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The 5 Key Virtues of the Trust Building Leader

When asked to define leadership in a single word, many people choose influence. Of course there are many ways to obtain influence (and therefore leadership) in an organization but one of the biggest levers is actually one you may not think about often enough: trust.

There are 4 crucial questions that today's leaders need to begin asking themselves:

  1. To what degree does my team trust me as their leader?

  2. Why or why not?

  3. How will I know if they do or don't?

  4. What more can I do to build trust with my teams?

Trust is tricky because it's not like you can just go around polling employees about whether they trust you. Also, even if answer is yes, they trust you, the why is almost as important. And consider this, your people may have never even paused to reflect on why or why not they trust you.

So why is trust so instrumental to a leader's success if people rarely consciously consider it?

Leadership used to be about getting people to work for you because of the power of the position you held - in this model, title and number of direct reports were a reflection of your leadership capability. In today's less hierarchical virtual business world, influencing others to follow you regardless of your positional power becomes far more critical. Building trust is the true ability of today's boundary-less power influencers.

Trust is an intrinsic catalyst behind breakout performance.

Basically, trust is the key how behind driving performance - because to drive performance, a team must engage in productive conflict, commit to shared objectives, hold each other accountability, and focus on achievement of results. If this sounds familiar to you, it's probably because you have some exposure to Patrick Lencioni's 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.

I was first introduced to and inspired by this powerful team leadership model many years ago and I have applied the valuable lessons over and over again with my teams. I believe Mr. Lencioni is 100% accurate when he says that trust is what makes or breaks a team and that it all starts with the leader.

Teams that do not trust each other usually do not perform well because everyone is trying to hide imperfections and flaws from one another. In a high performance team, however, everyone knows the other's strengths and weaknesses. Vulnerability and openness become the calling cards of these types of teams because it paves the way for the types of interactions that drive results. And it is up to today's leaders to set the table for this type of environment. To do so they must consistently exhibit 5 attributes that engender trust:

  1. Humanity: Trust building leaders truly see the individuals in their organizations as people first - not titles, functions, or headcounts. They connect with each person on a human level, acknowledging that there is a world beyond the workplace that has a major impact on how people perform. They know the fastest way to breakthrough performance is to invest in each individual's natural talents and strengths and leverage that for the benefit of the entire organization. Archetypes: Nelson Mandela/ Mother Theresa

  2. Authenticity: The trust building leader keeps it real - meaning they are transparent about their failings as much as their successes. What you see is what you get with this type of leader - without hidden agendas or politics. Archetypes: Tony Fernandes/Warren Buffet

  3. Vulnerability: Trust building leaders aren't afraid to demonstrate their imperfections and even need for help in certain situations. They don't desire to have all of the answers and are very comfortable in their own skin thus transmitting this into their organizations. They understand that showing a more well-rounded version of themselves is key to engender a culture of dealing with facts as they are with no apologies. Archetypes: Oprah Winfrey/Magic Johnson

  4. Openness: Trust building leaders are receptive to new ideas and approaches to problem solving. They love creativity, abhor the status quo, and are great at helping their team's look at problems from different angles without attacking each other. Collaboration is the tool they leverage to make powerful connections between people. Just because they inspire openness however, does not mean they do not take decisive action - in fact their style of participative decision making almost guarantees better outcomes than had they gone it alone. Archetypes: Abraham Lincoln/Mark Zuckerberg

  5. Transparency: Trust building leaders are above all, honest. They call it like they see it and value fairness and equity. They hate double-standards and work hard to level the playing field both inside and outside their organizations. They communicate very effectively because they eradicate unnecessary double talk and political correctness and get to the heart of matters. Because of this key virtue, when they speak, people listen, believe, and act. Archetypes:Kanye West/John Stewart

So if you want to answer the question of to what degree do your people trust you, all you have to do is hold your behavior up against these 5 virtues. The why or why not will become instantly clear. As for how you will know, measure the level of productive conflict, collective commitment to decisions, individual accountability, and drive for results of your teams. If you find these elements lacking or missing, the answer is to make the necessary adaptations in yourself and begin to exhibit more humanity, authenticity, vulnerability, openness, and transparency.

To what degree to you agree or disagree with the thoughts in the article? Let your likes do the talking!

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