Leadership and Trust: 3 Elements

I see many business leaders who excessively focus of creating a grand vision, have a compelling strategy, run great communication programs and have innovative ideas but still fail to engage people and get desired results.

That’s because they don’t focus enough on the foundation of leadership – building trust. In absence of trust, results don’t happen. In absence of results, people trust the leader even less. And it becomes a downward spiral.

Here’s what I have broadly learned about building trust from my own experience:

  • Trust starts with intentional clarity. Before you starting acting on your plans, you need to clarify your intent, understand the intent of others and arrive at a point where intent overlaps and aligns.
  • Trust happens when you deliver on that intent and make a positive impact on your people, customers and stakeholders. When things you do show that you care, people start trusting you.
  • Trust goes deeper through consistency in thoughts, words, actions and results (they call it integrity).

Leaders (and organizations) build trust primarily on the foundation of consistent results, great relationships and expertise. In their recent HBR article, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman touch upon three foundational elements of trust – Positive Relationships, Good Judgment and Expertise and Consistency.

In their post, they underline the importance of positive relationships:

Intuitively we thought that consistency would be the most important element. Saying one thing and doing another seems like it would hurt trust the most. While our analysis showed that inconsistency does have a negative impact (trust went down 17 points), it was relationships that had the most substantial impact. When relationships were low and both judgment and consistency were high, trust went down 33 points. This may be because many leaders are seen as occasionally inconsistent. We all intend to do things that don’t get done, but once a relationship is damaged or if it was never formed in the first place, it’s difficult for people to trust.

Do read the full post at HBR and here is a short visual summary of the key insights:


More on “Building Trust” at QAspire.com

5 Ways To Build Trust (Lessons from a Conversation)

One of my friends recently joined a new organization at a senior position. When we met over a cup of coffee a few days before his joining, he mentioned to me that his primary challenge would be to build trust. As professionals, we interact with a wide variety of people including our customers, suppliers, new team members, cross departmental folks and people at the customer’s end. Success of these interactions largely depends on trust we are able to build.

Our conversation took an exploratory turn and we started thinking about ways to build trust in a new assignment. The following prominent lessons emerged out:

  • Deliver Results: This comes first on the list because in a business setting, trust is difficult to build without first building a track record. When you are new, let your work make a profound statement. Focus on early-wins. We instantly agreed on this one.
  • Keep Commitments: Consistently meeting your commitments is a great way to build trust. Clients love it when you ship on time. People love it when you keep your promises. Use productivity tools, reminder systems, whatever. But keep your commitments.
  • Give Respect: Trust and respect go hand in hand. If you want to be trusted, you first need to be respected. Giving respect to others is the starting point of building meaningful connections with others. Respect people, respect their views, listen to them and respect their time. Ditto with trust – extend trust and you get it back in equal measures. Lao Tzu said this, "He who does not trust enough, will not be trusted."
  • Clarify Expectations: When you are new to an organization, it is very important that you manage expectations well. Let people know what they can expect from you. What you expect from them. Clarifying expectations helps you gain a focus on results.
  • Be Integral: Simply put, integrity is congruence between your thoughts, words and deeds. Practice what you preach and preach what you practice. When new in an organization, people carefully observe you to gauge the integrity. Transparency is important too.

As a leader, when you are engaged to build a team and make a difference, you need to carefully examine your own behavior. Thinking a step ahead, we realized that the above findings are equally relevant to the organizations too, when they deal with their customers and build trust. Most companies loose clients/people either because they are not trustworthy or their people aren’t.

Walk the talk and talk the walk – that’s the simplest formula for building trust as a leader, professional or an organization.

On that note, have a wonderful Wednesday!

P.S. BIG Thanks to Wally Bock for selecting my post 5 Ideas To Ensure That Lessons are ‘Really’ Learned in Management Improvement Carnival #104.

Professional Integrity, Behaviors and Leadership

I once worked with an organization whose value system comprised of just three words, “Integrity. Transparency. Trust.”

Simple definition of integrity is that your thoughts, words and deeds are congruent with each other. You keep your commitments and do what you say you will. It is about living by your words and practicing what you preach.

