By Steve Watkins
You don’t have to have all the answers to be an effective leader. Be authentic to gain trust.
Leadership isn’t about being the person who has all the answers. Quite the opposite. There’s nothing wrong with asking for input, seeking help and admitting you don’t know it all. It pays to show you’re vulnerable.
“A leader who acts like he has all the answers isn’t approachable,” said Steve Arneson, who runs his own Boulder, Colo.-based executive coaching and leadership consulting firm. “But if you’re open-minded and not afraid to ask for help, then people know they have the opportunity to weigh in.”
Here’s how to build that environment.
Make sure your people are involved in key decisions. Seek help, input and feedback. Say you’re looking at both sides of an issue and want to hear what they think.
“You have to get past, ‘I have all the answers,'” Arneson said.
Set aside ego.
Confidence is vital for a leader. But that doesn’t mean you know everything. Arneson said the most confident leaders are also often the most likely to show they’re vulnerable. They’re not afraid to open up, even about their faults.
The power inside people can only truly be unleashed if they bring everything they have to their role, says Barry Kaplan, a partner in New York-area executive coaching firm Shift 180. Openness plays a big role.
“That includes talking about things that might be dangerous or risky,” Kaplan, co-author of “The Power of Vulnerability,” told IBD.
Build an open and trusting environment by first talking about it. When Kaplan works with companies, he often has people write down something they haven’t shared before but that’s important to the business. It might be about saving money or why one person hasn’t been fired. Then talk about that point in a forum where there is no fear of retribution.
“There’s a lot of pent-up truth that’s ready to be unleashed,” Kaplan said. “There’s courage involved in being vulnerable and speaking my truth. But if I’m authentic it makes me feel good about myself.”
Be consistent in how you act and treat people. And stick to your values while doing that.
“That produces a track record of behavior that people can bank on,” Arneson said. “Then when they walk in on Monday morning, they know who they’re getting.”
Spread the word.
Build authenticity into your group’s culture by displaying it yourself, so others see it starts at the top. Talk about it every chance you get: in meetings, through a CEO blog and at employee celebrations.
“The cool thing about authenticity is you don’t have to think about it,” Arneson said. “It just comes naturally.”
If you’re open about your weaknesses, you’ll earn trust among your team.
“Then you’ll create a powerful team because people will have each other’s back,” Kaplan said.
Take the lead.
If the company chief doesn’t show vulnerability and authenticity, others won’t either. But if she does, it’ll spread fast.
Kaplan once worked with the leader of an auto parts company who was at a crossroads about whether to shut the doors or keep investing. The boss spoke openly to his people about his dilemma. They opened up about their fears and their staunch belief the company could recover from its slump. The boss decided to invest more in the company.
“His people believed more in him because he was willing to say, ‘I don’t know,'” Kaplan said. “He couldn’t have been more real. And they ended up having their best year ever.”
Once you open up to the point that you build trust, the benefits pour in.
“Then you have an environment that’s going to lead to improved performance,” Kaplan said. “One new idea leads to creativity and innovation, or you can cut your losses earlier if your company was going to do something that doesn’t work.”
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