Leaders need to display four personal qualities to build high levels of trust among the people around them. They need to be honorable, show enthusiasm and passion for what they do, display a well-rounded sense of humor, and stay humble and curious. In addition, they need to become master communicators and be adept at dealing with the complex, sometimes paradoxical, personal issues that leaders face. When blended together, these are the qualities that build trust.
When Franklin Roosevelt was running for president in 1932, a reporter asked him what he thought the job entailed. “The presidency is not merely an administrative office,” he replied. “It is preeminently a place of moral leadership. All our great presidents were leaders of thought in times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified.”
Roosevelt provided thought leadership to the nation. But he also provided something else: he displayed four personal qualities that are necessary to build trust. In Chapter 4, I focus on those personal qualities. Like professional practices, these personal qualities can be learned. They may not be easy. But they are within everyone’s reach. Warren Bennis has said:
“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born. In fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”
To lead successfully, you need to have certain personal qualities—heart, honor, humility, and humor. I call these the 4 Hs.
Honorable leaders live up to their commitments. They make no promise that they can’t keep. Their word is their bond. They follow a code of reciprocity that enables other people to trust them—and to want to follow them. In the words of Rushworth Kidder, founder of the Institute of Global Ethics, it’s “adherence to the unenforceable.” Taking responsibility, giving credit where credit is due, behaving morally and ethically—these are the habits of the honorable person.
One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain.
“Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.”
Leading from the heart cannot be feigned or coached. Leading from the heart means suffering grave disappointments and experiencing the metaphoric deaths all leaders must go through. What distinguishes successful leaders is their ability to sustain passion through adversity.
What’s the most important attribute people look for in their managers/leaders? A study of most admired CEOs cited humility as the number- one—willingness to accept and admit their flaws.
People love leaders who display a sense of humor. When you poke fun at yourself, our cheater meters swing toward “trust.” If love is the universal language, then humor is the universal trust builder.
Becoming a Master Communicator
The word communication literally means “to make common.” At its most basic level, it means letting your needs be known. At its highest level, communication means building strong, trusting relationships with people whose perspectives are very different from your own. The educator and psychotherapist Virginia Satir wrote,
“Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships he makes with others and what happens to him in the world.”
Much of my work in developing leaders and leading organizations focuses on communication. Since publishing Straight Talk in 1998, I’ve continued to develop my understanding that people can develop four different levels—or “powers”—of communication.
The Four Paradoxes of Leadership
“It is only the great thinker who is exposed to what I call paradoxes, which are nothing else than grand thoughts in embryo.” —Søren Kierkegaard
Change is difficult enough. But for people in leadership roles, change can be made even more difficult because the way forward is never clear. Everywhere you look there are difficult, sometimes paradoxical, situations. Here are four examples that you may have to grapple with. How you grapple with them will help define your success as a leader.
The Ambition Balance
True leaders are ambitious—but their ambitions are in service to something greater than themselves.
The Assumption Trap
Leaders need to make tough decisions—and yet almost always those decisions are based on a set of assumptions.
To be a leader in an era of increasing globalization and diversity, you need to open yourself to understanding different worldviews.
The Succession Paradox
The question isn’t whether you have a succession plan. It’s how capable you are in surrounding yourself with people truly capable of taking your place and running the show. And therein lies the paradox.
To lead successfully, you need to have certain personal qualities—heart, honor, humility, and humor. I call these the 4 Hs. You also need to learn how to be a master communicator, effectively using all four powers to control your intention and your attention, show emotional intelligence, and respond to people from within their own frame of reference or “style.”
We also discussed why effective leaders need to be comfortable with paradox: leaders are chosen based on the congruence between the behaviors they manifest and the values that pertain in their culture. But what does this mean in a global organization? Ideas and notions about leadership can vary dramatically depending on where you are located—from country to country, office to office—even within the same building. Effective leaders know that while the organization operates in many cultures and worldviews, the organization has its own set of core values. They make a priority of ensuring that the core values of that culture are understood by every employee and customer.
When you put all these qualities together, you get one word: “integrity.” The word literally means “to be whole, unimpaired.” It conveys the notion of being trustworthy. It also implies the ability to think and act in ways that may be counter to the prevailing winds, but in ways that flow out of, in Roosevelt’s words, “a place of moral leadership.”