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Developing Trustful Relationships By Leaders

From a practical point of view, leaders establish unity of purpose and direction of the organization. They create and maintain the internal environment in which people can become fully involved in achieving the organization’s objectives.   This article starts from the pragmatic view of ISO 9001 on leadership in Quality Management Systems and then with the help of academic view points discusses how effective leaders diagnose and develop trust in relationships.

Definition of leadership

Leadership has been defined by many authors.  ISO 9000 defines a leader as anyone who influences a group toward achieving a particular result. It is not dependant on title or formal authority. Any individual appointed to a managerial position has an assumed right to command by virtue of the authority of the position. However the individual must possess adequate personal attributes to match the delegated authority. Without sufficient personal competence a manager may be challenged by employees in the organization and their role may be relegated to that of a figurehead.

An emerging leader in an organization may require a formal position in the hierarchy if he / she is to have the authority to use his/her personal competencies to direct other employees. Every organization needs leaders at every level.  There is a large distinction between leadership and management with an emphasis on leaders enabling people to do things.

Management focuses more on organizing to achieve a task. This does not mean leaders do not focus on the task – they generally have a good history of achievement. Managers typically follow a leader’s vision and make it a reality. Leaders realize that achievement of a task comes about through the goodwill and support of others. This comes from leaders seeing people as people, not as another commodity for deployment in support of “the task”.

Trust in relationships

Goffee and Jones (2006) believe that leaders who do what they say are more likely to be seen as ‘genuine’ and therefore authentic. Trust is an important issue and can only be built through relationships. A major driver of trust is authenticity, which Goffee and Jones (2006) define as consistency between words and deeds. In addition they believe that authentic leaders communicate a consistent underlying thread – they display a ‘real self’, which involves a comfort with self, which is perhaps the hardest to attain.

The Challenges of effective leadership

As Bains (2007) points out, in particular circumstances people have learned to be inauthentic and so have those around them. Many feel a need to create distance between themselves and others at work. As a result, people lose both the willingness and skill to build authentic relationships. The uncertainty created by relentless organisation change leads inevitably to a rise in destructive political behaviour. For many, therefore, surviving organisational life requires self-protection strategies and wariness in building any real connection with others.

Another challenge is in an overly competitive working environment where friendships fail to develop.  It is one of the major sources of stress at work and can be one of the key reasons why talented employees leave a company.  Effective leaders work hard to create belonging cultures that allow people to be authentically themselves, and reap substantial rewards in the process. They also focus on developing people’s ability to develop strong, trusting relationships. This enables them to create alignment, execute effectively and instil the confidence in others to take risks.

A model for diagnosing relationships

Graham Louden-Carter (2010) views the elements of relationships as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  He developed a model based on four elements: Understanding and Empathy; Respect; Trust and Candour; and Positive Intent.  His model (see Figure 1) is helpful whether starting a relationship, diagnosing where a relationship is, or trying to identify breakthroughs in a relationship. It can be used to think about where the organisation is on each dimension. The four pieces of the jigsaw are interdependent and all four components have to be there so as to connect genuinely with people on all of the four dimensions to develop effective relationships. The model can also be applied to different type of relationships – internal, external and outside of work.

Figure 1 – The Jigsaw Elements of Real Relationships

Figure 1 – The Jigsaw Elements of Real Relationships

The first key element is for having effective organisation-wide understanding and empathy.  This requires a deep appreciation of the other person and their context. The challenge is to really step into another’s shoes, and see the world from another person’s point of view. The reality is that people are very quick to intuitively judge people, very quick to put people in boxes.  Leaders must therefore work hard to empathise with feelings that they may not experience.

The second element relate to the characteristic that people are really quick to pick up the amount of respect we have for them. One should remember that respect has to be earned. Leaders should ask: how do we relate to the vast bulk of people – do we show that we respect people? A further dimension of respect is that relationships can be difficult if leaders do not feel good about themselves – so the respect is not only towards others, but to themselves.

Another challenge is to instil a mindset that relationships are not about winning and losing. Leaders should go into relationships with the positive intent of creating mutual advantage, of seeing the possibility in the other person, seeing what they can do for them, and being there for the other person.

The element of trust and candour is the last puzzle piece of the Relationship jigsaw.  When leaders show a deep understanding and respect to others, they are in a position to be very open with their views and emotions. In practice many often hold back from it, do not want to take the risk or face differences directly. So candour is an incredibly powerful aspect in developing relationships. To be effective there must be consistency between agreed and actual behaviours. Trust is built not through words but through actions. It is difficult promises kept in difficult situations that build trust. So the key challenge behind trust and candour is to put everything on the table and behave consistently!

In summary, using this relationship jigsaw, leaders can go beyond the work content to understand one another’s circumstances, motivation and feelings. They can demonstrate respect for the person, not forgetting that it’s a two way street – for them to feel confident and for leaders to demonstrate that they feel good about themselves.   In this way leadership provides a clear focus for employees to enable them to follow a path to the achievement of the organizational objectives.  Often, people see their task as subordinate to the organisational objective. For instance, an organization might have the overall task of generating profit, but a good leader will see profit as a result that flows from whatever aspect of their vision creates value for their company over and above the competition.

References:

Goffee R, Jones G, “Why should anyone be led by YOU?”, Harvard Business School Press, 2006

Bains G., Bains K., et al, “Meaning Inc.”, Profile Books, 2007

Louden-Carter G., “The power of relationships in leadership”, Henley Business School, 2010.

ISO 9001:2008, “Quality management systems – Requirements”, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva

ISO/CD 10018:2009 “Quality management systems — Guidance — People involvement and competence in quality management systems”, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva