because once you do that the level of Leadership drops smack down to zero…
Everybody’s talking shit about Leadership. Everywhere. And as usual – it’s all trash.
But don’t take my word for it. To clearly prove this point, just go to Amazon.com and search their book listings for the word “leadership.” More than 300,000 entries will come up. Everybody’s a Leader these days, and you can write a book about it too. And if you have some PR dollars to spend — you get a smattering of readers and a good following too. And as popular culture goes — the bigger the fan base, the greater the Kardashian factor gets. Kinda like getting a big ass. A cushion to fall back on…
Browsing the titles of some popular best-sellers might lead some to believe that to be a successful leader, you need to find the magic key, get religion, whisper to the genie from the lamp, seek the wise monk in the mountain top, take the right steps, follow the proper laws, exercise the right muscle, figure out the dysfunctional ones, embrace the challenge, make friends, influence people, ascend the levels, look within yourself, look outside yourself, read the book, read all the books, learn management, forget management, take study courses in leadership, go be a tough mudder, stay clean, get sober, do smart drugs, get rid of your drug habits, drink moderately, get drunk, fall of some wagon, get a follower or two, form a posse, develop a tribe, embrace the right habits, know the rules, break the rules, be obsessed, learn the new science, discover the ancient wisdom, and do all of the above at the same time.
In other words, overcomplicate things.
What if successful leadership isn’t really that complicated?
What if there is just one thing — not a title, power or position — that determines whether people followed a leader?
What if one aspect of leadership is a non-negotiable, must-have characteristic that needs to be in place for people to pledge their loyalty and commitment to a leader? What if one single element defines how people experience working for a leader?
Can it really be as simple as one thing?
It all comes down to this one thing…
And that one thing is trust.
It’s the foundation of any successful, healthy and thriving relationship. Without it, leadership is doomed. Creativity is stifled, innovation grinds to a halt, and reasoned risk-taking is abandoned. Without trust, direct reports check their hearts and minds at the door, leaving managers with staff who have quit mentally and emotionally but stayed on the payroll, sucking precious resources from the organization.
Trust, is indeed the Missing Link in today’s Leadership vacuum.
I am saying this because once trust is established — all things are possible.
Energy, progress, productivity and ingenuity flourish. Commitment, engagement, loyalty and excellence become more than empty words. Leaders develop their wings in reality, and not as clueless mission statements. Suddenly Leaders become real.
ANd they prop up all around us because Trust can be the magic ingredient in organizational life.
It simultaneously acts as the bonding agent that holds everything together and as the lubricant that keeps things moving smoothly. Strategy and tactics always help things along, but the real Leaders carry the Trust of the people around them as their strong suit.
In corporations trust is key to success. In governments even more so. In our Politics, and in our Democracy — we see the results clearly. But inside your office and while executing your business cycle, it is evident that while high trust won’t necessarily rescue a poor strategy, low trust will almost always derail a good one.
Surveys and studies report chronic levels of low trust in leadership and organizations. Interaction Associates’ “Building Workplace Trust 2015” report states only 40 percent of employees have a high level of trust in their management and organization. Yet the research states that while employees said trust in their bosses and senior leadership is critical to be effective in their jobs, 25 percent reported lower levels of trust in those two groups than they did two years before. Statistics are trending in the wrong direction.
Trust is essential for leadership success, yet business seems stuck in an environment of cynicism, suspicion and low trust.
So what is a leader to do?
Leaders have to build trust at the interpersonal level before it can radiate out to teams and affect an organization’s culture.
Karen Adams is president and CEO of Alberta Pension Services in Canada, which administers pension services for Alberta’s public sector pension plans. She said trust is of primary importance in how her organization operates and deals with its members and pensioners because trust is at the core of building strong relationships.
“Trust is established between two people over time,” she said. “You can’t build trust with a team, although many people talk about teams in this way. The way you build trust is through one-on-one relationships, individual to individual. Managers who learn this lesson early in their careers are more likely to build strong relationships with their people and create the foundation of trust that is at the core of an effective organization.”
Trust doesn’t come easy, however, and it doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a characteristic of advanced leadership that leaders must continually work to maintain. A challenge in building trust is that it is based on perceptions. One person’s idea of what trust looks like in a relationship can be different from another’s, so it’s critically important for leaders and organizations to establish a shared definition for, and understanding of, trust.
All you need is trust.
