Be honest and open with people and live by values to earn the trust of others. That will fuel your strength as a leader.
Values are vital to successful leaders. Honesty and trust are two of the key universal values, says Bob DeKoch, Appleton, Wis.-based former president of construction company Boldt and president and founder of leadership consulting firm Limitless.
Oscar Boldt, who was chairman of Boldt when DeKoch was president, emphasized that point.
“He said, ‘If you get the values right, everything else falls into place. If you get the values wrong, you spend endless time trying to walk back stuff and redo stuff,’ ” DeKoch said.
The tighter leaders’ beliefs and their practices are linked, the more trust they engender, says Phillip Clampitt, who with DeKoch co-authored “Leading With Care in a Tough World.”
“If people come to the realization you don’t practice what you preach, there’s a real problem,” said Clampitt, chair of communications at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Live By Values of Honesty, Trust
DeKoch says many leaders say they have values such as honesty but they don’t live by them and instead will lie to get things done.
“What they really value is expediency,” Clampitt said. “They say they have one set of values but they live by another.”
Emotional intelligence plays a huge role in being honest and transparent with people while building trust, says Carolyn Stern, Vancouver, B.C.-based chief executive of executive leadership development and emotional intelligence training firm EI Experience. Emotional intelligence is the ability to use information your emotions provide you with to act appropriately.
“Our emotions are full of wisdom if we look for it,” she said. “Very few of us take the time to not only figure out what we’re feeling but why we’re feeling it and making conscious choices about what you can do about it constructively.”
Live By Values Through Emotional Intelligence
Listening to your emotions, including at work, plays a big role in building trust.
“Emotional intelligence helps people connect authentically, communicate effectively and thrive collectively,” said Stern, who wrote “The Emotionally Strong Leader.” When you create that kind of connection and communication, it’s going to create an environment of trust and belonging.”
Drop the “corporate mask” of hiding emotions and be more open with others, Stern says.
“When I as a leader choose to discuss what I’m feeling, you’re experiencing a deeper connection under the surface,” Stern said. “When that kind of genuine connection happens, others feel seen and heard, and they feel valued. That affects dedication, engagement and fulfillment.”
That kind of transparency is vital to successful leaders. “People follow people who are relatable, not perfect,” Stern said.
Live By Values But Don’t Overdo It
Win trust by being honest with people without overdoing it. Early in his tenure with Boldt, DeKoch gave a business update to employees. Boldt told him he did well but there was one problem.
“He told me, ‘You’re selling too hard. If you don’t lead them with a lot of hype, you’ll do much better in the long term,’ ” DeKoch said. “All of us get overenthused about positive things. You need to spend as much time talking about things to watch out for as you do the positive things.”
Toxic positivity, Clampitt says, is a problem because then people aren’t being realistic and those who work for them quickly become disillusioned.
“You’re not treating people with respect,” Clampitt said. “It offers false hope.”
Be open with your emotions to win trust. “By sharing what’s underneath the surface, you’ll have that deeper connection that’s going to create trust,” Stern said.
To build honesty and trust throughout an organization, it has to start at the top, DeKoch says. Those leaders have to model that behavior.
Encourage others to give their opinions. That doesn’t mean the leader has to give in to people. But make sure they’re heard.
“Effective leaders not only encourage feedback but use it to propel the organization forward,” Clampitt said. “They don’t see it as resistance. They view it as a positive force that builds greater buy-in.”
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