It is impossible to be a great leader if you are not trusted. Trust is the foundation upon which great leadership is built. I’m not talking about the trust related to ethics (that’s a whole different conversation), I’m talking about trust in relationship to reliability, predictability, and performance. Here are my 3 tangible ways to build a foundation of trust for your most powerful and authentic leadership.
#1. Create Clarity And Accountability
The key to creating trust and growing your authentic leadership power is being responsible for your word — ALWAYS! How you do this is by taking full responsibility for what you said you would get done and by ensuring it gets done. In the case where you are not able to create the results you promised, take immediate responsibility for what didn’t happen. This means NO EXUSES! Not giving excuses is extremely hard for even the most trust worthy of leaders because they often feel it necessary to explain what happened; however, explaining what happened does not build trust. Any excuse or explanation of the circumstances diminishes the responsibility and ultimately the trust you were creating. So, to take responsibility means admitting your mistakes immediately, apologizing for not having the intended result (with no excuses), and sharing your proposed solution for going forward, or admitting that you don’t know what to do next and need some advice. It is a myth that leadership lies in strength, perfection, and always delivering results. True leadership lies in the ability to see what isn’t working and to correct that path. Often times what isn’t working and what needs correction is you. Excellent leaders can see where they didn’t get results and correct it, just as they would with any other issue or error.
In being responsible for your word every time, you will build your authentic leadership, and furthermore, you’ll achieve the more important goal of never embarrassing yourself, your boss, your colleagues or your organization. Once time I had an Assistant Manager who was covering the Manager position before I was hired. In that time, he was over budget on an item and failed to let my boss know and take responsibility for it. I was at day two of my new job when my boss stormed into our office because he had been questioned about the over budget item in a meeting with his peers and he didn’t have a response because he hadn’t known about the overage. To add fuel to the fire, my Assistant Manager was defensive about the error, taking no responsibility, which further enraged my boss. In my Assistant Manager not being responsible for his accountabilities and his error, he undermined his own leadership because he had embarrassed our boss in front of his peers. At a later date, I was in a similar position, over budget on an item. As soon as I discovered the issues, I went immediately to my boss, admitted the issue and explained I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Through our discussion, I was able to identify the reason I was over budget. We had been training more that we had anticipated, and thus I was able to put together some information for my boss, so when he was in the weekly meeting with his peers, he was able to knowledgeably speak to the budget issue. He thanked me for that. I knew in that moment, he trusted me and my authentic leadership and power had grown. To end this story, when I left my position and my Assistant Manager was eligible for a promotion, into my position, he did not get it. He had a reputation that he could not be trusted to responsible for his accountabilities.
#2. Create Existence
Another way that leaders create and grow trust is through existence.What is existence? Existence is the who, what and when of anything that is to get done. I have been in many meetings where the meeting ends, everyone is happy about the outcomes of the discussion, but no one has created clarity around what is to be done, who is to do it, or when will it be completed.
I was once in a meeting with the CEO of the company and my marketing team. We had had a very interesting discussion about the next steps for marketing for the company. As we neared the last 10 minutes of the meeting I asked “What are our actions and outcomes of this meeting? Who is going to do what, by when?”. Everyone in the meeting was a bit taken aback. We were all so caught up in the exciting ideas, that no one had stopped to think about tangible execution and outcomes. Had I not asked the question about what, who and when, nothing would have been accomplished from that meeting, despite the conversation being so productive. This is an extremely common occurrence. It costs businesses lots of money and more importantly, it costs time, creativity and innovation.
You can create clarity and accountability for who, what and when by asking “What is a tangible next step, who’s accountable, and when will it be done?”. Or if you are responsible for taking the next step, you can create clarity and accountability by saying something like “I’ll have a summary report emailed to you by Friday at 4pm and I’ll schedule a meeting for Monday at 2pm to go over it.” If you ask the question about who, what and when or take clear responsibility for the the action item then things around you will get done and you’ll achieve the goal of being known for the willingness to be accountable and for generating results.
#3. Create Peace Of Mind
In business, everyone is busy and trying to juggle many things in their head. To develop yourself as a trusted leader, you need to always be in communication about what you’re responsible for, so that those around you know they can rely on you to do what you say you’re going to do, and that they don’t have to remember what’s on your plate, because you’ve been in communication and they know you’ve got it handled.
I used to have a colleague who was always afraid of what I call the “CEO drive-by”, which is when the CEO all the sudden remembers that you’re working on a project and pops by your desk to get a status update (no fun, right). The reason the CEO does this is because he or she hasn’t received enough communication about the project status so he or she has to try to remember to ask you. This keeps the CEO and others overwhelmed will all that they have to remember and prone to “CEO drive-bys”.
How to build trust, that you have everything handled, is that you always initiative communication about what you’re working on regularly, whether it’s done or not. In weekly meetings with a CEO, I used to have items on my agenda that he had asked me to do, that I knew I wouldn’t get to for months. I keep those on my weekly agenda. Every week, I let him know that I wouldn’t get to these items this week. It might seem counterintuitive to remind your boss, colleagues or team that you’re not working on something or not done something; however, if you always let people know where things are at, then they don’t have to spend time wondering about the status of your work. This creates trust in you and it also achieves the goal of “providing peace of mind” for your boss and colleagues without having to ask you for a status update.
The way to do this is to always be in communication, before you are asked. I actually play a game with myself to see if I can drive enough communication to never be asked about where my work stands. When I am asked, I lose and I start again. I play the game by sending weekly “FYI” updates to my boss, team and colleagues if appropriate. I know that mostly they’ll never fully read them, but I also know that I get less “CEO drive-bys” when I do that. Also, I respond to all communication with phases that create existence like “got it”, “will do by…”, “will report back by…”, “added this to weekly agenda…”.
Creating clarity and accountably, creating existence, and creating peace of mind are the foundations of being a trusted leader. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
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