Leaders build trust when they are strongly connected, fully dependable, highly energetic, and utterly believable.
Being able is about demonstrating capability. One way that leaders demonstrate their capability is by having the expertise needed to do their jobs. Expertise comes from possessing the right skills, education or credentials to establish credibility with others. Leaders also demonstrate their capability when they achieve results. Consistently meeting goals and having a track record of success builds trust with others and inspires confidence in a leader’s ability. Able leaders are also skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems and processes to help team members accomplish their goals.
A believable leader acts with integrity. Dealing with people in an honest fashion by keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth and not gossiping demonstrates integrity. Believable leaders also have a clear set of values that they articulate to their direct reports, and they behave consistently with those values — they walk the talk. Treating people fairly and equitably is another key component to being a believable leader. Being fair doesn’t necessarily mean treating people the same in all circumstances; rather, it’s about treating people appropriately and justly based on their own unique situation.
Connected leaders show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps create an engaging work environment. Leaders create a sense of connection by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and by trusting employees to use that information responsibly. Leaders also build trust by having a people-first mentality and building rapport with those they lead. Taking an interest in people as individuals, not nameless workers, shows that leaders value and respect their team members. Recognition is a vital component of being a connected leader, and praising and rewarding employees’ contributions builds trust and goodwill.
Being dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trustworthiness. One of the quickest ways leaders can erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, leaders who do what they say will earn a reputation of being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires leaders to be organized so that they can follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable leaders also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for their work.
The Value of Trust is the sum total of all our resources and organizational value plus all the aspirational and potential value we can ever hope to develop. Too much perhaps?
Think about it this way: Having a common framework and definition of trust is essential for all Organizations. Leadership development for current and future leaders needs to focus on trust as a foundational skill to enable people to communicate and lead initiatives in a shared governance environment.
A common language of trust opens up communication at all levels in an organization. Further, having a model to explain what trustworthy behavior looks like can foster a more open dialogue between leaders and their teams, and between peers. Spending dedicated time adapting the model in multiple levels in the organization has given everyone a common language and understanding of how we can build trust and hold each other accountable in an engaged work environment.
Building trust in relationships and organizations is often mischaracterized as a soft skill primarily focused on creating warm and fuzzy relationships with employees. The reality is trust has hard, bottom-line benefits for organizations.
Nothing impacts an organization’s bottom line more than trust. Research has shown the most trustworthy companies have produced an 82.9 percent return vs. S&P’s 42.2 percent since August 2012. Companies that proactively build trust into their DNA see expenses decrease and profitability increase. Research from the “Great Place to Work Institute” shows that high-trust companies perform nearly two times better than the general market on the S&P 500 and Russell 3000 indexes.
Beyond the financial benefits, high levels of trust between leaders and employees foster engagement and vitality in an organization’s culture. The 2015 “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement” report from the “Society for Human Resource Management” showed the top two contributors to employee satisfaction were respectful treatment of all employees at all levels (72 percent) and trust between employees and senior management (64 percent).
The aforementioned “Great Place to Work Institute” reported that committed and engaged employees in high-trust companies perform 20 percent better and are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization compared with employees in low trust organizations.
It would be an oversimplification to state that trust is the only requirement for leadership success. Leadership is a complex recipe that requires many ingredients, but trust is one must-have factor.
Do you have it?
We all learn far more about ourselves and our potential when we face challenges, adversity and failure.
None more so than seasoned Leaders.
Leaders are made inside the crucible of fire and battle. They are hewn from rough timbers that got burned when their last castle was overtaken. They are born out of fire, but they certainly are not made by fawning minions, adoring subordinates, nor by advertising and PR agencies.
In fact, some CEOs have told me that they won’t even look at senior candidates who haven’t failed at least once in their careers.
So what exactly do we learn from failing? I asked several highly successful people that question for my podcast, Radiate, and here are the seven best.
Do you define yourself by the amount of money you make?.
Do you define yourself by the number of subordinates, divisions, and corporate jets at your disposal?
Do you define yourself by the personal wealth you have amassed?
Do you define yourself by the number of impressions your words receive in the Media?
Got many answers but none to my satisfaction.
Because… am different.
I am a True Leader of the old school ways.
I define myself by impact.
So I ask You this:
What kind of impact do You want to have?
And keeping in mind that real power comes from the grassroots — one must earn the trust of the roots, the simple people, the ordinary workers.
And that is the truth always and forever.