Cornerstones of Leadership: Earning and Keeping Trust and Respect

“Be the chief, but never the lord”

Lao Tzu was a philosopher and poet of ancient China during the Zhou dynasty.

Leaders Trust Respect 2014-10-29

There are no shortage of articles about leadership, with a great many based either on executive level advice or behavioral studies. Too few are written by people sharing work backgrounds akin to those of the vast majority of people likely to read this blog. Accordingly, I intend to offer one based on best practices I learned from seeing the good and the bad as I rose through the ranks from individual contributor to senior director level.

My focus is on the daily interactions with staff and peers that lead to trust and respect, which are key underpinnings of success as a leader.

Relationship Building Is Essential: This principle is obvious, but how to achieve it isn’t. One easy and effective means is to hold weekly one-on-ones with each staff member where you’ll want to focus on being a good listener. These meetings are great opportunities to discuss and provide guidance on current work, and for you to get to know staff members personally and learn about their aspirations. Taking a sincere interest in team member’s career growth is a big motivator for the staff member and helps earn their respect. For more on this, refer to my previous blog post Good relationship building beyond your team is also essential in enabling your effectiveness as a leader in the overall organization. Learn more from this blog:

Be Consistent In Temperament and Management Style: A lot of us can identify with having had managers who joke around easily when times are good. But when trouble brews, some become quick to criticize and resort to micro-managing. Such management styles erode team confidence, respect and trust. I recall having to work closely with a partnering organization’s executive director and never knowing when I would be interacting with “Good Dave” or “Bad Dave” (as his team members called him). Staff members were often nervous, and afraid to bring forward problems that needed to be fixed, which impacted progress.

Don’t Rush To Judgment When Something Appears To Go Wrong: Have you ever been reprimanded unfairly by your superior over some misinformation they received? It’s been my experience that the majority of times I’ve received a report of a “guess what just went wrong” situation that either:

  1. The story is flawed or missing key information, or
  2. Indeed, the decision made was as claimed, but given all the circumstances, it turned out to be the most fitting option to move forward.

Show confidence in your people, and gather facts from the right sources; otherwise, you’ll lose respect and de-motivate your staff.

Know The Difference Between Confrontation And Intimidation: Although leaders are often called upon to “keep the peace,” it’s nonetheless important to face issues head-on. This may necessitate the handling of conflict. The key is to manage conflict constructively without using power as intimidation. Early in my career, I had a fiery manager who was quick to yell only to follow-up later in the day with a sheepish apology. He excused his style as being passionate about his job, and expected people to accept it. Some people who simply didn’t want to deal with frequent confrontation kept their opinions to themselves and avoided bringing up issues. Consequently, good ideas weren’t brought forward and problems grew larger than necessary before being uncovered.

Don’t Let Your Team Get Pushed Around: There is always competition for resources between teams and the potential for problem resolution to be shoved onto someone else. Early in my career, the director of an upstream organization from mine would often exert dominance over my director. Whenever a production quality issue occurred, he made sure the issue(s) were our group’s responsibility until proven otherwise. Attention, time and resources were often wasted as a result, and our leaders weren’t held in high regard. To retain the respect of your staff and peers, it is essential for you as a leader to work hard to ensure your team is on an equal playing field with organizations or departments with whom you collaborate.

Avoid Too Much “Us vs Them”: Healthy bonding among team members and their leader can indeed be achieved with a dose of “trench humor”. It’s OK at times to let your team feel like soldiers unfairly given a lousy assignment and then motivate them to prove themselves. Just be careful to not let it lead to disrespect of other organizations. Otherwise, your team can develop a reputation of being hard to work with.

Trust and respect are hard to earn, and easily lost. So, be vigilant in staying true to your principles.

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Brian D Strayer

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