When I ask a group of leaders about the best leader they ever had, they tell me about the one who supported, stretched and believed in them. It is never a leader who gave great speeches, spun awful news, or kept them in the dark. At the root of the relationship, with their favoured leaders was trust. A firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
Think about who you listen to through this pandemic. Chris Whitty is my choice. He is knowledgeable, consistent, and human. He can speak to me straight; have my back and wants me to avoid the virus. Not a whiff of hot air from Professor Witty.
How do we get to the nirvana of a trusted leader? Let's explore its four elements.
- Credibility – you know what you are talking about, you know what you don't know, and you treat those with less expertise with respect. You speak with an air of authority, not superiority and never trip people up with your knowledge.
- Reliability – doing what you promised. It includes being on time. I worked with a team whose leader was always late to sessions. His team was resigned to it. What they really thought was, "why can't he get up earlier, be more organised and show us some respect by being here on time?". It undermined so many of his great attributes and was so simple to fix.
- Intimacy – don't panic, this isn't about any weird exercises or confessions. It is about your people feeling psychologically safe with you and valued for their differences. I recently coached a young woman who was terrified of public speaking. Her last boss often ridiculed her when she presented, delighting in any mistakes. It had a profound effect on her and was holding her back. Who wants to be that boss? Needless to say, she didn't trust her boss as far as she could throw her.
- Self-orientation – this is the secret sauce. High self-orientation is to be avoided. It is all about you – how you are coming across, feel today, and how this is all impacting you. You have to be managed; an email is sent round every morning by reception warning everyone of your mood. Instead of spending energy working, your people are steering you around the hurdles like a toddler.
Low self-orientation is the aim. You are okay with yourself, so use your energy to grow fabulous people and to make sure everyone achieves. Yes, deep down, you allow yourself a little smile of satisfaction when someone in your team is impressive, nails the pitch or gets promoted. You deserve a quiet moment of reflection on being a trusted leader and what that does for the team.
Finally, a few tips for you around trust.
- Keep up to date with your area of expertise, allow others to teach you about theirs, be curious, love learning.
- Aim to promise what you can deliver.
- Examine your leadership mindset. Do you challenge and support your people? If you do too much support, you risk deskilling your team, too much challenge creates stress. Just enough of both keeps you in the safety zone.
- Explore emotional intelligence. Can you reason with and understand your emotions so that you can regulate them and channel them usefully?
- Pass on your wisdom around trust to your team. Help any individuals who find any of the elements difficult. Sometimes when we teach, we learn.
Another question I ask groups I work with is about who has influenced them. Mothers are top of the list, way above David Beckham and the Queen. I like to think my children would mention me if asked that question. But when I ask your team members who is the best leader they ever had, aim to be the leader they name.
Caryn Skinner is co-director of Sharpstone Skinner