Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Leader's Most Fragile Asset

If I asked you, what is a leader's most fragile (and most valuable) asset? Communication Skills? Confidence? Integrity?

My answer is Trust. 
It is an item that takes a career to build with your team, and is gone in a second (same as you reputation, which come to think of it is built on trust). If your team doesn't trust you, then you won't get the most out of them, and they will always be playing CYA games.

But, why do I bring this up, and on a Thursday, instead of my typical Monday edition? Well, I recently had a meeting with a former co-worker who is someone I like to think I've gotten to know fairly well over the last year. We've built up a relationship where we can ask each other questions and expect honest answers. I think we both use the other as a sounding board. And I wanted his permission before I posted this.

During this meeting, he admitted to me that he was having trust issues with his team. Not that he didn't trust them, but that they might not have complete faith and trust in him. Now, if somebody asked me to identify a "straight shooter" his name would be the first that came to mind, so I knew that it was unlikely that there was a legitimate trust issue, but more likely a perception problem.

And that is the rub, isn't it? Perception is reality. If your team perceives that they can't trust you, then in their reality, they can't trust you. After some conversation I was able to identify a couple of things that I hope help him.

1. He is an analytical person (if you can get your hands on it, look for a book by Neil Sperling called 4 Types of People, I think). He is results oriented and pushes hard for those results. He has some people skills, but tends to focus on one on one conversations rather than addressing his team en masse. I haven't spent time with his team, but I have spent time with him in other organizations, and know that this is his habit. This could lead to the perception that individuals aren't getting the full story. After all, how do I know what you are telling the person down the hall after you've left my work area? And if a member of the team feels he/she isn't getting the full story, then they distrust the source. That person thinks that the leader is holding the cards to close to the chest.

How do you combat this? My first suggestion is to start addressing the team in groups when a new project is started. Rather than telling individual members what their role is, tell the whole team what each person's role is. That way everybody knows the big picture, or end goal; and are more willing to believe that they have all the right information.

2. Again, because he is analytical, he isn't quick to praise. He works hard, expects others to work hard, and lets the hard work be its' own reward. Not normally a problem, except if your team has a bunch of people craving acknowledgement. Then it seems to the team that you can't trust the leader to acknowledge/recognize good work; so why do good work? Also, if every conversation (going back to point one) happens one on one, isn't it possible that your team is assuming that it is more unpleasant than pleasant?

My second suggestion here also dealt with the group dynamic. He needed to find a way to award/recognize good work in the team. I've mentioned military challenge coins, or certificates before in this blog. The point is that the team members start to feel appreciated, which is a step on the pathway to trust.

Now, in the long run, it is repeated behavior/actions that shows a person is worthy of trust. The leader needs to have values and hold to them. Time is your friend, and complacency the enemy. Take the easy path once, and you've destroyed everything you were trying to build. I know that my friend is trustworthy. I hope with these two potential changes as a starting point, his team will start to feel the same way. It is a long road ahead.

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