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  • Steps to Master Habits of Trusted Leadership

    Gregg Lederman, Steps to Master Habits of Trusted Leadership

    A few months back I wrote an article about the essential habits of trusted leaders—a few managerial skills to help create an environment for employees to become more engaged and productive, leading to a better customer experience.

    Shortly after the article was published, I was speaking with a friend about it and he asked me what it really means to be a trusted leader at work. So I shared with him the informal research study I have been conducting over the last few years when delivering keynotes to large groups of leaders. It goes like this:

    (Audience: leaders and managers of various levels within same company)

    Me: Show of hands … how many of you are in the top 50 percent of the most trusted and effective leaders within this company?

    Audience: An awkward pause. Then the hands begin to go up … lots of hands.

    Me: It looks as though about 90 percent or more of you have your hands up.

    Audience: Quickly reflect, then some start to laugh slightly and look around.

    Me: So, at least 90 percent of you are in the top 50 percent of the most effective and trusted leaders?

    Audience: More laughter.

    Each time I did this study, I got the same results. What happened with each audience is both statistically insane, yet psychologically real. We tend to assume we are better leaders than we are. As humans, our overconfidence is not uncommon. In fact, studies show that 90 percent of us believe we are above average drivers. 

    In addition, I expanded my research efforts by asking audiences to think about a leader who has earned their trust and to answer the question, “What is it that the leader does to earn your trust?” Week after week, month after month, I engaged leaders and managers in this thoughtful exercise and sought out volunteers to share their thoughts. I documented those thoughts so I could continue learning about what it takes to be a trusted leader.

    What I found was quite interesting. It appears that being a trusted leader involves quite the balancing act between being both performance-focused and attentive to the humanity side of work. Here are the top attributes and themes I gathered.


    •  Set clear direction and goals
    •  Implement successfully
    •  Make decisions
    •  Be assertive, but not pushy or aggressive
    •  Be competent
    •  Take charge


    •  Be even-keeled: balanced and consistent
    •  Ask good questions
    •  Listen
    •  Help solve problems
    •  Take an interest in people’s lives
    •  Protect people (“I got your back”)
    •  Make time for one-on-ones
    •  Focus on small wins
    •  Give credit to others

    It became obvious from the many collaborations that leaders who are too focused on performance are not optimally trusted. They can be seen as go-getters, mostly driven by results. Yes, you can count on performance-driven leaders to get the job done, but at what cost? These leaders can be seen as backstabbers who are only out for their own self-interest, achieving success at the expense of people.

    On the other hand, leaders who focus too heavily on humanity can be counted on to build relationships, show compassion, and be there for people, yet are also not as trusted as they could be. Often, these leaders are seen as incompetent because they’re not willing or able to hold others accountable for results. However, the attributes shared for this group clearly show they understand that success is achieved with people, not at the expense of people.

    The saying “life is a balancing act” rings true for being an effective and trusted leader just as it does for any other area of your life. Trust is earned, not awarded. So, are you as much of a trusted leader as you could be? Are you one of the 90 percent who think they are trusted leaders? Or are you one of the 50 percent who actually are?

    If you want to be more trusted at work, then begin building the essential habits to help you prioritize and balance a focus on both performance and humanity. There are four steps to building and sustaining an essential habit.

    1. Change your mind. To create a habit, you must decide that change is necessary and possible. For most, it requires a mindset shift. You must care enough to want to change your behaviors and have the confidence that you can.

    2. Create a routine. For instance, if you want to create the habit of sharing the impact employee efforts have on business results, establish a routine to review those results along with critical business data, as well as schedule time with employees to share and discuss.

    3. Demonstrate willpower. Leaders face stress, busyness, successes and challenges, all of which are obstacles to maintaining willpower. In order to make a habit stick, you must recognize situations where you may lose the willpower to stick to your routine and keep your mind on target with a plan for how to deal with those instances. Over time, your routine will become second nature.

    4. Feed the habit. Leaders must pay attention to the personal and business successes. These successes enable leaders to keep the right mindset and stick to the routine. Celebrate small wins.

    Keep in mind: You cannot master leadership. Even if you are doing well as a leader, there is always room for improvement. You can only strive to get better over time. Using the four steps listed above to master a few essential habits will help you become a more effective and trusted leader.

    Gregg Lederman, CEO of Brand Integrity, is a professional speaker on the customer experience, leadership and culture change. He is an adjunct professor at University of Rochester’s Simon Business School and the author of the New York Times best-selling book “Engaged!: Outbehave Your Competition to Create Customers for Life.” Read more about Gregg Here

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