3 Ways to Build Leadership Credibility in Tough Times

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We live in a world where trust in political and corporate leadership in America is still hovering near all-time lows. Of course, much of this lack of trust is easy to explain.

The gridlock in Congress, along with the less-than-stellar role Wall Street and our financial institutions played in the last recession have created doubt about the strength of our country’s leadership institutions. In addition, the media likes to revel in bad news like pigs in dirt.

When viewed holistically, you can see how we live in a world that has many viewing the glass as half empty and wondering not whether, but when, the other shoe will drop.

Having worked with dozens of organizations over the past 15 years, though, I believe most leaders have integrity are trying to do right, while also doing well. But without question, leading is difficult. I have found that what hinders leaders’ efforts is not intent, but lack of awareness of the key issues or lack of skill to lead well.

I have found that what hinders leaders’ efforts is not intent, but lack of awareness of the key issues or lack of skill to lead well

The America’s Workforce survey delivered some meaningful insights on areas leaders can focus on to build leadership credibility and lead more effectively. After all, we can keep talking about what is not right or we can focus on what we know we can do to make a difference.

The survey results suggest that top leaders do three things effectively in successful organizations.

1. Understand what winning looks like

In the survey, 40% of employees admitted that they don’t fully understand their company’s vision. Some haven’t been exposed to it at all. The same percentage felt their managers don’t understand the company’s strategy or goals.

So the first thing a good leader needs to do is to make sure the people in the organization understand what winning looks like by meaningfully connecting people to the vision. Have you ever worked on a puzzle without seeing the box top? Or think of playing in a game without being told how you actually win. It is difficult, de-motivating and not a whole lot of fun.

People in the organization need to understand what winning looks like

A good leader tells the story of the business, looks for avenues to have organizational conversations, invests in managers so they understand how to translate the strategy for their people, and ensures that everyone recognizes how they contribute to winning.

2. Lead with authenticity

The second focus for good leaders is to make sure their authority comes not just from the position, but from a sense of trust, authenticity, and stewardship for the organization.

49% of the workers surveyed felt that their leaders are genuine or authentic only sometimes, if not less often. It’s very difficult to be at your best if you are not sure you can fully trust the intentions of your leadership. This is one reason so many employees play it safe. In fact, 67% of the workforce in the survey could name at least one thing that would prevent them from taking any kind of risk at work.

 It’s very difficult to be at your best if you are not sure you can fully trust the intentions of your leadership

The number one item that stops them from taking any risk – you guessed it – is not having enough support from their supervisor. It’s not enough to have a workforce ready to contribute if they are also nervous that if they jump in and take risks, no one will back them up.

Great leaders are often publicly vulnerable. It is perfectly ok not to have all the answers, but to seek a better way with the team rather than just tell them. It is also important to openly discuss your expectations and your concerns and to define where risk taking is ok and where it isn’t.

I have observed that those conversations do not occur in most situations, and therefore leaders aren’t fully understood, employees don’t take risks, and performance is not great.

3. Create ownership and enable collaboration

Another challenge for leaders is how to best connect the dots of activities across an organization. In the survey, 69% of workers felt they were at least somewhat accountable for the success of their team. When asked about working with other teams, however, only 30% said that each individual’s responsibilities were clear.

Between managing up, down, or across different departments, 43% of workers called out managing across as the hardest to do. From a leadership standpoint, you need to consider effective goal alignment across teams. You also should encourage conversations that connect the dots between teams and align them to the larger picture of winning for the organization, rather than their specific team-based priorities.

From a leadership standpoint, you need to consider effective goal alignment across teams

The goal is to ensure everyone feels responsible for the whole as much as they own their piece.

So there is significant skepticism among America’s workforce, but great leaders are overcoming and setting examples for how to conquer the most pressing concerns. These leaders are able to paint a picture of what winning looks like that everyone can connect to. They understand the role of vulnerability and authenticity in gaining trust, and they focus on breaking down barriers to enable better cross-functional collaboration.

Understand the role of vulnerability and authenticity in gaining trust

This is how effective leaders can be best in class when it comes to creating better, more successful and more trusted organizations.

Preview the America’s Workforce survey findings or download the full report.

Graphic by  IkazNarsis

Rich Berens is president and Chief Client Fanatic of Root Inc. For over a decade, Rich has helped leaders at Fortune 1000 organizations to align on key strategic imperatives and engage their people in bringing their strategies to life. His clients span all industries and include PETCO, Bank of America, Hilton Hotels, Procter & Gamble, Deutsche Bank, and Merillat/Masco, among many others. Rich is a noted speaker on the issues of strategy and change and has authored articles for Chief Learning Officer magazine. Rich joined Root in 1997 after completing his MBA at the University of Michigan. He worked for Commerzbank in Germany and has lived abroad, both in Germany and Nigeria. He holds a BA/BS degree from the University of Washington in St. Louis. Rich lives in Ann Arbor with his family, and treasures time with his wife, Anne, and daughters, Katarina and Mia.

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