Jun 19 2020| Leadership
by Phil Eyre Founder
A significant proportion of our work since launching Leaders has centred on trust. Whether with fledging leadership teams or long-established teams, the critical issues around trust are the same. Without trust, the best anyone can hope for is mediocre performance.
Lockdown conditions have created the thinking space and time for Dr Coker and I to bring the best of our leadership and management practices together into a new programme, launching within the next fortnight. The critical theme in the centre? Trust.
As we enter a changing world, trust will be even more critical for leadership team success. Without it, there will be little creativity, agility, challenge, nor happiness. For leaders, and the people and businesses, they are responsible for to thrive, a focus on building trust is essential. Here, we provide an overview of what constitutes trust, including short case studies to show how some of our clients are working practically to raise their trust-worthiness.
There are five principles of trust that we focus on when working with boards and senior management teams.
Transparency is characterised by an openness and accessibility of information, clear (rather than hidden) agendas and a determination to include all relevant parties rather than sideline people.
Every leader must make tough decisions. Transparent leaders help their team understand the reasons behind those decisions and connect them into the organisation’s direction and purpose. This implies that they make their direction clear and open, not fobbing people off with not-quite-true reasoning, or with no reasoning at all. Nor do they hoard information, with an “information is power” attitude; they are open, sharing quickly, truthfully and appropriately.
Transparency demonstrates that a leader is candid and free of pretence; people grow to believe the transparent leader, which in turn helps colleagues to accept bad news more readily.
Transparency enables people to trust your words.
Boris* is a highly capable MD, energetically going about the business of transforming the company he leads. He’s able to juggle multiple issues, seemingly at once. However, he’s going so quickly that everyone else is left behind and had started to lose a sense of direction, let alone commitment to change.
Boris is deliberately building in catch up sessions with all executives and choosing to wait to meet with everyone before pushing forward, rather than selecting just those in easy reach.
Lockdown has helped, as everyone has become more available and can meet digitally. Boris is committed to maintaining this principle. He is also putting ‘purpose’ at the top of each meeting agenda; reminding everyone of the purpose of the business and the critical purpose of that particular meeting.
When we are relatable, it means that other people can bond or associate with us because they perceive a “common ground.”
Relatability often gets confused with likability, but the two concepts are not the same. Being relatable is more about interacting with each person on an individual basis and showing that you connect with them. It’s the demonstration of empathy, showing that you care about others, understand their particular pressures and are ready to support their specific needs. Relatable leaders are usually characterised by:
- active and opening listening; not distracted nor rushed in conversation;
- genuinely interested in the people they interact with.
- ask open, exploratory questions.
- relish time, however brief, with their colleagues.
- invite contributions and help from team members at every opportunity.
- secure enough to share experiences, including mistakes, with team members to help them learn.
Relatability enables people to trust your heart (intentions).
Kelly is technically brilliant and has led an impressive transformation of a fundamental part of the company. She’s task-focused, intelligent, with high standards for herself and others. But she has a way of putting other peoples’ backs up to the point where they don’t believe she cares about them.
Having received some constructive feedback, including via the psychometrics that we use, Kelly better understands the impact that she’s making. She is choosing to spend time with her colleagues to learn more about them, their interests and concerns as well as sharing one or two things from her own life experience. She’s already amazed by the impact because she does care for her colleagues even if she was previously struggling to show it.
When someone is predictable, we “know what to expect” about their future behaviour. This is not a lack of creativity; instead, it is stability and consistency. This includes:
- being consistent in behaviours, not blowing ‘hot and cold’; people can get to know what you’re like and what to expect;
- consistent decisions. Colleagues receive the same message and same decision, even when asking at different times or situations.
- leading by example. Doing themselves what they are asking of others (there’s not one rule for me and one rule for everyone else).
- consistent objectives; resources remain focussed on key goals, which are pursued with tenacity, rather than flip-flopping between multiple priorities.
- follow through on promises made.
Predictability enables people to trust your actions.
James is CEO for a fast-paced business with a significant presence in multiple locations. He is energetic, enthusiastic, charismatic and sometimes opinionated. James has a reputation for making quick decisions. This previously served him well, but colleagues now know that he not only makes fast decisions but changes those decisions equally quickly. The result? One person hears one thing; another gets an entirely different view. Committing to a course of action had become extremely difficult.
James is learning the art of the “second response”; he has put practical tactics in place to pause, hold back his first response, choose to pause, listen and reflect (even if only briefly) before articulating “the” way forward (his second response). Our next step is to engage James’ executive team in helping to hold him to account, with a system to test whether he is giving consistent direction intentionally.
Feasibility is about your ability to evaluate a situation and create a coherent plan forward for your team. Dreams can be inspiring, but that’s all they will remain without a feasible plan of action.
Some leaders dream-big and rally people around achieving a huge ambition. If this is based more on hope, fuelled by charism rather than careful thought and a feasible plan of action, people will soon lose engagement and trust will fade. The next big idea will fall flat without a second thought.
Leaders can build trust over time with intelligent, effective planning. When plans serve as a roadmap to the realisation of dreams, colleagues become faithful advocates and followers.
Feasibility enables people to trust your judgement.
Abigail is one of the most creative board-level directors I’ve met. She often has brilliant ideas that challenge convention and have the potential to open new markets for the business. Her problem is that she takes these ideas almost immediately to her co-directors, who ask reasonable questions that she’s not yet processed thoroughly. Her ‘can’t we just get on with it’ appeal undermines her credibility. Sometimes the ideas are then shelved.
Abigail needs support to prepare more rigour and research before bringing new ideas to the board. We’ve identified someone in the business that’s excellent at this and is now teaming up with Abigail. While the time it takes to prepare a rigorous case is more prolonged than Abigail likes, she is already receiving a much warmer response from her board colleagues.
Empowerment is such an overdone word that it’s beginning to lose its meaning. We can all give power to others, yet in practice, too many leaders hold on to power and responsibility. The high-control leader is difficult to trust.
The empowering leader seeks every opportunity to encourage and support team members. They bring other people into the best projects, providing a platform for those others to shine. They don’t over-delegate by simply assigning tasks and then abrogating all responsibility. Rather they support and challenge colleagues to stretch up their skills, enabling self-sufficiency and not dependency.
The empowering leader is willing to risk mistakes in the team, as long as those arise from reasonable thinking and effort. They will invest resources into developing their people continually, rather than expecting the finished-model to arrive on day one.
Empowerment enables people to trust themselves.
Phil is head of the most critical team in his multi-national business. He knows all there is to know about this division, having risen over the years to team-lead as the business has grown. He has struggled to delegate effectively, his high standards often resulting in taking back work or ‘leaking’ his frustration when tasks are not performed as he would wish. Employee turnover in his immediate reports was a whopping 40%.
With our help, Phil has recognised his high-control tendencies and is learning to let go (in all areas of life). He hadn’t realised that his credibility was suffering. He’s choosing to take longer to explain his high-level expectations to his people, without imposing each and every step. At this point, he’s even enjoying the coaching-style conversations that he’s having with his team. He’s asking open questions rather than giving detailed answers, allowing his people time to design their own solutions to business objectives and giving clearer feedback to help keep the team on track.
Trust is essential for high performing teams. Contact us today to discover how our work can help to accelerate trust in your team.