Bill Gates was once asked to describe his personal best. After a few moments, Bill said he couldn’t do it. He said, “It wasn’t my personal best. It was our personal best. It wasn’t me. It was us.” In his research he said he did not discover a single instance where success was the result of any one person but the result of many, a team effort.
The truth is no leader ever got anything extraordinary done without the talent and support of others. He needs others and they need him. We are reminded of this every day as we work in our workplaces. We’re reminded of it by the leaders who share their stories with us. Then we realise that we could never have done what we’ve done without the caring support and involvement of so many other people.
Leaders who foster collaboration create a climate of trust. Without trust you cannot lead. If you don’t trust others, how can you expect them to trust you? Yes, this sounds risky and it is but leaders accept risk.
A number of global studies have shown that in a high trust group, members were more open about feelings and experienced greater clarity about the group’s basic problems and goals. They reported greater levels of mutual influence on outcomes, motivation to implement decisions and closeness as a team.
How do we develop a high-trust group? There are a few points one has to understand.
Support face-to-face interactions
Success is all about relationships. It is so tempting in this digital age to think that having someone in your Facebook or LinkedIn network is a relationship but face-to-face is where relationships are formed and strengthened.
Strengthen others by sharing power and discretion
When people feel powerful, feel ‘able’ and feel a sense of being in control of their life, they persist in their efforts to achieve. When leaders share power, they ‘empower’ those who have chosen to follow them with the authority they need to make decisions and make things happen. The great philosopher Lao-Tzu once said, “The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, his followers say, “Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves!”
In order to strengthen others
We become most powerful when we give our power away. Major General John Stanford says, “We don’t get our power from our stars and our bars. We get our power from the people we lead.” We need to develop what Stephen Covey calls an “abundance mentality,” where the more we give, the more we get.
The more choices we allow those who work for us to have, the more choices we will have. Also, the more choices they have, the better their decisions will be.
Develop competence and confidence
Open the books of management and share information with others. Train them in how to read and interpret these data. Train them in problem solving and let them solve problems. As the saying we have in training adult leaders of Boy Scouts, “Train them, trust them and let them lead.”
When people are held accountable for their actions and their results, they tend to perform at higher levels.
Paradox of power
So, in simple terms, true leaders enable others to act. They enlist the support and involve all those who must live with results and they make it possible for others to do good work. Leaders know that no one does his or her best when feeling weak, incompetent or alienated.
They know those who are expected to produce the results must feel a sense of ownership. Some ways to do this: Collaborate, develop cooperative goals, seek integrative solutions, build trusting relationships and foster collaboration. These factors are all needed in building the trust to lead and function as a team.
At this point, we need to talk about an important phrase: ‘Paradox of Power’.
Power, the capacity to influence others, produces the most constructive results when exercised in a voluntary partnership with others. Power is paradoxical because the more visible it is, the less it works. The less you have to rely on formal power to get things done, the greater your power actually is. Power begins with the desire to influence your co-workers in a productive manner.
There are five potent forms of informal (invisible) power available to everyone in the workplace regardless of their formal authority: Shared vision, rapport in relationships, networking, competency and character. Power enables you to empower your colleagues to pursue the organisation’s success.
To enable others to act, you foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust and you strengthen others by sharing power and discretion.
Following are examples of how leaders enable others to act:
An American financial services executive was appointed the managing director of one of its foreign offices. Because he was an outsider, he was viewed with scepticism. Rather than jump in with all kinds of changes, his first acts were just to get to know people—who they were, what motivated them, what things they liked to do and what they thought they could do collectively to achieve things. These early acts of relying on ‘local experts’ quickly earned him respect and enabled all of them to significantly improve services.
The director of a large clinical study at a major university found that teamwork and trust were absent. She needed to turn this around if the study was to succeed. She created a team environment with a day-long retreat in which the team members began to identify their values, philosophy and mission. They also told stories of family and loved ones and began to feel a sense of trust and respect for each other.
A new marketing manager was given an assignment to study the underperforming sales division and to make appropriate changes to bring the sales performance up to the budgeted figure within six months. As part of this major project he created an ‘Instructional Leadership Team’ made up of managers and senior sales personnel and gave them the discretion to determine actions needed. To show support for the team, at meetings only the team members sat at the table. The marketing manager attended only for briefing-up or if clarifications were needed.
One manufacturing executive facing a possible plant closure trained all employees to read and interpret financial statements. The company’s financial information is shared and discussed regularly—by machine workers and clerical staff as well as the management. The company not only has avoided bankruptcy but has become consistently profitable by expecting everyone in the company to act as a business owner
It’s not always easy to trust other people. Trust isn’t typically given freely; it must be earned. Kouzes and Posner, the authors of ‘Leadership Challenge’ suggest that you can begin to build a climate of trust by being the first to trust. If you are a leader, remember: (1) You can strengthen others by giving them opportunities to lead and make decisions; (2) you can also strive to build confidence in those who look to you for leadership. When you believe in them, you inspire them to believe in themselves; (3) the best leaders are coaches; they help others “learn how to use their skills and talents, as well as learn from their experiences.”
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at [email protected])