To be effective as a leader credibility is key. A team is more likely to just follow a leader that they feel knows what they’re talking about and trust the person and the process. Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy* note that leaders with high levels of credibility are seen as trustworthy where they have a strong sense of right and wrong, stand up and speak up for what they believe in, protect confidential information, encourage ethical discussions and follow through with their commitments.
While there are many steps that can be taken to build credibility, two key foundations are expertise and trust.
Nicola Field in her article Earning Trust** talks about five building blocks of trust. Through her research she noted five key building blocks of trust. Those were:
- strong personal convictions;
- don’t aim to be perfect;
- invite, listen, observe;
- share personal stories.
Much is also said about being authentic, true to yourself and true to your team. In our experience a leader who is open and honest with their team is far more likely to build rapport and gain the trust of the team than one who is secretive and self-centred. Field, quoting one of her interviewees, notes that the leadership style of never showing weaknesses, never making mistakes, and having all of the answers is outdated. Nobody is perfect and having an ability to be yourself particularly to your team is far more likely to build trust.
Catherine, the owner of a small accounting practice, recalled the time when difficult decisions needed to be made due to the financial circumstances of the business. A staff member needed to be retrenched, expenses and spending needed to be reined in and the practice needed to move offices to save on rent. One option for Catherine was just simply take those steps, let go of the staff member and start saying no when the team was asking for certain expenses without explanation. Instead, Catherine talked openly with the team about the level of debt and the reasons why certain steps had to be taken immediately and why there would be a tightening of the belt for the foreseeable short term. The team was open and receptive to the information they received and understood the reasons for why certain decisions were made. The team pitched in and helped out where ordinarily a contractor might have been engaged. Whilst it’s still early days Catherine says “having an open and honest discussion with my team was the best decision I made. I realised how much they were supportive of me and the business and we worked together to pull things back into line, everybody understanding why and the ultimate goals.”
Before moving on from trust, another key skill is that of listening. Field notes that leaders must be prepared to listen to others. It is important to hear and take in what is said by your team members. Each member of your team has value to add regardless of their position. Taking the time to listen to why team members seek to do certain things in certain ways and taking on board what you have heard will foster a sense of trust within your organisation.
Along with technical knowledge, leaders must also have organisational and industry knowledge. As a lawyer or accountant or other professional, having technical competence is key to continuing within your profession. More broadly than that however, leaders must also completely understand their organisation and their industry. Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy* note the following ways in which you can build your organisational or industry knowledge:
- Regularly review industry related journals and reports or associated websites;
- engage a mentor or be coached by your direct boss; or
- find something that interests you and take a deep dive into that topic.
One topic that we will take a deep dive into here at Acumen Leadership is the importance of professional development beyond your technical expertise. Kouzes and Posner*** state that leaders know that while their position may give rise to authority, it is their behaviour that earns them respect. Leaders go first. They set an example and build commitment through simple, daily act, that create progress and momentum.
It is not often that a standard legal or accounting conference will extend beyond those core competency along with those extra topics governed by our professional bodies. You can find various avenues to extend your learning on these topics amongst these pages.
* Richard L. Hughes, Robert C. Ginnett and Gordy J. Curphy, Leadership: enhancing the Lessons of Experience (8th Ed), 2015
** See article by Nicola Field here: https://managersandleaders.com.au/blog/five-building-blocks-trust/
*** James Kouzes, Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organisations (5th Ed), 2012