This article is a part of my ‘Decision to Trust’ blog series.
“Leadership requires five ingredients–brains, energy, determination, trust, and ethics. The key challenges today are in terms of the last two–trust and ethics.”
Have you ever misjudged someone based on the simple fact that you were having a bad day/week, that someone else previously failed you in a similar situation, or because you had a preconceived idea about that person?
It happens we are human, and even as leaders, we do make such mistakes.
Many times, we believe we are being rational and neutral but in fact, we are acting on emotion, prejudice, and fear.
Even when someone does make a mistake and you, as a leader, feel the need to discuss it, how do you do it? How do you handle the situation?
A practice I find quite relevant, and this is something that is very dear to the Semco Style Institute, is having an adult to adult conversations. We’re all adults in organizations, and if you reflect on it for a second, you too, have already been scolded about a mistake that happened at work. Someone automatically made assumptions about your work and performance and judged you based on that.
Imagine you were treated as an adult in those situations. Would it have been any different?
One of the leaders I’ve coached had an incident in his company. Luckily, he decided to handle it differently and used some of the practices he had learned; instead of making a decision and going straight into solution-mode, he did a rebel move into a new leadership style.
Leader: “I am going to have an adult-to-adult conversation with my staff, tell them why they disappointed me, how this actually is impacting me and why we need to change things.”
Me: “What next?”
Leader: “Well, next, I would love to hear their perspective on it. And I would love to hear how they suggest it should be solved. In other words, I don’t want to problem-solve for them. But I want to share my thoughts, share my point of view, in terms of why it’s bothering me, not what we should do, and see what the team thinks we could do, and how we feel about it. Maybe I’m completely wrong and being irrational but I will try doing it differently this time.”
Fast forward a couple of hours and I was in a team meeting shadowing this leader.
And, very interestingly, as I was looking around the room, I could tell everyone knew what was coming.
They just didn’t expect it to happen the way it did. They were expecting the leader (a parent figure) to come in and say: you have done this wrongly, you’re going to be punished now.
Ironically, no one had thought about how their actions impacted the leader and the owner of the business. And when the leader came forward and did exactly what he told me he would do, it was amazing to see how everyone not only assumed their responsibility but also took charge of seeking solutions to improve the workplace.
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves”.
The staff members were looking around and you could sense this feeling of: Is this really happening? Is he really asking us? And so, they asked him: “So what do you think is the solution?”
It was interesting to see how he resisted it for a second to let go of control but stood his ground and let them come up with solutions.
Fast forward again, the team actually started taking control and engaging in a conversation: “How should we solve it? What is your point of view?”
The next thing that I saw happening was that, not only were they actively listening to the leader and perceiving themselves as one, but they had already removed the invisible power distance, the ‘us and them’ in the whole team.
A couple of days after, the team came up with a solution that was much more effective than anything that either the leadership team or I, as a consultant, could have come up with to solve the issue.
“Leadership is an action, not a position.”
The truth is that leadership is not necessarily one thing that can be traced, there is no one pathway to becoming a leader. It’s not theory, it’s practice. Leadership is to be lived and learned, it is a journey, and it is everywhere.
If we assume that leadership is everywhere, that everyone is human, and that humans make mistakes, that’s when we realize we’ve all been on that journey.
I had once a leader that I looked up to and really enjoyed working for.
On a Monday, we were having a catch-up and I said “By the way, I met Amanda over the weekend. I didn’t know her, but she said she worked for you eight years ago.”
And that leader looked at me puzzled and replied “Oh, Amanda”.
I realized that comment had disturbed her and asked her, “What is it about Amanda?”
She then replied “The time I was in charge of Amanda, I was the worst version of myself. I wasn’t an emotional leader. I was a micromanager. And I was just controlling everything.”
This is one of the most inspirational leaders I’ve worked for, someone I learned a lot from. Would I have worked for her again? Without a doubt.
Yet, the leader I got to know is a completely different person than the leader that someone else got to know. And that’s where I truly understood that leadership is a journey.
”People follow leaders by choice. Without trust, at best you get compliance.”
