Spend enough time working with board level executives and the question you will see the most often is "what defines a leader?" What are the qualities organizations should look for when choosing a leader or develop in their rising stars?
The simple answer is that a leader must:
- Be a visionary
- Have integrity, honesty and values in line with the company
- Have the ability to motivate employees even when times are though
- Be a change agent (and create a culture where constant change is rewarded)
Trust is job one
A leader must quickly and without any doubt be trusted by his/her people. Employees must truly believe that the leader is acting in the best interest of the company, of the team and of its members.
Trust can only happen in an environment of integrity, honesty and shared values.
In values we trust
Anytime you take over a new team, you should quickly have a discussion with your team about your values. These are your personal values not some mumbo jumbo you read on the internet. Once you share your values, you need to act consistently using them. This act of being congruent with your declared values is the start of integrity and honesty.
It is by understanding your personal values that your employees will understand how you make decisions and why. It is also how your employees can themselves make decisions congruent with your directions and plans.
It is easy for me to write about values but I have found it is another things for leaders to truly determine their actual values. It takes a lot of honest introspection. The main question is "what is most important to you about..." using this approach will help you to uncover your values. As yourself:
- What is most important to you about work ethics
- What is most important to you about employees
- What is most important to you about success
Think in terms of Key Goal Indicators. What is the desired outcome for each of these values and how do you measure them using SMART. For those hidden under a rock for the last 20 years, SMART is an acronym for:
Don't just tell your team, colleagues or boss that one of your values is team work. Explain what team work really means and how you will verify it. It could mean that you want people to non play "politics", not gossip, be inclusive of all team members, be honest, not backstab, etc.
The other aspect of the values discussion is explaining how it will impact the organization. How will your value of honesty impact the organization? If you are a manufacturing manager, maybe it means providing accurate production information to supply chain and finance so their predictions are more accurate thus leading to lower costs and better organizational decisions.
You should also explain how your values will be used to make decisions. If your employees know how you will react to different situations, they can often make the right decision before you even get involved. And when you do get involved, your decision shouldn't surprise anyone.
You should explain how your values will be used to evaluate your employees. You've talked about your values. You've explained your values and you've given clear understable examples pertinent in your work setting. Now explain how these values will be used to evaluate your employees at performance review time. Here you convey your expectations of the employees and it is a final validation that they understand your values.
What about honesty and integrity?
I spent a good portion of this article talking about values when it wasn't even in the title of this article. Why? Because it is the criteria against which your integrity and honesty will be evaluated everyday.
Don't believe me that Integrity, honesty and trust are important? Here's an interesting tidbit:
DDI World defines the relationship between integrity and values as:
There are literally hundreds of surveys available discussing the important of trust, integrity and honesty. Here are some stats to wet your palate:
- 66% of highly engaged employees have no plans to leave their current employer, versus 12% of disengaged employees have no plans to leave their company
- According to a survey conducted by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in late 2007, 77% of Americans lack confidence in their leaders
- According to Warwick Business School in the UK, outsourcing contracts that are managed based on trust rather than on stringent Service Level Agreements and penalties are more likely to lead to Trust Dividends for both parties—as much as 40% of the total value of a contract
- A 2002 study by Watson Wyatt showed that total return to shareholders in high-trust organizations is almost three times higher than the return in low-trust organizations
- With regard to trust, Gallup’s research shows that 96% of engaged employees, but only 46% of disengaged employees, trust management. Without getting into a chicken or the egg discussion, clearly trust has an impact on employee engagement which has an impact on their on the job performance
Honesty & Integrity..... and of course values
I cannot overstate how important the content of this article is. The impact of leading with honesty and integrity against clearly defined values is huge to employees, customers and suppliers. It impacts every aspect of your business and will directly impact the long term viability of your company.
Replacing employees that quit because they don't trust you costs 2-3 times the annual salary of an employee. How would a client react if they were convinced you lead with honesty and integrity with everything you did? How likely are they to continue shopping around or nickle and diming you.
Amazon.ca is a good example of a company lead by honesty and integrity. In Canada, their pricing isn't always the most competitive but often times I shop there anyway because I know that if I experience any issues, I will be taken care of quickly and fairly. Trust, a novel concept.