Building a Foundation of Trust to Effectively Lead

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Trust for leadership

In our previous column, we addressed the cost of bad leadership; from employee’s health, organizational reputation, turnover and reduced employee engagement. Hogan has identified the competencies necessary for effective leadership through their research. In this column, we will discuss why integrity, competence, and judgment are critical competencies for effective leadership.

Leaders with integrity don’t lie, don’t take advantage of their position, and don’t play favorites. Employees want to know that the leaders in charge won’t take advantage of their position and will do the right thing for their people and company. Integrity in leadership is about staying true to their word, meeting their commitments, and not shifting blame when things inevitably go wrong.

Integrity is also a signal to employees that a leader is not pursuing positions of power for their own status and gain. The link between integrity and trust cannot be overestimated. Integrity is fundamental for building trust and trust is fundamental for engagement and engagement is fundamental for company success. Building a culture of trust based on integrity requires leaders to accept that their behavior is highly visible, and their behavior sets the tone for acceptable behavior in the organization. How employees treat each other and approach making decisions for the organization is a direct reflection of the integrity of the leaders.

Integrity on Display

The question becomes how can leaders demonstrate integrity?

  • Focus on your commitments - Following through on your promises signals that you aren’t just telling people what they want to hear. If you are unable to follow through be quick to follow up explaining why.
  • Accept that mistakes happen and things go wrong - How you react when plans fall apart can build trust with your team. Being willing to accept the blame and come to a resolution shows your team and other employees that these situations can be a learning and growth experiences instead of a shameful experience.
  • Pay attention to who your “go-to” people are – Be sure not to create an “in” group, instead looking for opportunities for everyone to shine based on their abilities.
  • Show your vulnerability – it’s important to that people know they’re lead by a human being. Being vulnerable helps others feel like they can be vulnerable and open with you, which will cultivate better communication and a sense of team.

The Proof is in the Competence

Integrity is about a leader’s character. Competence is business aptitude. No one expects their leader to know everything, but they do expect their leader to know what they don’t know. Often, leaders are selected for competence, however, as a leader, individuals will need to stay invested in continuing to learn and develop their expertise.

At some point, a leader’s level of expertise will either facilitate success or failure. When it comes to the team, they need to know they can trust their leader to understand the business. Leaders should look for opportunities to demonstrate their competence without overshadowing their teams. Additionally, they should:

  • Take a self-assessment – It’s important to know where your knowledge is lacking? Is there a need to develop expertise in these areas to be effective? Do these weaknesses negatively impact the trust of your team? Create a plan to develop these areas.
  • Study the organization and people - Who can you learn from within the organization? Who can you tap to drive an initiative and demonstrate their competence? You likely have team members who have the expertise.
  • Study the industry and competition - Use this knowledge to build expertise and drive innovation.
  • Make continuing education a priority – by remaining committed to learning yourself, you’ll set an example for others to follow your lead, making continuous learning a part of the company culture.

Good Judgment Breeds Trust

Rounding out the first three critical competencies is judgment. Employees want to know leaders are going to make good decisions reliably that won’t negatively affect their livelihood. Good judgment is about making decisions quickly and learning from those decisions if they don’t work out.

To improve judgment, you need experience. And experience often comes from making bad decisions, but there are other ways to gain experience and leverage learning to enhance the probability of good decisions.

  • Become an avid reader - Your approach to learning and openness to new information is important to setting your foundation for assimilating data. Be conscious of only reading materials that do not challenge your current beliefs. It is easier than ever to get bogged down in a deluge of emails or reports. A great way of managing the volume of information is to focus on the questions, issues, or discrepancies in the information.
  • Listen intently - Ask questions to understand and challenge your bias. Are you filtering out information that doesn’t match what you want to hear? Seek out conversations with individuals on both sides of an issue to gain a better understanding of the potential gaps in the information you are receiving. Look for patterns in the information and pay attention to body language.
  • Value diversity of thought - Find trusted advisors who have different approaches and opinions than you. Leverage their experience and knowledge to try and disprove your own assumptions. Be aware of your biases and assumptions and make dissent part of the decision-making process. Be wary of any advisor who makes the assumption that mistakes or challenges won’t arise.

Employees in well led groups enjoy a better experience and are happier than those in poorly led groups. People intuitively recognize good leadership and trust is the foundation. In fact, trust in one’s leader predicts the entire range of desirable organizational outcomes from productivity to organizational commitment, job satisfaction and engagement. Great leaders also understand that once trust is lost, the relationship is difficult to repair. From the start, they focus on building a culture of openness and trust.