Successful leadership and trust go hand in hand. Unless you have the trust of your team and those around you, your leadership is likely to stutter and fail.
Probably not a catastrophic failure — most will be able to get through. However, the risk of friendly fire is high and the casualties will begin to mount — on your side among the supporters you hope will be loyal.
Despite this obvious truth, trust in many places seems to be conspicuous by its absence. The odd thing is that often, when you look deeper, you discover that the individual leader is actually an inherently trustable human being. So, what is going wrong? Why are they not able to develop the trust in their leadership which they are so clearly capable of?
I have a hunch that the majority of the time it is because they are suffering from the influence the organisation has on them and are thus not able to do what they would prefer to do.
For instance, have you ever…
- Returned from a senior management meeting which discussed rather sensitive restructure options?
- Disagreed strongly with a decision taken by the senior management committee, yet been told to be a “good corporate citizen” and toe the party line — especially if you want to get promoted?
- Discussed a pay award with one of your team to recognise and motivate them? With the best of intentions, you then discovered that HR have decided to put a block on all mid-year pay rises.
These and many other dilemmas regularly assail capable leaders. All of them present choices which could impact on the leader’s trustability.
Innocent and inexperienced leaders can easily fall victim to these dilemmas as they try to figure out what to do for the best. Or more likely, don’t attempt to figure it out and just stumble around doing their best in the moment. They risk compounding the problem, albeit innocently and with the right intentions towards their team.
Returning to the examples…
- With a sensitive restructure afoot, the chances are high that your team will have got wind that something is happening and will be very keen to know what it means for them. Saying nothing could allow the rumours to flourish. Be evasive and the rumours will be exaggerated even more. Tell the truth and in the process release news of the decisions not yet made, or not yet ready to be communicated — and promotion will surely fly out the window (yes, because you lose the trust of the senior team!).
- Toe the company line with decisions you do not agree to and people will wonder why as they know you are likely to disagree. So, why aren’t you being straight with them? They will think you have been leaned on — traitor in the camp? Argue the decision and isolate yourself from the rest of the senior team? Hmmm… okay, pretend to the troops that you really do think it’s right, but make sure to be convincing and hope your private efforts to reverse the decision don’t succeed — because then your team will get even more confused by you!
- And the pay rise — another tough call. You want to reward your supporters and do the right thing. Do you admit you don’t have the influence or string them along in the hope that you can force it through eventually? All the while, hoping you can last long enough to prevent them finding a new opportunity elsewhere.
These are the daily dilemmas faced by leaders the world over. It would be easy for me to say you would be best to choose the honest answer, but I also know that life is never that simple.
Building and Protecting Trust
While it would be tempting to offer solutions and answers to these dilemmas, that will probably not help you enough. These are only three of hundreds of different dilemmas which might arrive at your desk and threaten your trustability.
Instead, let’s focus on developing a robust approach to building and protecting trust. What actually needs to happen if you are facing dilemmas of this sort is quite simple. You have to learn from experience. To learn from experience, you need to…
- Recognise the issue and the risks.
- Reflect objectively on the dynamics of the situation.
- Notice your own position within the situation.
- Weigh up your options and make a clear decision.
When you are considering your options, what you are looking for is a way that you can respond which will maximise the trust — with all parties, and reduce the risk of losing trust.
I imagine you prefer people to be straight with you, yes? And the adult in you would prefer that even if you don’t like what they have to say. You probably also don’t expect people to reveal everything they know — total disclosure is usually wanted but rarely expected.
Maintaining Confidentiality and Trust
When writing Political Dilemmas at Work, Mike and I put a lot of thought into how to avoid what we called the Victoria’s Secret Dilemma, where you know something, everyone knows you know something, and you can’t tell them what it is. Here are some ideas we included there which are pertinent to building and protecting trust…
- Be sympathetic about other people’s desire to know.
- Adjust your attitude towards this dilemma and view it as being a great opportunity to enhance your reputation.
- Spend a moment to consider how you would feel in their position.
- Develop a clear resistance strategy — a repeatable and consistent statement you can make about the current situation and when it might change.
- If you can’t tell them “what”, at least give them a “why”!
- Talk to your key stakeholders and ensure that you are clear yourself why people cannot be told.
- Call a team meeting to share this with them — so that everybody hears the same message at the same time.
- Reassure them that you will share more as soon as you are able to.
- Pressure test the need for confidentiality — is it necessary?
- Work to get clear agreements about what can be shared now and what must be withheld.
- Agree the timeline for sharing information with the team/peers.
- Remember that people would rather be in the loop than out of it — even if the news is bad.
- Morale might be affected by bad news, but better to let people come to terms with this sooner rather than later.
The other interesting idea here is you don’t have to actually experience the painful dilemma to prepare your approach. What would you do if…? Indeed, you could even have some fun with the topic at the next team meeting — and I’d bet you’d learn lots about what your team is expecting of you too!
Colin Gautrey is an author, coach, and trainer who specialises in the practical use of power and influence in large organisations. He has 25 years’ experience helping middle/senior professionals to survive, thrive and enjoy their work.
If you are ready to develop your influencing capability, become a member of Breakthrough Influence. If you are serious about becoming highly influential, fast, engage with Colin and he will help you get there in the most effective way possible.
Other articles by Colin:
Decoding and Resolving Personality Conflicts
When we were doing the original research which led to the creation of the Influence Profile back in 2005, I don’t think Mike and I realised just how powerful it was going to be in helping people to understand personality conflicts. Not only does it explain why personality clashes occur, it also provides a practical way of exploring how you can avoid conflict altogether.
The curious thing is that it is not the difference in personality which causes the problem. Personality clashes are unlikely to occur if…
- You understand the personality difference.
- You accept their right to be different.
- You can find a way to work with the difference.
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When I am training people about influence, perhaps conveniently, I often…