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“We need leadership!” – that inspires people to trust and follow?

30 second summary:

What makes a leader trustworthy and inspiring?

This article looks at four attributes that a leader needs to earn trust and five characteristics of trust-in-action that inspires others to follow.

Built into the cry “we need leadership” is a desire to be inspired by our leaders.

We often hear of a good leader: “he/she inspires trust”. So what makes a leader inspiring and how does that correlated to trust?

swan asserting its leadership to other swans

We know that trust is, at least in part, a function of four leadership abilities:

1) to be visibly competent,

2) to build relationships that show care for others,

3) to take reliable action,

4) to be other-centred.

Through these four abilities (a basic set of ‘savoir faire” or ‘know-hows’), leaders earn the trust of their followers. But what has that got to do with “being” inspiring? Is there a certain “savoir être”, some “being” characteristics that underpin these four trust-engendering abilities AND render today’s leader inspiring?

Consider the following five characteristics:

1. Being a person of Vision and Values underpins all leadership abilities. “Without vision a nation perishes” said Solomon. Stephen Covey said “…your mission statement [is] … the expression of your vision and values.” Vision is your destination. Values are your rudder. With vision and values, a leader leads – not just manages - knowing and communicating where they are heading, where they are leading others. Vision and values anchor decisiveness and clear thinking.

2. Being Authentic underpins visible competence. Coco Chanel said: “Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.” We know intuitively that a lack of authenticity erodes trust, but what exactly does ‘authenticity’ mean? Almost synonymous with ‘transparency’, being authentic is much more than “just being me”. Authenticity is defined by what we do AND by what we don’t do AND by the extent to which we take personal responsibility for both our actions and inactions. To be seen as ‘authentic’, leaders must stand up and be accountable for their poor decisions and inappropriate actions as well as for the good they do.

3. Being Inclusive underpins relationships. To be sincerely inclusive, you need to be interested in others, in their perspectives and points of view. Inclusive leaders make a point of engaging with, eliciting and welcoming the ideas of others, of crediting others with ideas and contributions they make without taking ownership or seeking personal glory for the success of others. Inclusive leaders willingly adapt to the ideas of others. If not, why seek out ideas? (Of course there must be core strength and wise humility in inclusivity as, to be trusted, leaders must also be seen to be true to their vision.)

4. Being Resilient underpins reliable action. Let’s define this as a mind-set for thriving under pressure and change, a capacity to recover quickly from adversity and spring back into shape. Best evidenced under pressure or stress, resilient people take personal feedback and criticism courageously, without “taking it personally”; they hold feedback in context and learn from situations. Resilient leaders face their own emotions1, especially fear, yet continue to function. They rise from personal disappointments to engage in tough conversations and take challenging decisions.

5. Being a Critical Thinker underpins visible competence and balanced interest – in self v. in others. A recognised strength of western education, critical thinking allows us to establish the facts, challenge the status quo, consider and evaluate different points of view, and make out-of-the box decisions. Being a critical thinker without being critical per se is a highly prized personal trait.

In which of these characteristics are you most invested? Which could you develop to inspire more? Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone is a trusted business adviser, a strategy and leadership development expert, a certified executive coach and a Partner at Rathbone Results; Rathbone Results: 020 8798 0175; cora-lynn@rathboneresults.com.  

Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone

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