As we grow from individual contributors to managers and then to leaders of organizations in respective domains of expertise, the organization's expectations, the people who work with us, the shareholders, the customers, essentially all stakeholders grow leaps and bounds. Every stakeholder looks up to a leader to deliver the margins, deliver the returns, and deliver the bonus for them higher year on year amidst market uncertainties, volatile economic environment, rising global competition, and increasing cost pressures. One leader is entrusted with beating the competition by a margin unheard of; one leader is entrusted with the task of reducing costs never seen before; one leader is entrusted with reducing the headcount by half as a part of the restructuring. All these seem daunting tasks and insurmountable too in the beginning. However, as leaders, if the stakeholder expects that the leaders deliver to these seemingly unachievable targets, then the leaders have no choice but to roll up their sleeves and start strategizing, as that's probably the only way to make the organization sustainable as finalized by the stakeholders.
To strategise, plan, and execute these seemingly impossible goals, the leader looks up to his team to drive the extra mile, go the extra distance, and push themselves harder in the plans. The leader consistently strategises with the team, reviews along with the team leaders, coaches the team leaders, and guides the team towards the goals planned. However, it requires the belief of each team member in the purpose, in the goal, in the leader to go the extra mile for the leader of the organization and achieve the unachievable, as they say in corporate lingo to dream big and deliver bigger.
Let's look into this phenomenon closely. First, we will realize that the art of delivering extraordinary results through ordinary teams is what makes leaders great. This entire phenomenon is possible because the teams they lead trust their leader. The team trusts their leaders' beliefs, the leader's vision, and the leader's execution strategy. Most importantly, they trust that if they deliver the extra mile for the leader, they will accomplish their professional and personal goals in the long run.
How do we develop this level of trust in the teams we lead? How can this be measured? Do we get this level of trust from our teams from the day we take up a leadership position? Yet the most important question is, can leaders can be successful if they cannot lead their teams with trust? The answer to all this lies in the simple phrase, "leadership is not about what we say; it's all about what we do. " A leader can lead with trust through the actions he demonstrates to the team over some time. Once they see the consistency in the actions, then they start trusting the leader and are willing to walk the extra mile for the leader and on a lot of occasions, without looking at the outcomes of the extra hours of work or the sacrifices they need to make in their personal lives to achieve the outcomes. So let's reflect on the aspects and actions that enable a leader to lead with trust.
- Competence: The demonstrated behaviors of the leader, both in functional and behavioral aspects, should reflect the high level of knowledge, skills, experience, and exposure the leader brings to the team. The level of trust of the team increases when the leader, through his/her competence, can provide direction that no one thought of, which eventually enables the team to win or troubleshoot a complex situation from which no one was able to get out and thus eventually makes the team cut their losses. A lot of time, the role of the leader in enabling performance is to provide the extra fillip in terms of motivation or being the statesman who can troubleshoot complex situations or provide direction towards a path that is uncharted but eventually brings laurels for the team. All these are possible only if there is a high level of competence possessed by the leader. Highly competent leaders evoke a lot of respect and trust amongst their teams.
- Performance: A track record of being a solid performer in the past is a must to start with for the leader; however real trust develops in the team once they see that the leader is performance outcome-oriented and drives them towards the performance objectives and thus enables the team to come out a winner. The moment a team is able to taste the success of the outcomes, although on the way they might have faced hardships, the trust level in the directions provided by the leader increases. A solid performance outcome is always an outcome of great planning and flawless execution; the leader needs to oversee both these aspects strategically and tactically to enable the team to succeed.
- Integrity: Integrity is not only about financial honesty; integrity for a leader is to be committed to the cause and be accountable for the success and failure of the team. A lot of leaders fail because they take the credit for all the team's success but single out individuals in case of failures. This is one of the biggest deal-breakers in earning the trust of the teams. Integrity is also a lot about the level of fairness demonstrated in handling various business and people situations and problems and, most importantly, being authentic in actions. Being political or creating a divide and rule environment in the team eventually leads to mistrust amongst team members and with the leader and thus creates a challenge to drive the team towards the goal.
- Empathy: The leader should know the challenging circumstances under which the team works. The leader should know the hardships they face to deliver the outcomes , and should be able to understand some of the intrinsic and extrinsic challenges which are deterrent to the outcomes and beyond control of team members .The leader should always have an ear to the ground level at which the last person in the hierarchy is pushing the organization agenda .As they say, it's important to understand the opportunities and challenges both of the man in the arena who is pushing the organization agenda. The leader being aware of all these elements of on ground situation and of team members creates a sense amongst team members that the leader is aware of their situation and is enabling them , pushing them on the agenda with a clear understanding of ground realities .Its thus very important to build empathy for the team and what they do by the leader to build trust. A leader who has a high level of empathy will eventually also be seen by the team as caring and understanding despite being highly task oriented.
Leading with trust is one of the key foundations of being a successful leader, teams rally behind the leaders they trust and go for many extra miles for such a leader .If you are a leader and you are hearing or seeing "I don't trust you" from your people, take steps now to remedy the situation, reflect on the points mentioned above, a lot of your success as a leader depends on it. Leadership is a lot about Leading with Trust.