One version of leadership posits the leader as a know-it-all. This is the supremely confident individual who has most all the answers and always knows a direction for future growth. The strongman (or woman) model.
However, under this form of leadership, team trust is rarely optimized, which means that team effectiveness is rarely optimized. In fact, in the “I’m the boss,” model of leadership, significant team dysfunctions emerge easily.
The team trust to which I’m referring is not predictive trust (or, “I know John and John will always do “x” if he says he will”). Rather, the team trust that really matters is vulnerability-based trust (or, “I am willing to be open and transparent even when its tough”).
When team members feel secure in being open, honest, transparent, and authentic, outcomes such as expanded creativity, enhanced teamwork, and increased productivity and results emerge. It’s amazing what can happen when people don’t feel the need to spend their time concealing weaknesses, assuming intentions, and jumping to conclusions.
If you want to know whether or not your team has this vulnerability-based, authentic trust as your operating cultural norm, ask yourself whether the leader will easily say the following phrases:
- “You are better at that than me.” – No one is great at everything. We all have strengths and weaknesses. The most effective leaders don’t pretend to be the best at everything. They, instead, seek out others who add value where they are less effective.
- “I’d like your advice.” – Inviting people into the decision-making process by seeking different perspectives shows that a leader recognizes they may have blind spots. Asking for advice does not mean giving up the decision-making authority. It does mean that you value other people and their views.
- “I’m sorry.” – We all make mistakes. Taking ownership of one’s miss steps is one of the clearest signals that, on this team, it’s ok to mess up. And being willing to mess up occasionally also means the team is willing to try new approaches and is consistently looking to be better.
When leaders model authentic trust behaviors and language, the rest of the team is more inclined to adopt these practices as well.
The leader, though, must go first.