The greatest inhibitor to corporate or organizational mission fulfillment (and survival) is a lack of trust in the organization’s leaders. The lack of trust by corporate stakeholders can be a treacherous river over which leaders must take their companies from where they are to where they need to be. And we don’t need a pandemic to make those waters treacherous. Unfortunately, opportunities for distrust to develop are present daily.
For example, from employee behavior issues, to the equitable (or inequitable) delivery of quality product, to the attitude by which the front office receives clients. These and many more examples are opportunities for trust to be either built or diminished. And every one of these areas of operations and how they’re delivered can be traced back to the quality of leadership.
Leaders need a bridge to cross the river of distrust. Some leaders take a raft of inexperience and lack navigation equipment. They attempt to improve while paddling for survival amidst the waves and torrents of broken relationships and archaic or ineffective systems. Others dive into the river of distrust like a channel swimmer, gallant and brave, but flailing as they swim in a stream of relational and procedural issues, only to be overwhelmed by the waves and undercurrents of cynicism and the lingering results of the failures of their predecessors’ attempts to cross the river.
Some build a boat to carry themselves and a few others with them, only to realize that many others are left behind on the shore and never make the crossing. Some drown. And some leaders give up their position all too often before the goal of crossing the river is realized. They abandon their post, and a very large percentage leave the work to someone else entirely.
Still others know they need to build a bridge — but they don’t know all of the components necessary.
A suspension bridge serves as a perfect analogy for the role and function of trusted leadership in relation to the pursuit of ongoing organizational improvement and mission fulfillment. Developing the behaviors and disciplines of a trusted leader that support a healthy work environment are many, varied, and interconnected — much like the construction of a trusted suspension bridge.
A suspension bridge consists of numerous interworking components, all of which must be in place for the bridge to be operable and trustworthy. The same observation is valid with organizational leadership. Studies have revealed that there are many skills and competencies of leadership that must be in place for leaders to affect corporate improvement positively. If any of the bridge’s structural components aren’t in place, then transit over the bridge is potentially treacherous at the least and catastrophic at the worst.
Research reveals that high levels of trust in companies/organizations and their leaders result in many benefits, including:
- Greater financial stability
- Fewer behavior management issues
- Healthier client and community relations
- Increased rates of employee retention
- Higher levels of product quality
Conversely, research shows that low levels of trust in companies and organizations and their leaders result in adverse effects, including:
- Waning support of clients and the broader community
- Increased operational costs
- Adversarial attitudes and behavior by stakeholders
- Lower retention rates of qualified and committed employees
- Diminished product quality and service levels
Despite the above-known outcomes related to the level of trust associated with leaders, few organizations or companies intentionally invest time, energy, focus, and resources to develop trust in their leaders.
Yet it’s worth pointing out that a common denominator among Fortune 500 companies is their consistent and intentional investment in developing trusted leadership, trusted systems, and a trusted brand through continual trust-centered professional development, assessments, and strategic improvement plans. They build a suspension bridge of trusted leadership to mission fulfillment and ongoing organizational improvement using these components.
What does it look like when research-validated and practice-based leadership competencies are in place? Strategies, protocols, norms, and practices are identified that mark trusted leadership and are transformational for organizational cultures. Think of these as “suspension cables.” These cables stabilize and counter-balance the bridge’s deck on which companies can travel from potential places of distrust, complacency, and low performance to positive work environments that result in higher achievement, stability, and growth.
Trusted leaders identify the organization’s underpinnings and bedrock, remain unmoved from that foundation, and operate based on core values and beliefs about who they are, what they do, who they serve, and why. They focus on keeping the main thing the main thing (in other words, mission fulfillment) and demonstrating expertise and knowledge of whatever the “nuts and bolts” are of their industry.
Trusted leaders support the structural loads (such as facilities and human resources) and ensure they’re connected to the foundation (mission, vision, beliefs, values, and current priorities). These leaders recognize their employees in authentic and meaningful ways; they celebrate success and acknowledge failures; they’re disciplined in protecting employees from anything that might distract them from essential work, and they ensure resources are in place for everyone to do their work.
Trusted leaders decrease the stress of all stakeholders and permit controlled movement amid continual improvement. These leaders demonstrate flexibility, including adapting to meet current needs. They’re involved in the design and implementation of the organization’s primary business (the nuts and bolts), and they’re visible — providing quality contact and interactions with all stakeholders.
The girders provide the primary support for the deck, but must be adapted and contextualized to the unique needs of the bridge to transfer the load down to the foundation. Trusted leaders are skilled in adapting to meet the needs of the organization. These leaders provide support by living and leading in the present. They value expertise and give voice to others, they challenge the status quo, and they inspire innovation while ensuring that the values and beliefs of the foundation remain intact.
The Superstructure of trusted leadership is the most visible component, which joins all bridge elements to each other. What’s most visible within a company is its culture. Trusted leaders foster community, demonstrate awareness of others and their needs, and advocate for all stakeholders.
Trusted leaders smoothly pave the deck and provide clear direction to carry all the traffic across the bridge from where they are to where they want and need to be. In addition, these leaders are skilled communicators who maintain a consistent focus on mission fulfillment and establish practices and norms, which support a culture of ongoing improvement.
These components are supported and counterbalanced by the Suspension Cables — research-validated and practice-based best practices and competencies. Together, they make up the essential framework on which trusted leadership is built.