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The Road to Agile Leadership – Part One: Build Trust

 |  13 July 2021

We’ve all been hearing about the importance of agility in future proofing one’s organization but how do you actually make that happen? How do you build an agile organization? It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that it starts with leaders. This is part one of a two part series on becoming an agile leader.

Before an organization can become agile, which requires a shift from hierarchical top down leadership to networked leadership, there must be trust. Trust underpins agility because it is the foundation of empowered decision making. Everyone in “the network” must have mutual trust and respect for each other so power can be distributed and decision making can be collaborative.

Research shows that the “Employer” continues to ascend in it’s ranking among other societal institutions as the most trusted and reliable “single source of truth”. According to Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer, “more than government, media, or even NGOs, people trust “My Employer” to do what is right. Even those who are otherwise disenfranchised and distrusting still place their faith in their employers.” Leaders have big shoes to fill in the trust economy.

Building trust

Trust leadership is comprised of two basic things, Character and Competence. Simply stated, it’s the combination of doing the right thing and doing it the right way.

Doing what’s right, being ethical, exhibiting integrity in all that you do, being authentic, transparent and willing to admit that you don’t know everything is fundamental to building trust. This may mean allowing yourself to be more vulnerable than you typically would, a.k.a be human! These behaviors nourish the basic human need for physical and psychological safety and security. If people believe you are honest and approachable and they have a safe space to express themselves, they will be more likely to contribute in a way that is productive and fuels your common purpose.

Doing it the right way is all about how skills, competencies and experience position you, your team and your organization to deliver results. As leaders it is easy to fall into a habit of making decisions from a 30,000 foot view or based on what we think, or even worse, what we feel. We get so busy managing, mentoring and developing others, we forget about our own need for mentorship and personal growth. From looking at the research and running countless surveys and focus groups myself, I can tell you with confidence that front line employees have the answers to many of the most challenging business issues as they are closest to the customer. Implementing a team based approach to problem solving is a great way to both solve issues that directly impact employee and customer engagement, and encourage knowledge and best practice sharing. Delegating and challenging team members to analyze issues and present solutions is also great for their development and takes the pressure off of you to have to engineer all of the solutions. Most importantly, when people feel valued and respected, it fosters trust.

I challenge you to try some of the strategies presented here. Take baby steps and don’t feel pressured to get everything right or perfect the first time. Open the door for others, like subordinates, to give you feedback. You will build trust and be a better leader for it. 


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