We all look for connections that make us feel a part of something bigger. We want to be recognized, acknowledged, and feel as though we fit in. This sense of belonging to a common cause or campaign is reinforced by communication, connecting us with others. We also want to follow leaders who we feel we can trust and respect. As Amy Cuddy says: “When we meet someone new we quickly answer two questions: ‘Can I trust this person?’ and ‘Can I respect this person?’. We prioritize trust over competence because from an evolutionary perspective, it’s more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust.” It is even more crucial in the work environment to know we are working for a leader we can trust. Leaders who are successful in building trust consistently demonstrate five key behaviors:
They are clear about their values.
Leaders are expected to consistently demonstrate the values espoused by the organization. Employees will watch carefully for any signs that this is not the case. More than just a list of words posted in the lunchroom, values should be an integral part of the company culture, built into hiring and onboarding practices. A major American airline has seen significant success applying this practice, hiring only friendly, warm, enthusiastic people who align with their values. Executives are expected to lead by example and to trust their teams to do what’s right for their customers. Employees are held accountable for upholding the values every day, and they in turn hold their leaders accountable to do the same.
They are consistent through the good times and the bad.
When things are going well, it’s easy to be aligned and congruent with our values. When difficulties arise, it becomes more challenging to stay the course. A deep level of self-awareness helps leaders to recognize ineffective behaviors when they do happen and to take purposeful action to re-align with their values. By demonstrating consistency during the tough times, these leaders remain trustworthy.
They embrace diverse perspectives.
Leaders have a powerful opportunity to leverage their greatest asset: people. By making the most of diverse talent that has a rich set of expertise, experience, and cultural backgrounds, leaders are better placed to serve a global customer base. Beyond creating a climate of inclusion, these efforts help leaders build a resilient and resourceful organization that is open to new perspectives. The greater-than-the-sum-of-our-parts concept applies if all the talent and energy of the employees in the company is engaged to the profit of the enterprise and to the creation of a healthy and dynamic corporate culture. Leaders who are open to diverse perspectives and ideas can harness the innovation that comes from different points of view.
They take accountability.
Focus on driving results is important, but effective leaders know that how you go about doing so is far more critical to success. Inevitably leaders will make mistakes. Those who are open about their mistakes and who apologize and make amends are not perceived as less capable. Rather, they are seen as human, approachable, and trustworthy. Fred Kiel quantified a leader’s integrity in a seven-year study for his book, Return on Character. Kiel’s study showed that employee engagement is 26 percent higher with high-integrity CEOs. Leaders who take responsibility for their actions and have the courage to admit when they are wrong are seen as having high integrity. Those who do so with humility are seen as strong.
They ask for feedback and mean it.
Great leaders listen and evaluate before making decisions. By asking what others are thinking, and in which direction they think an organization should go, leaders invite their teams to think about the business as their own. This sense of ownership and accountability is strengthened when their opinions count. Leaders who listen can create connected networks and then harness the power of those communities to feel the pulse of their business. By encouraging accountability across the organization for constant improvement, every team member also becomes responsible for delivering results. This sense of responsibility empowers them to drive solutions and deliver value for customers in innovative ways.
The days of the hero leading the charge are over. The very best thing we can do for any group or individual is to give them power over their own lives. The real job of the leader is to set the path, align teams with the objectives, help them overcome obstacles (when needed), and then step out of the way. Trusting others’ capability to deliver and giving them the space to do so is a powerful motivational force. Leaders who can demonstrate integrity, empathy and tenacity in turbulent times garner both respect and trust.
Learn more about employee engagement and leadership in Taming the Sabertooth: Resilient Leadership in a Stressful World