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The 6 Pillars of Leadership # 2 TRUST

How to win trust with candour, communication and conviction

When I arrived in Malaysia, I had one goal – to empower my team to start winning.

With a concrete strategy in my mind, I wasn’t going to allow anyone or anything to get in my way. But despite this plan, I quickly understood that without the trust of my peers, executing it and achieving my goal would be impossible.

Whether you’re inserted into a seasoned team or you’re an agent of change (especially in a turnaround situation), winning the trust of your new team is your first priority.

I won the trust of my team, my peers and the senior executive. How? By being candid and paying intense attention to the way I communicated and exuding confidence in my why.

Here’s how that works.

This is the second of a six-part series of newsletters in which I share the leadership lessons learned from taking an underperforming team from the lowest earner in a global network into the second-largest performer, in under three years. These are the newsletters that will help YOU achieve your own leadership success.

Winning the trust of your workforce

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters”

Albert Einstein

People always resist change.

No one, not even the most experienced and adaptable leaders embrace change immediately. Resistance is embedded in our limbic brain. We naturally fight against it, seeking the comfort of the familiar rather than the challenge of the unknown.

At the beginning of your new leadership assignment, you represent change. It’s you that is the catalyst, disrupting existing alliance, dismantling excuses, causing ripples in the ‘norm’ and redefining what your new team believes is possible. Failure is inevitable unless you win the trust of your colleagues.

Great leaders can rationalize change and help their team to break down the irrational barriers of fear that the build against it. And every change initiative needs a powerful coalition before you execute your plan.

The power of being candid

You aren’t your team’s friend. First and foremost, you are their leader. Being candid may not win you any popularity contests, but it will set you apart from other less transparent leaders and win you the respect and trust you need to get your team winning.

Being consistently candid is hard to master because it requires a rigorous approach. It’s more than simply speaking the truth. It’s not rude, it’s not personal, but it is effective.

Often leaders make the mistake of pouring their hearts into an honest appeal, only to fail to support their position and find their appeal is unsuccessful. Emotive appeal is ineffective as a unilateral approach because it lacks rational conviction or proof. At the same time, a dry, data-driven argument, no matter how logical, may be ineffective as it fails to capture hearts and minds.

The answer? To support your position and actions with hard facts, real-life examples and personal conviction. This thee-part approach is what I call being candid.

Leave the past in the past

Try to avoid judging the past too harshly or resurrecting negative emotions from the past. It doesn’t matter why past projects failed. Yes, you’ll be sure to learn lessons from future failures too but questioning past choices may lead to your new team closing ranks’ their mistrust towards you causing them to resist your plans and your leadership.

Rationally explain why change is necessary and remind them that you are accountable for past and future problems. By unburdening your teams from this accountability, you make them feel safe and able to take risks. Your candour won’t only be appreciated but sought after. You’ll quickly become the most trusted person in the room.

The art of exquisite communication

When you are candid, there’s no room for error in your communication skills. They must be exquisite. So, what’s the secret to exquisite communication? The answer lies in being intimate with your topic, strategy and plan of execution. The 30,000ft view isn’t enough to convince. Details are important, and you must master those before you can communicate your vision effectively.

“If you cannot explain it simply, you do not understand it” – Albert Einstein puts it perfectly. Effective leaders can explain complex strategies and execution simply.

If you can do this, your candour will be welcomed because of the value it carries, regardless of how challenging it is to the status quo.

Opening your ears and mind

Exquisite communication is a two-way street. One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was given to me at the start of my role; “Enrico, you must listen to understand, not to answer”. These words resonated deeply with me. I realised that to grow trust, you must leave your opinion out of the conversation and your perceptions at the door.

Exquisite communication takes practise and discipline and requires you to:

- Listen until you understand

- Avoid blame and leave the past behind you

- Support your positions with data and real-life examples

- Master the details of your strategy before you present

- Express complex ideas and plans clearly and simply

- Speak with emotional conviction

Mastering the art of candid, exquisite communication will be one of the biggest challenges you face as a leader.

Inhabit your why

Obstacles and setbacks, risk-taking and failures. Your time as a leader will see you constantly challenged and pulled out of your comfort zone. To persevere through adversity, you must be confident in your purpose as a leader. Simon Sinek calls this your ‘why’. To be a compelling leader, your purpose has to be the greater good rather than self-interest.

There’s zero room for self-doubt and low self-confidence if you’re to win the trust of your team and executives. Your own hesitation creates doubt in their minds. In a world where results are still the only thing that matters, any inability to execute is a career-killer. Any lack of conviction can leave teams cautious and hesitant.

Your why, or your purpose, is the core of your leadership style. It’s what makes you unique as a leader. It’s the reasons your senior execs trust you and your team willingly follow you. Clear purpose is the key to unlocking your team’s trust.


7 trust-building steps to start taking today

1 – EXPECT resistance to change and embrace it. You can’t win your team’s trust by being disappointed at their reticence.

2 – SPEAK the truth. Explain that candour is not personal but professional. Use data and real-world examples to clarify your candour.

3 – DON’T hold a grudge. Learn to leave the past behind you.

4 – MASTER the details of your plan so that you can execute

5 – EXPLAIN simply and check the message has been received correctly.

6 – LISTEN with open ears and mind

7 – Have COURAGE in your conviction and leave no room for self-doubt

Next time…

We’ll be exploring changing what your team believe they can achieve to unleash their true potential with “Why trying wastes everyone’s time”.

Get involved in the conversation by connecting with me on LinkedIn:

If you have enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with your colleagues and friends.

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