By Michael Stewart : Why is it that trust in our leaders seems to be eroding at an exponential rate?
Leaders may possess charisma, clearly articulate a clear vision, make big deals, and create positive buzz in the media, but if their words don’t match their actions consistently over time, they surely won’t be trusted.
Our trust in leadership has decreased as the speed and availability of information has increased. The flow of Information has fundamentally changed over the years and while leaders were once looked to to provide the answers to our questions (they were, after all, the ‘ones’ in the know), now they seem out of touch, and somehow removed from what happens on a day-to-day basis.
A dramatic shift
But the erosion of our trust in our leaders isn’t because of a fundamental change in our DNA; it is due to the fact that our once heralded organizational systems, and the subsequent actions that we expect of leaders, have dramatically shifted.
We no longer expect our leaders to be either autocrats like Patton, Churchill, or Lincoln or to possess all of the answers. We demand, instead, that they help to facilitate the discovery of solutions. We live in a world today that is simply too fast, with too much information, for anyone to even “know” the right answers, let along act upon them. In short, we expect our leaders to be transformational leaders and not traditional leaders.
James MacGregor Burns, a presidential biographer and authority on leadership studies, first introduced the concept of transforming leadership in 1978. According to Burns, transforming leadership is a process in which “leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher level of morale and motivation”. This shifted the discussion from studying the traits of leaders and transactional management to a focus on the interaction of leaders and how they collaborate with others to create trusted bonds. This isn’t a top-down theory on management but a more inclusive approach of “I win if we all win”.
Mark McCloskey, a professor at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, greatly simplified the inner workings of transformational leadership in his article “The 4R Model of Leadership: A Virtue-Based Curricular Model for Business Education in a Global Context.” This model focuses on the BASIC virtues a leader must possess and practice to build trusted relationships.
These core virtues aren’t anything new, as they have always existed as part of humanity, as Plato and Aristotle clearly articulated. They may just have been pushed aside for a while to make room for what used to be an effective autocratic management approach. These virtues impact every role, exhibited behaviour, responsibility, and set of results a leader will produce. The virtues are:
Beneficial Partnerships, where a leader fosters collaborative relationships. These relationships are interdependent to achieve common ends.
Aligned Emotions are based on the emotional maturity of the leader and knowing one’s passions, wants, needs, and the emotional states of followers.
Sustained Determination is the inner strength to initiate action in the face of obstacles, not shrink in the face of resistance, and to sustain momentum in the face of adversity.
Intellectual Flexibility is the capacity of the leader to adapt to the world accurately with the help of others.
Character is one’s moral integrity, which is the inner strength to live in accordance with high moral standards.
Become a trusted leader first
To become a transformational leader, you must first become a trusted one: this is the only way to attract ardent followers. As we begin to emerge from the latest recession, the wounded employees whose trust was breached during the downturn will start seeking new opportunities and, along with the newly-hired, will create the next global war – the war for talent. This war will know no borders or boundaries.
For that reason it is imperative that the leaders for today and the future start by going on a trust building campaign to build the relationships that will help them navigate a world that is flat and in which knowledge doubles every six years. Without the guidance of a transformational leader, the battle could be lost before we start.
Michael Stewart is the managing partner of Work Effects, a Minneapolis, MN based human resources and management consultancy that helps organizations build better leaders and more trustworthy organizations through unique training, coaching and assessment programs. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Troy Media