While preparing for a discussion session at a recent workshop I wrestled with an important question: “What qualities or abilities are critical to success as a leader?” I believe that the answer to such a question evolves with the times and the challenges of those times.
My initial notes listed qualities such as honesty, integrity, hard work, persistence, creativity, flexibility, and resilience. Those are important, indeed necessary, but they are not sufficient. I believe there is something fundamental that is absolutely critical to leadership in the 21st century.
My fellow discussion leader sparked my thinking when she mentioned authenticity – being yourself, being fully engaged, connecting with individuals as an individual. Not as a caricature or as an “empty suit.” But as a real person, with strengths and weaknesses, with joys and sorrows, with convictions and with doubts. Someone who is vulnerable and willing to connect with other people in a personal, direct, and genuine fashion.
As important as authenticity is, however, I believe it also goes on the list of “necessary, but not sufficient” qualities for leadership success. What is the foundation for leadership success in today’s challenging times?
I believe that it’s trust. If your team trusts your leadership, it will perform effectively, efficiently, and will continually strengthen relationships internally and with all your constituencies. The foundation of trust supports all of the other qualities, allowing them to achieve maximum impact.
Trust may reside in your business judgment, in your technical knowledge, in your understanding of your customers, in finances, in treating individuals fairly, in developing team member skills for professional advancement, in effective advocacy with other parts of your organization, or in untold other ways. It has countless dimensions, but almost no metrics.
Trust isn’t granted along with a title. And it doesn’t happen as a result of a single interaction. It’s the total of all your interactions, with your team, on behalf of your team, internally in your organization, and externally in the marketplace.
Trust is a palpable feeling. If you’re not sure you’ve earned it, you haven’t. It requires time, consistent behavior, and a willingness to put the interests of others ahead of your own. Are you willing to earn the trust of your colleagues in order to become a leader?
Photo attribution: Mark Capaldini, Oregon Coast