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Lead From the Front to Build Leadership Credibility

It isn’t easy these days being a leader. With trust, confidence levels and credibility dropping rapidly among employees leaders face an uphill task to rally staff, convey messages and move forward on the organization’s goals.


Trust in Leaders is Eroding

The usual grouse is that leaders don’t show up, are not putting value on communication, aren’t straightforward, don’t listen, don’t recognize enough and don’t take feedback seriously.

Take for instance the recent Korn/Ferry 2010 Confidence in Leadership Index survey that’s shows that Asia Pacific leaders got the highest drop with the questions – ‘our leaders are models of ethical business conduct’ and ‘leaders are quick to admit mistakes and accept responsibility’.

Other research reports such as the  Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer, an annual global opinion leaders study and The Great Place to Work study indicate that trust among CEOs and leaders is eroding. People tend to believe experts and people like them (peers) instead of leaders.

Challenges Leaders Face Today

With the average age of staffers in India and especially in sunrise industries such as  IT are in the 23-25 age bracket and they expect leaders to be ‘hands-on’, open to feedback and take direct responsibility for actions. This workforce question authority, keenly observe actions and want more empowerment in changing elements within their purview.

It is not enough anymore for leaders to take decisions among themselves as employees are seeking inclusion and transparent methods of decision making. They aren’t convinced if leaders are only visionaries and strategists but expect them to gain their trust and walk the talk.

Building leadership credibility is also about being available, wearing multiple hats for the varied scenarios that exist within the organization and expectations of the role. To substaitnate that point the 2010 Great Place to Work Survey indicates that two-way communication, managers’ competence and integrity and reliability of management are key to employees viewing the organization as trustworthy.

Leading from the Front

So what can leaders and internal communicators do to buck the trend, build credibility and leverage shifting mindsets among employees?

Make communication your mantra: Often communication is the last resort when it comes to reviving flagging morale or addressing a crisis. Employees are not only expecting to get clarity on a host of topics such as revenue and growth but they also want to know what leaders are doing about attrition, engagement and social responsibility. Their interest is about the honest, transparent practices within the organization, how we treat our people, how leaders listen and engage with stakeholders.

Be available: At a recent conference on great workplaces most representatives shared how their leaders were approachable via chat shows, e-mail and face to face sessions. It seemed like a privilege for employees to meet with their leaders. It shouldn’t be. Rather than hear ‘the leader only shows up in a crisis’ or ‘never seen the leader around’ all leaders must be available when your employees want them to.

Have your voice: Employees appreciate hierarchy but are open to see it is as a structure for better governance rather than a platform for manipulating people. As a leader you are expected to communicate line of sight, be future focused, articulate personal opinions and vision.

By being future focused you are also setting an expectation for your employees to look ahead rather than the downsides. Cultivate your personal voice that is valued through periodic internal communication, be it a monthly report, a weekly blog or a daily tweet.

Align your managers: Research points to your middle managers as key to the success of any initiative or organizational goal. Getting managers to walk the floors is the most effective way cited to engage and gain trust. Be it a change in policy or a crisis scenario it is important for leaders to be present to address concerns. In reality everyone is a leader and your employees must see their immediate supervisors as leaders. However you must set expectations on what they can approach you with and what they must front-end themselves. Every level of the organization needs to add value to the information you are sharing. Hold managers accountable for the communication they do or don’t do.

Check in on your organization’s health periodically: While the annual engagement survey will give you a sense of how the morale of your organization is it helps to keep a regular tab via direct feedback mechanisms and by face to face connections.

Solve problems directly: Your employees expect to see you taking action on bottlenecks or concerns that impact their lives daily. Host a page with all the feedback and the actions you are taking and that goes a long way in building transparency and trust. Solve problems through direct communication at the lowest equivalent level: yourself and peers; yourself and your direct manager and yourself and the last person on the frontline. Acknowledge if there is a gap, show intent and talk of the risk of failure. Then address the issue with your honest opinion. Discuss the pros and cons of the issue, air the solution and seek an amicable resolution.

Tap experts and well known personalities: Do you have personalities within your organization who are experts and respected? Leverage their support as communication champions and change agents. Work through these personalities to reinforce messages and empower them with information they can use.

Understanding culture and diversity: Leaders must also respect cultural nuances such as hierarchy in regions such as India and the differences in mind-sets among staffers. Such leaders will be viewed as sensitive and concerned individuals.

To summarize, credibility for leaders comes with proving competence, being consistent and acknowledging that it is like a bank balance which depletes or grows as you manage your resources effectively.

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