Articles

The Responsibility of Legitimate Leaders to Establish Trust

December 14, 2017 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

Employees look to their leaders to be trustworthy and trusting. The employee’s perception of the leader’s intention towards them is influenced by whether the leader is perceived to be approachable, empathetic and trustworthy. The employee will trust his leader if the leader displays trust of the employee and a firm commitment to care for and grow the employee.

The leader builds trust through making an effort to connect with every employee in her team. This requires that the leader shows up as human, not perfect. The leader shows an interest in employees beyond their presence at work and their ability to produce work output.

Tshepo took over a team that had been through various management changes and was no longer delivering to the needs of the business. Within two weeks of arriving he presented his extensive criticism of the team and announced a restructure. Despite its dysfunction up to this point, the team resisted and within days he was removed.

What had been required was a leader who would first establish connections with the team members, get to know them and understand how they had been impacted by previous leaders. While the team results may not have been satisfactory, the employees were individually competent and willing. Asking for their views and ideas would have led to them self-correcting and living up to their potential.

The leader does not aim to be the star of the show, but rather to allow each employee to shine. Credit is given to the employee whenever possible. The leader stands back and allows employees to own decisions and test their own thinking. Employees thrive under these circumstances and often deliver their best performances.

Kevin was moved from his high-performing team to address poor performance by another work team. Both the business and its customer was disappointed by the performance of the team. Kevin commenced his role as team manager by having in-depth conversations with employees for some days. His leadership style was unusual and his approach to poor performance unconventional. Within three months this work team achieved record performance and continued to do so for three years thereafter.

Kevin’s leader had been confronted by various internal stakeholders who were critical of his leadership approach. Despite this Kevin was given the space to continue applying his unique style. Kevin grew to attain an executive leadership role.

Leaders share information about the business to the greatest possible extent. They share their experiences and wisdom without imposing their knowledge. Leaders never exhibit demeaning attitudes towards the efforts of the employee. They have a deep concern for building confidence and setting their employees up to be the best they can be. Younger, less experienced employees will more likely take the risk of expressing their thoughts and opinions if they feel that the leader is eager to hear what they have to say and even willing to learn from them.

A young employee was considered to be difficult by her manager, although she delivered good results. She challenged decisions that were announced and regularly expressed unwelcome opinions. After another instance of perceived insubordination, she was interviewed by a senior manager. During a lengthy discussion, the employee provided the manager with a substantial list of suggestions and disclosed various ways in which employees were taking shortcuts.

The business made many changes, achieved much improved productivity and fewer service failures after implementing the suggestions and improvements provided by the employee. The employee was moved to an alternative role and included in a developmental programme. She grew into senior management and today holds an executive role.

Trusted leaders look for the strengths in every employee and create opportunities for employees to demonstrate their abilities. When a leader entrusts an employee with a challenging project, that employee will go all out to prove the leader right.

Thando was a well-respected manager in the head office environment of a national organization. She was young and had worked hard to progress her career. The organization offered her the opportunity to open and run a new branch office. This would mean moving to an unknown city, away from her family, and working independently far from the head office.

Within 12 months she had opened, established and built the new branch office to a top-performing division. She had not only taken on a variety of new tasks, which had not previously been required of her, but additionally had acquired a working knowledge of another language spoken by employees in that city. She was highly respected by the more than 150 employees, confirming that the decision to offer her this opportunity had been absolutely correct.

“Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him” – Booker T. Washington.

 

Wendy Lambourne
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