Jesse Lyn Stoner
Now back to trust: why is that important in relationships to trust? Because the trust you gained by being an unconventional and ethical leader, is completely different from the trust you earn when acting and responding in a traditional way.
Why is that? Going back to my previous story, the leader literally told the team: we have an issue, but we trust that if I bring this up to you, you can solve it. He showed them he trusted the team despite them having previously made a mistake. And he trusted them enough to let go of the reins and hand the problem for them to solve.
And again, a couple of months forward the issue was solved.
The team still remembers and thinks of that moment as a pivotal moment. Because right at that moment, people knew that something was changing in the company, something they hadn’t seen happens before.
For those of you who have been on this journey of changing the way you work and starting to trust your people, are there also any milestones to be captured?
“The single most important ingredient in the recipe for success is transparency because transparency builds trust.”
And as a leader, there’s another important trait you must work on to be able to build trust: transparency.
I’ll introduce the theme by recalling Simon Sinek on the importance of taking into account the why behind every action we take. The why plays an important role in having the people we work with cooperate with the tasks and goals at hand.
And this is where transparency is key: when we let our staff know why we are asking them to do something, it changes their perception of the work they need to do.
Why? Because trust is built at that moment when with real transparency, the end purpose of a given goal or task is clearly and honestly explained.
“I believe inspiring trust with transparency and tenacity is the keystone to doing business.”
Let’s assume it’s Friday afternoon. Picture yourself in a situation where your boss calls you in and says, “Hey, I’m just leaving for a minute but will need you to stay back in the office until I come back, ok? Thank you, see you soon!”
No way whatsoever. No transparency, right?
Let’s imagine the same situation but now the conversation starts with the why: “Hey, I just got some bad news about the business over the weekend which may potentially affect us in the long-term. Over the next few weeks, we have some tough decisions to make. I would really appreciate it if you could stay back a little bit longer today. I’m keen to hear your perspective on it and see how we can work it through together.”
A very different approach.
“Confidentiality and transparency are not mutually exclusive, but rather two sides of the same coin.”
Thomas de Maziere
Yet transparency doesn’t finish there. As a leader, you can also talk about transparency, for example, when it comes to salaries in business.
You might have your reasons why not to share this information – and that’s the flip side of transparency. Transparency in leadership can become challenging when you don’t know how to not share information.
If you want to be truly transparent, you also need to be transparent about the fact that you cannot be transparent about something. And that again builds trust: when we’re not being transparent, people will fill in the gaps.
Taking the same example as before, you are waiting in the office for your boss to come back.
In your mind, you are creating all these possible scenarios for why you needed to stay behind. Rather than taking that time to work on something else, you over-worry yourself.
He could have simply told you: “Hey, would you mind staying back in the office? You don’t have to worry about anything, it’s not about your work. I just can’t be transparent about it right now because it’s a sensitive topic, but I will need your help. I would really appreciate it if you stayed for a while longer.”
That’s being truly transparent, even when you can’t be transparent.
“Leaders establish trust with candor, transparency, and credit.”
By being honest and telling the truth, you send your staff the message that they can trust you and that they themselves are free to be as open and sincere as you are.
And as you can conclude from the example above, when you treat people with respect and are accountable for what you do and what you say and make them accountable as well, you establish a bridge between you and your team allowing trust to be built maintained.
Another important ingredient for building trust and success in your business is humility.
Giving people the credit they deserve and making sure they are being acknowledged for the success you achieve as an organization or team is a motivational factor that should not be undervalued. You are only as good as a leader the more successful and happy your whole team is.
I could go on and on about the theme of trust, yet I believe that the information I have shared in these three blog pieces is enough to achieve my purpose: to bring your attention to and help you ponder on how much emphasis and effort you are putting into the building and maintaining trust in your organization.
Is what you are currently doing enough?
If you do not know the answer, be humble and ask your employees.
If you feel you do know the answer, the recipe is the same, ask your employees as well.
They are the soul of your business and the ones that can individually tell you exactly how the environment and the trust barometer of your organization are.
Keep safe and… trust!