Ten Skills to Lead with Trust

I recently shared my point of view on The (R)evolution of Trust-based Leadership. In that post I concluded that new leadership requires versatility and depends more on influence and collaboration than hierarchical authority and procedures. And that requires trust.

Leadership is complex. Successful leaders master a range of functions, from finance and operations to strategic planning and negotiation. But, as with so many things in business, technical competency is necessary but insufficient for real leadership.

Here are ten trust skills and attitudes leaders (and aspiring leaders) should consider putting into practice to round out their leadership skills.

Trust-based Leadership: Top Ten

  1. Don’t Fake It. The best way to be trusted—by far–is simply to be trustworthy. Be authentic, accountable, honest, and transparent. Good PR comes from publicizing good things, not from hiding or putting a spin on the not-so-good things. So don’t put your marketing, PR, or communications in charge of trust; you are in charge of trust, 24×7, by your own thoughts and actions.
  2. Your Ego is Not Your Amigo. Being driven can be OK. So too can being impatient, customer-obsessed, product-obsessed, design-obsessed, or people-obsessed. What cannot be OK is being obsessed with yourself. It is Not About You. If you always think it is “About You,” you might be a bad leader.
  3. Collaborate, Don’t Compete. No one is the enemy. Not your customer, not your supply chain, your employees, the union, not even your competitors. If you are always competing against others, you’re turning business – and life – into a zero-sum game. If you are focused on gaining advantage over others, you are making yourself the center of things (See #2 above). Let others obsess with competing. You be the one to go think about what you can do for [customers, employees, your supply chain, even your competitor]. She who adds the most value lives best. And longest, at least in terms of client loyalty.
  4. Leading is Emotional. Think of the great leaders in your life. Not who other people tell you are great leaders, but the ones you most want to follow, to emulate. Now ask yourself: are they passionate? My guess is they are, and that their moments of passion are the source of much of their influence. Leaders lead, which means others follow them, and emotional passion is a big driver. A lot of people work for people who don’t show their emotions. Very few people follow them.
  5. Act with Real Integrity. Integrity in the sense of being whole and undivided. You can’t be all things to all people. The more you try, the less whole you are, and the less integrity you appear to have. What you can do is to be the same person, at all times, to all people. That makes you whole, entire, integral—one who has integrity. A leader is committed to being, and unafraid to show, his whole self.
  6. Be Transparent. Transparency is a form of honesty. Hiding information – or sharing only partial information – is not being truthful. Withholding information (except where injurious or illegal) leads to doubt and mistrust. If I can see what’s going on, I know that I am not being misled. Motives become clear. Credibility is affirmed.
  7. Be in It for the Long Run. You can’t be transactional and be trusted. Transactions can only be trusted in packages. Time is the key. Never cut a deal with someone: cut the 27th deal in a series of 132 deals you intend to cut with them. That way you build a relationship—reliability, connection, mutual obligations, and the business vocabulary to express them. A leader is always thinking and acting in the long term.
  8. It’s Personal. The line from the movie The Godfather, “It’s not personal; it’s business,” was precisely wrong. It is both. Business is transacted between people. Companies aren’t trusted; people are (don’t confuse reputation with trust). Trust can be engineered; but at the end of the day, all trust is experienced as personal.
  9. Trust is Relationship. Robinson Crusoe didn’t need trust (before Friday, anyway). Trust is like ballroom dancing—you need two to tango. One trusts, the other is trustworthy. Either act by itself isn’t even the sound of one hand clapping: there is no trust without both parties in relationship. A leader knows how to play both roles; by trusting, he becomes trusted. By being trustworthy, he invites trust.
  10. There is no Trust without Risk. Ronald Reagan’s ‘trust but verify’ was good politics, but bad trust. Verification is the absence of trust. Trust mitigates risk, and – more importantly – taking risk can create greater opportunity for trust. Trust is risk freely taken, for the greater advantage of both parties. A leader knows that, sometimes, she’s just gotta take a leap.

For decades, it seems, we took for granted that good leaders shared some unidentified quality that made them good leaders. The truth of it is, the best leaders are self-aware, self-actualizing, and work hard to develop all the qualities that make a good leader.

Focus on trust and free yourself to be a real leader — passionate, decisive and courageous.

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