At first glance, building trust does not seem like it would require leadership courage. Yet, it does. Here is why: trust, at its core, is a combination of competence, integrity, and empathy. Competence is necessary because to be a trustworthy leader your followers need to know that you know what you are doing. Integrity is essential so that your followers know that you are honest in what you say, that you follow through on the commitments you make, and that you “walk the talk” every day. And empathy is vital so that your followers know that you care about them as human beings and not merely as tools to get the job done.
Of those three components, two require courage to live out: integrity and empathy. For example:
- Integrity means being willing to give open and honest feedback to address negative behaviors or unacceptable results.
- Empathy means feeling your employees’ pain when they are going through a tough time and modifying your behaviors accordingly.
- Integrity means engaging in – rather than avoiding – situations where conflict may arise.
- Empathy means creating a safe place for even “difficult” or “different” people to be their authentic selves.
There are countless other examples, but these are sufficient to demonstrate why leadership courage is required to build trust in the workplace.
Patrick Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team points out that the absence of trust leads to a fear of conflict (how can I engage in tough conversations if I am apprehensive of what might happen if I do?), a lack of commitment (why commit myself if I can’t trust others to do the same?), an avoidance of accountability (if we mutually can’t commit, why should I be held accountable for my actions?), and inattention to results (why should I care about what happens to the company if the company doesn’t care what happens to me?).
Fortunately, the opposite is also true. The presence of trust creates a safe place for open discussion, it promotes mutual commitment and accountability, and it stimulates performance … all leading to great results!
One of our clients has demonstrated the value of courageous trust remarkably over the years. He is the chief financial officer (CFO) of a company and he lives out the principles of competence, integrity, and empathy. On a daily basis, this man is open and honest, he does what he says he will do, and he supports his direct reports and his colleagues in personal and practical ways. He has created a culture of trust because people see his trustworthiness and follow his lead. Consequently, his department finishes first every year on an internal survey rating how well services are delivered. Put another way, his team would run through a brick wall for him! Why? Simply because they trust him. That says it all.