For leaders, there is no other way to operate than to remain integral. Integrity of a leader defines integrity of a team. A leader cannot expect others to remain integral in their dealings when they are busy doing the opposite.

Yet, workplaces today are filled with behaviors that demonstrate lack of integrity. Have you noticed these patterns?

  • Saying something in public to create a goodwill and then doing exactly opposite when it comes to actual decision making.
  • Preaching processes or values and not living those.
  • Dishing out different versions of a story to different individuals.
  • Saying something without an intent (just for the sake of saying)
  • Having a process that is diametrically opposite to your value system.
  • Re-scheduling one’s agreements (meetings, deliveries etc) at the last moment.
  • Not meeting one’s agreements (meetings, deliveries) and not informing at all.
  • Upon making a mistake, knowing the impacts and not communicating it (assuming that people won’t come to know about it anyway).
  • Not speaking up about important and unpopular issues, just because everyone else remains silent.
  • Knowing that you (as a leader) are responsible for all outcomes, and still blaming others for failures.
  • Incorrect reporting of facts to hide your inefficiencies.
  • Treating different people differently only because of perceived short term gains.

If you are a leader/manager, here is the word of caution: Team members tend to perceive the congruence between a leader’s words and deeds by keen observation. This perception directly impacts their job satisfaction, commitment and trust in the organization.

Key questions then are:

  • As a business leader, what are you doing today to ensure that a) You are integral b) Everyone in the organization understands the importance of being integral.
  • Are you setting right examples for your people by rewarding behaviors that demonstrate integrity and punishing non-integral ones (even if it adversely impacts your business in the short term)?
  • Are you noticing behaviors within your teams that demonstrate integrity? More importantly, do you acknowledge and appreciate it in public?

Time to introspect! Have a wonderful start into the week.

7 (More) Things Project Managers & Leaders Should Never Do

I wrote earlier about “11 Things Project Managers & Leaders Should Never Do(Recommendation: Read the earlier post before you read further to ensure continuity of ideas) .

Here are 7 more things they should NEVER do:

  • Ignore the context. Things that worked in your past context may not necessarily work in the changed environment, new organization or a new project. When your context changes, if you don’t align your thinking to the new context, you are more likely to fail. Sticking to past ways of working is comfortable (because it worked), but no longer safer.
  • Loose focus on results. It is easy to get into mundane activities and loose focus on results. You can be an easy going manager or a tough one. You can be a coercive leader or an inspiring one. But ultimately, leadership is all about generating meaningful business results. Results should drive us, not the circumstances.
  • Throw the weight around. Sure, you are higher up in the order, but you still shouldn’t ignore Uncle Ben’s advice to Spiderman: “Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.” Humility is the most important virtue of leadership. The moment you have to show that you are powerful, you are not. Moreover, power comes from doing right things, not by cheap tactics to demonstrate that you are powerful. (You might also like reading this piece on “Leadership and Subordination to a Cause”)
  • Not scheduling critical stuff. I read this somewhere, “What doesn’t get scheduled doesn’t get done”. Lot of project managers say, “I always wanted to have code reviews done but we never had time!” Wrong. You always had time, but you never planned it. Remember – if you want something to be done and if you don’t schedule it, it ends up being a fantasy.
  • Expose the team in crisis: When in crisis, it is expected that you protect your team members and accept responsibility of team performance. The moment you try to expose your team members when things don’t turn out well, you are actually exposing your own weakness as a leader.
  • Not understanding people. We work with breathing, living and emotional human beings. Leaders fail utterly when they ignore the people aspect of work and start treating people as ‘resources’. When it comes to managing people, one size does not fit all because each individual is unique. My simple formula is – treat people as “humans’ not as ‘resources’ and watch them deliver great results.
  • Under estimate the power of personal/professional integrity. Being a leader is like being a fish in a glass bowl. You are constantly being observed. People take important cues from the way you talk, what you talk and what you actually do. You loose respect when they find out the gap between what you preach and what you do. My definition of integrity is simple – Do what you say, say what you do and be yourself.

These are simple rules, but difficult to follow because what we do as leaders is very situational. As I said in my earlier post, “Having the fundamental thumb-rules right and following them consistently is the first solid step to success as a manager/leader.”

What basic rules do you adhere to when you manage people? Join the conversation!