The Secret Sauce of Awesome Leaders

I am often asked, “if there was one attribute that defines an awesome leader, what would it be?” I don’t have to ponder the question for long because there truly is one attribute that ranks way above the rest. It can’t be bought or taught, it has to be earned. I call it the Secret Sauce of Awesome Leaders. But it’s not really a secret at all. It’s just very hard to come by making its absence an almost accepted cultural norm in many companies.

What is it? Trust. Trust that is earned by walking the talk, being transparent, not letting bias dictate unfair practices, giving credit where due and caring about employees, their needs and their career aspirations.

Sounds simple but the reality is that many employees don’t trust their leaders. A Harvard Business Review survey found that 58% of people trusted strangers more than their bosses, a Forbes article cited research that 45% of employees say that “lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue in work performance” and an Ernst and Young study concluded that the trust equation was fundamentally broken in more than half of the organizations they surveyed. These conclusions align with many employee engagement survey results that find “trust in leaders/management” is a defining barrier to improving employee engagement.

Building trust is an essential part of being an awesome leader. Trust facilitates a work environment where people are not afraid to express their ideas. It enables people to support a leader’s decision even though they might have reservations. It allows leaders to have candid conversations about performance without creating angst. And it serves as a foundation for building top performing teams. 

What can leaders do to start earning employee trust?  Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Keep promises, walk the talk
  • Be ethical, fair and equitable
  • Give credit where credit is due
  • Communicate openly and honestly
  • Take a genuine interest in employees
  • Have the courage to do the right thing

It sounds simple but situations and circumstances constantly arise that will test a leader’s resolve.  Most leaders don’t set out to break promises or be unfair but can easily find themselves in a bad spot by failing to recognize damaging behaviors such as playing favorites, letting politics drive decision-making or not communicating often enough thus allowing the grapevine to become the primary source of information for employees.

Building and maintaining trust is a 24/7 job and is earned one employee at a time. Through their words and actions, leaders make choices every day that either strengthens trust or destroys it. Start building trust today and earn your place among the list of Awesome Leaders.

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