What’s a leader’s most valuable asset?
Some say it’s vision. Effective leaders define a better future, and inspire the team to work together to create it. Without vision, there’s no unity, no common direction.
What about expertise? A leading expert can be an effective guide, applying their deep knowledge to define strategy and guide the team. Seems essential, right?
There’s communication skills, emotional intelligence, grit… good leaders possess most or all of these strengths. But there’s one element of leadership that serves as a foundation for all of the others. It’s a multiplier, a catalyst, a culture-shaper, and almost impossible to lead effectively without it.
I’m talking about trust.
Trust is the one quality that all great leaders have in common. When a trusted leader shares their vision for a new direction and asks who’s with me, people respond: we are. We gravitate towards leaders we can trust; we struggle to get behind a leader we can’t.
Organizations with healthy cultures and thriving employees are permeated by high levels of trust in leadership. Conversely, within organizations with toxic cultures you’ll find a lack of trust in leadership, often at many levels – not just at the top.
So how does a leader establish trust? There are four ways:
- Reiterate the vision, the strategy, and the win – often. There’s a phrase I use all the time when it comes to communication: Just because you said exactly what you wanted to say, that doesn’t mean they heard exactly what you wanted them to hear. Leaders don’t earn trust by speaking; they earn trust when their people understand where they’re headed, and what the plan is to take them there. Explain your vision and strategy as clearly and simply as possible. Celebrate the wins. Don’t just communicate, over-communicate. We all drift off course some times, and in highly creative organizations it’s easy for an abundance of great ideas to pull your people in different directions. When you think you don’t need to remind your team again of the course you’re on, remind them. Again.
- Live transparently, and with humility. Think about how much we know about public figures today, thanks to social media. Social media influencers bring us into their thoughts, their spaces, their lives. We’re more than just aware of them; we know them, even if just virtually. Even if you aren’t on social media (though as a modern leader, you really should be), you can create that same level of transparency in the areas that matter. Be vulnerable, be available, be imperfect. If you’re an enneagram 3, pay close attention to the amount of energy you put into maintaining your public image. Let your people know who you are as a person. Character matters more than accomplishments. How will people know your character if they don’t know you?
- Trust others, even when they make mistakes. Just like you can’t lead if you can’t be led, you can’t be trusted if you can’t trust. Leaders must invest in the development and growth of those around them. Mistakes are different than consistently poor performance. Enabling consistently underperforming employees or team members isn’t the same as trust.
- Be accountable and vulnerable. Own your mistakes by calling them mistakes. Don’t reframe them as “new challenges,” as tempting as that might be. Smart employees don’t trust leaders who reframe the goals and strategy after going off course or progress has slowed.
These four approaches will help you be a more trusted leader. Trust me.