Leadership of organisations is not for the faint hearted. It can be a difficult and lonely place at times. This is particularly so if the leader does not have a supportive team. However, the lack of a supportive team is probably as good an indicator as any, that leadership skills are lacking.
It is not enough for leaders to say, ?Follow me, I know the way?. They must be able to convince their teams by their actions, not just their words, that they do indeed know the way. That is not to say that leaders need to have their teams always accepting what they are advocating is right. What they must have is the trust of their teams. Trust is a central element of leadership. A study by the Hay Group found there is a clear link between employee satisfaction and the trust held by the top leadership. In examining over 75 key components of employee satisfaction it found that trust and confidence in the leadership of an organisation was the single most reliable predictor of employee satisfaction in an organization. Trust can be characterized three ways.
The first is a trust based on fear of reprisal. The strength of this kind of trust is when the trust is broken and the consequence is clear, known and imposed. Examples of this kind of trust include the new manager and the employee where the trust comes through the authority of the position. Another example is in the form of contracts with legal consequences. This is the most fragile kind of trust.
Knowledge based trust relies on a history of interaction, relying on information rather than deterrence. Penalties, legal consequences and contracts are replaced by predictable behaviours as the basis of trust. If the behaviour becomes inconsistent, trust is not necessarily broken. When explanations for changes in behaviour can be explained trust is usually maintained.
The third and most enduring trust is based on an emotional connection between the parties. Trust exists because the parties understand each others needs, wants and intentions. Either party can in effect, act as an agent for the other. At this level of trust, controls are minimal.
Leadership styles can be categorised in innumerable ways. A useful category for demonstrating how different levels of trust interact with leadership style is to consider leadership as authoritarian, participative or delegative.
An authoritarian style of leader tells their subordinates what they want done and how they want it done, without getting the advice of their subordinate. To be able to carry off this style over long periods of time and maintain trust, leaders need to have trust built from their demonstrated superior knowledge of the organisation’s business. Some people seem to think that this style also includes yelling, using demeaning language, and leading by threats and abuse of power. This is not the authoritarian style…it is an abusive, unprofessional style of leadership.
A participative style involves the leader including one or more subordinates in the decision making process, determining what to do and how to do it. However, the leader maintains the final decision- making authority. This style relies heavily on a trust built on knowledge of the predictability of what individuals will do and uses checkpoints to verify that the predictable action has occurred.
A delegative style allows the employees to make the decision. However, the leader is still responsible for the decisions that are made. This is used when employees are able to analyse the situation and determine what needs to be done and how to do it. This style relies almost completely on the trust that comes from an emotional connection.
Leaders demonstrate too often, however, their lack of understanding of the interrelationship between their leadership style and the trust they need to develop. New managers come to an organisation, the business of which they do not understand, and practice an authoritarian style with experienced subordinates. They lose the trust of their position quickly.
Experienced managers with detailed and insightful knowledge of an organisation’s business, attempt to practice a delegative style with an inexperienced or underperforming team, when a participative or even authoritarian style would have been better. Experienced leaders practice the one leadership style with subordinates with different levels of experience and maturity. They use, say, a participative style with a university graduate new into the organisation. If the subordinate fails the task in terms of quality or time, the question of, ?Who is at fault?? should find an answer – ?The leader?, who should have used an authoritarian style.
Leadership requires trust. Trust can come from position, but is more enduring when it comes from predictability and even more enduring when it comes from respect between the leader and the subordinate. Leaders of organisations who do not engender respect and give respect will find leadership a very lonely place.