Inspired Leadership

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

All too often, scandals are tarnishing the images of corporate, political and even religious leaders. The scandals that are splashed across the headlines probably represent a small minority of these huge institutions. Still, we see deception and greed. We see CEOs receiving astronomical levels of compensation while shareholders and employees are suffering and the company’s performance is poor.

Even close to home, we hear of "leaders" in business and nonprofit organizations apparently willing to bend or break the rules for personal gain. Trust is running thin. What does it matter? Well, in addition to the generalized anxiety that ferments throughout a society when trust erodes, there are specific ways organizations are affected.

Research indicates that when trust is diminished, turnover, absenteeism and tardiness are high. Worker motivation is low. Customer relations are affected adversely. There is less spontaneity and risk-taking in the organization and less emotional support. Problem-solving suffers, and team members lack commitment to each other, much less the larger group. There is high stress in the organization, and the cost of doing business soars.

Besides, no one is having much fun.

The way to get your organization into this unhealthy state is to act and talk inconsistently. Keep information close to the chest and have lots of closed-door meetings. Make it clear that your personal goals, not shared goals, are at the top of your mind. Lie anytime you think it will further your personal goals. That includes being sloppy with the truth to cover your tracks, or to filch credit away from where it belongs. Keep your distance from those lowly employees out there.

On the other hand, you can build or rebuild trust with a few tried and true behaviors, as long as they are genuine and consistent. Communication is the artery for information in any organization, and those arteries can be used to continually talk about your vision for the organization. The people want to be aligned with the values of the organization, that is, how the vision will be realized. They need to know what the values are and see the leadership walk their talk. As trust grows, it connects people to each other and to the organization’s reason for being. Open and honest dialogue should become the norm.

Trusted leaders treat employees as equal partners. They know their names and probably their kids’ names. They ask for feedback and opinions. Trusted leaders understand emotional intelligence and get training in it if they feel inadequate. They will go out on a limb to do what they know is right. They keep their promises. This kind of leadership fits snugly into the Level 5 leadership described in Jim Collins’ book, "Good to Great."  Collins talks a lot about humility and describes legendary leaders as gentle, aware and courageous.

Doesn’t all that add up to the kind of leader you can trust?   Make sure you bring your backbone and your heart to work each day. The people around you need to know about them, and that they can rely on both. When trustworthiness is strong at the top, it spreads through an organization like electricity through wires. Newcomers will be wary – and that’s the sad statement about our reality today. But, you can earn their trust in the same way described above. In one organization that I do a fair amount of executive coaching, the CEO once asked me during a lunch meeting, "Why do the senior managers all trust you?"

"Because they can," I said. I don’t know anything else that works to develop trust other than being trustworthy.

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