Leadership & Management

Leadership habits that inspire results, relationships and reputation

Health Industry Hub | July 23, 2021 |
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Leadership & Management: People demand more from leaders today than a commitment to profit. They want to trust the people at the top of an organisation. Such trust is a valuable but easily destroyed commodity.

Executive coach and author of The Trusted Executive, Dr John Blakey, argues that to earn trust, leaders must be conscientious global citizens committed to empowering stakeholders who traditionally lack boardroom influence. The leadership challenge is to build a high-trust culture, earn a reputation as a trustworthy leader and recover from trust-eroding mistakes. Leaders must value trust, Blakey argues, because it’s the hidden driver of high performance.

Putting profit before trust is obsolete. Embrace transparency instead. People don’t trust organisations unless they trust the people at the top of their hierarchies. The behaviour of your CEO and leadership team determines whether a high-trust culture will thrive at your company. Unlike leaders from older generations who traditionally embraced a more profit-driven approach, young people demand transparency, which tech-driven organisations require in order to function.

Each new generation holds increasingly less faith in authority figures: only 29% of people now feel that those who hold positions of power necessarily know best. If you’re a boss, understand that your job title’s authority can’t substitute for trust. Gaining trust from your stakeholders – corporate owners or shareholders, partners, customers, staff, regulators, suppliers, government officials, the media, the public, and more – requires embracing transparency, staying alert to relevant issues and anticipating future social agendas.

Researcher Shawn Burke and a group at the University of Florida analysed 30 years of academic papers relating to trust.

All the models they studied said that trust relies on three values:

  1. Ability – Do executives have the professional competence to deliver results? Leaders might be kind, but if they fail to complete their tasks with competence, others won’t trust them to do their jobs.
  2. Integrity – Company leaders must embody the standards they set for others.
  3. Benevolence – Leaders must treat others with care, kindness and generosity. They must genuinely want the best for their stakeholders and employees.

Trustworthy leaders are stewards who commit to improving the welfare of a wide range of stakeholders.

Earn trust by incorporating three ability-building habits: deliver what you promise, coach people and be consistent.

Integrate these habits to build trust while strengthening your abilities as a leader.

  1. Choose to deliver – Leaders often overpromise, then underdeliver, which erodes trust. Don’t deceive yourself into believing you’ll do more than you actually will. Strengthen your accountability by being cautious about the promises you make. If you’re too busy to take on a new project, be honest rather than telling people you’ll do something you don’t have the capacity to do. Embrace a system to manage the delegation and execution of your task list. Exceed people’s expectations.
  2. Choose to coach – Once you can effectively deliver, use coaching to help empower others to do the same. Encourage people to ask thoughtful questions about how their environments, context, behaviours, capabilities, values and identities affect their leadership. Being present and strengthening your active listening skills can help you empower other people to become stronger leaders and contributors.
  3. Choose consistency – It isn’t enough to be kind or live your values most of the time, because people will fixate on the moments when you aren’t your best self. Leaders must be consistent and demonstrate reliability and predictability.

Demonstrate integrity by being honest, humble and open.

To build integrity, embrace:

  1. Honesty – Being honest with others requires being honest with yourself about your imperfections. If you’re competitive, it’s likely you’ll feel tempted to exaggerate strategically or to stretch the truth. Appoint someone like an executive coach to help keep you accountable.
  2. Openness – A survey from the Institute of Leadership and Management found that people are more likely to trust those who display openness. Being open entails displaying vulnerability, which leaders tend to want to hide. To be more open, practice recontextualising the fears and worries holding you back. When you consider negative facts, consider changing your conceptual understanding of them and making more positive assumptions about your worth and value.
  3. Humility – You might assume that leaders who display self-aggrandising, stereotypical alpha-male behaviours will have a competitive edge. In reality, leaders who display humility prove more effective. Stay humble by spending time with other low-key people, since they will have the most influence on your behaviour.

To cultivate benevolence, be brave and kind, and spread good news.

Moral bravery, kindness and evangelising are essential resources for effective CEOs. Today’s leaders must break out of the hypercompetitive, task driven mindset of the past and embrace a new mindset that values benevolence.

Cultivating three leadership habits can help you develop benevolence:

  1. Evangelise – Bad news spreads faster than good news in the digital age, so spread your own positive message. Make spreading this message your personal passion, not simply your corporate function. Take ownership of your message, and adopt the behaviour you preach about in your personal life. Focus on the beliefs underpinning your actions to attract other believers.
  2. Be brave – Fight for the greater good by protecting others in small, subtle ways from corporate tyranny. Protect the integrity of the collective over that of the individual. For example, if you learn another senior executive is abusing his or her power, you shouldn’t keep that secret just because the executive is your confidant. People are often afraid to be morally brave because they fear social rejection, so executives should work with coaches to overcome this phobia.
  3. Be kind – Carry out selfless actions to bring others happiness or to help them. Leaders build stronger relationships when they consistently perform small, thoughtful actions for others.

“Choosing to be kind is not about big dreams such as finding a cure for cancer; it is about taking small steps on a daily basis, steps that touch the lives of the people around us,” Dr Blakey states.

Recover from trust-eroding mistakes by embracing best practices.

Inevitably, everyone makes mistakes that erode their reputations for integrity, ability and benevolence. Try to keep others from losing trust in you by preventing mistakes if possible. Carefully monitor your stress levels, since stress can overwhelm your ability to maintain your cool, your reputation and your brand.

Dr Blakey notes “In pursuing the best results at any cost, we can lose something precious in our humanity.”

If you make mistakes that cause others to question your abilities, realise that you can learn a lot from small, everyday traumas. This is more effective than fixating on the past. To help control the damage, highlight your strengths, drawing attention to your benevolence and integrity. When you make a mistake that relates to your integrity, telling more lies to cover it up never works. If you do something wrong, tell those it could affect as quickly as possible, putting your ego aside. If you lose your sense of being a benevolent leader, listen to others when they give you honest feedback. Work to overcome denial, and learn to accept your fallibility.

High-trust cultures have a performance advantage.

Google’s 2016 Project Aristotle, which researched factors that make teams high-performing, found that psychological safety was the biggest driver. People feel psychologically safe when they trust one another, so trust is essential for high performance.

Trust is a valuable commodity that takes years to build.

Dr Blakey says “We are experiencing a shift from an industrial age where local consumers expected great products and services to a social age where global citizens expect not only great products and services, but also great companies – companies that contribute to society beyond the single bottom line of profit.”

Companies should focus on sustainable environmental approaches to waste management, climate change and animal welfare. Corporations must be conscientious about societal issues like ethical supply chains and employee mental health, and about governance factors like board diversity. Trusted executives empower the voices of those who traditionally held less power in boardrooms. Introducing fairness into your culture demonstrates humility, which positively affects your brand reputation and financial performance.

Think of trust as a valuable commodity like a buried fossil fuel – it takes years to build, and you can burn it up in a second.

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