Saturday, 14 August 2010

Leadership is Trust

Is the term “leadership skills” something akin to an oxymoron? The word skills as it is used in the context of leadership development suggests that one can go away on a course and whilst on that course become a better leader by learning and practicing some skills: a concept that is no more than a folly. Leaders are followed not because of their skills, but because of other factors that take far more nurturing and development than mere skills.

The capacity to lead emerges from far deeper inside a person and more than any other factor is based on the extent to which the leader is trusted. Trust in this context is not about whether you trust the person to not run off with your wallet, but something far more substantial: whether you trust the leader sufficiently to follow their direction and do what they say without much question. To follow the direction and instruction of another is to take a risk, for their direction and instruction may be flawed and result in undesirable consequences for the follower. Thus the willing follower - in the context of work - places their future prosperity in the hands of their leader. If their leader’s direction and instruction are right then the follower will prosper, and if the leader’s direction and instruction is wrong, then the follower backed the wrong horse.

So what are the factors underpinning trust? Primarily credibility and reliability.

Credibility is established over time and is the perceived capacity of the leader to succeed with their responsibilities and challenges they face. In simple terms a leader with credibility will be regarded by their followers as good enough for the job at hand. A leader lacking credibility will have uncommitted followers (another oxymoron) that doubt their ability to succeed. Credibility is developed when the leader repeatedly demonstrates their ability to make the right decisions, do the right things, and produce the right results. Credibility is a product of experience, skills, competence, and track record.

Although reliability is in part a product of the leader repeatedly demonstrating their capability, reliability is rather more subjective matter and has more to do with the leader’s character qualities, Qualities such as authenticity, integrity, resilience, kindness, willingness to trust, openness, and more besides.
Through repetitive demonstration of these attributes followers are able to come to know the heart and soul of their leader and know whether they have the quality to be relied upon. Leaders who mask their true self behind a set of manufactured leader-like behaviours that they learned about on a leadership skills course or read about in a leadership book only fool the already foolish. The majority of us see through this façade and experience at least an uneasy feeling that there is more (or less) to this person than they choose to project.

Therefore reliable leaders reveal their strengths and their limitations too; they admit when they’re wrong or when they don’t know the answer; they keep their promises and when they can’t they tell the truth; they keep a cool head when all about them are losing theirs; they are unselfish and willingly give their time and help in support of their followers; they see the strengths in others more quickly and more often than they focus on their limitations; and they allow people to get to know them beyond just their role at work.
In a nutshell, they are deeply trustworthy.

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