What makes a good leader? Is it vision? Values? Business savvy?
While these are all positive qualities for a leader, one should not conflate raw knowledge or wisdom for the ability to lead. Instead, all of these qualities are effective through the trust of employees.
Trust is an odd thing to quantify, but it’s a concept that makes a significant impact on a business. For employees, trust in a leader is what empowers them to put in the extra effort necessary to excel. If they believe that a leader is willing to have their back when trying a new initiative or something similar, then they will be more likely to be more creative and push new ideas. This is the essence of what a healthy workplace environment is like; the worst trap a business can fall into is becoming stagnant and refusing to listen to input.
For leaders themselves, this is a difficult ideal to reach. After all, even with a laundry list of credentials, no leader can start at a company and instantly be trusted by employees that have no concept of what they are like to work under. A title does not make a leader, and nobody should assume that their good intentions as a leader will be unequivocally interpreted in the correct manner.
This brings me to perhaps the most salient part of trust: open and honest communication. It is natural to be suspicious or even distrust something that you have an unclear understanding of. The responsibility falls to leaders to convey company goals and the objectives that every employee should be meeting in a consistent and transparent way. Some companies have taken this notion of clarity a step further; social media company Buffer released a record of all employee salaries and the factors that determine each for the sake of fairness in compensation.
Trust is also built on a leader’s ability to see beyond themselves and care for employees. This can be demonstrated in a variety of ways, including displaying competency, consistency, and admitting mistakes.
The former is perhaps the easiest of the three, particularly if you’ve earned your way to a leadership position with your talents. This particularly comes into play if employees have questions about their work; how are they supposed to trust you if you can’t answer questions about how to properly perform certain tasks? Be competent, but humble. Don’t be afraid to do a bit of digging to properly answer a question, and contribute to the team in tangible ways.
Consistency may seem like an odd quality for building trust, but in reality, it’s all part of open communications. Strive to be a consistently strong leader that is involved in maintaining the well being of employees.
So what does an office look like when it works under a trustworthy leader? There is no definitive metric, but a recent study cited job performance, willingness to endorse the organization, and retention as factors that improved under “coach-like” leadership. It’s not necessarily a shocking revelation, but one that many leaders can take to heart. People are willing to work harder for a leader that they know supports them. Even a company with outstanding ideas can flounder if leadership is poor.
Of course, this is a long term process, and for that matter, a process that is never actually over. There is no taking a break when it comes to leadership, but know that consistently living by a code of values pays off in the future.