Leaders Win Trust When They Show a Bit of Humanity

Leaders Win Trust
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Tim Leberecht for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Trust in business leadership is at historic lows, according to surveys by Edelman and the World Economic Forum. One reason might be what INSEAD professors Gianpiero and Jennifer Petriglieri call the “dehumanization of leadership”— that is, our tendency to think of leaders as either instrumental (pursuing a particular business goal) or heroic (pursuing a unique vision). In short, we want super-machines or super-humans, or both, at the top of our organizations, and many CEOs strive to meet those expectations. They’ve been trained to hide vulnerabilities, to plan and stay the course, to minimize risk, and to be consistent, level-headed, and in complete control at all times. Inevitably, however, they fall short.

It’s therefore time for a different approach — one that allows leaders to fully acknowledge their humanity, thereby winning both the trust and respect of followers. This may seem like conventional wisdom, but it’s still not easy for leaders to do. Here [is the first of] three specific suggestions:

Get emotional. The marriage researcher John M. Gottman has long contended that small moments of attachment and intimacy are vital to a healthy relationship. This is true in business, too. More than purpose or perks, employees value heartfelt moments of connection that meet their needs as social beings. I’ve forgotten many interactions with former bosses, but I will always remember the time that one of them began to cry in my presence during a time of immense investor pressure. That moment of vulnerability cemented my loyalty to him. Yes, you’re probably comfortable showing happiness or excitement. But, when it’s called for, you can also show disappointment, worry, and anger.

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We might think we want our leaders to be machines or heroes. But it’s impossible to trust a person who is always rational, serious, and in control. If you’re a boss, have the courage to present yourself as a more complex being: as a sinner, not a saint; a fragile identity, not a robust platform; a lively question-mark, not a dead-certain exclamation point.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

LeberechtTim Leberecht is the author of The Business Romantic: Give Everything, Quantify Nothing, and Create Something Greater Than Yourself (Harper Business, 2015) and the chief marketing officer of architecture and design firm NBBJ. He also serves on the Values Council of the World Economic Forum.

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