The concept of great leaders has changed since I started developing leaders 20 years ago, then the emphasis was on management development rather than developing leaders, it was very functional, the process managers went through in order to achieve the outcomes. ‘Doing the right thing’, implementing the policies and procedures, the behavioural side of leadership was often deemed ‘pink and fluffy’.

We now need something different in our leaders. We need a change in perspective about what a leader’s role is and who you need to be to lead. Leaders in businesses provide the competitive advantage.

The challenges facing organisations is globalisation increased competition and change, this is when strong leadership becomes even more important for businesses. Brilliant leadership can be the difference between outstanding organisational performance and disappointing failure. Great leaders steer organisations to success, inspire and motivate followers, and provide a moral compass for employees to set direction. They spearhead change, drive innovation, and communicate a compelling vision for the future (ILM Report: Creating Future Leaders, 2010).

On top of that, in a world where change is constant, leaders need to be able to help people through the pain of change. And people won’t go through that pain unless they trust the people taking them there. Few leaders would disagree that trust is an essential ingredient for sustainable organisational success. Trust helps organisations to run smoothly, increasing positivity and co-operation, improving processes and driving individual and team performance. Trust underpins effective working relationships. The more someone trusts a colleague, manager or team member, the greater the likelihood they will co-operate, share information and work effectively together. However according to a CIPD (2013) report trust between employees and senior managers is more likely to be weak (34%) than strong (29%).

Given the current levels of distrust in leaders, being someone who can develop authentic human connections with people, someone who is trusted and respected, someone who is a fully rounded person is increasingly important.

If a man’s associates find him guilty of being phony, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose.

— Dwight D. Eisenhower

The literature tells us that trustworthiness is based on four characteristics: ability, benevolence, integrity and predictability (Mayer et al 1995, Dietz and Den Hartog 2006). These four characteristics form the foundational pillars of trust (Fig.1):

  1. Ability describes perceptions of leadership competence in doing their job or fulfilling their role.
  2. Benevolence describes a concern for others beyond leaders’ own needs and showing levels of care and compassion.
  3. Integrity defines how trustworthiness is linked to being seen as someone who adheres to principles of fairness and honesty while avoiding hypocrisy.
  4. Predictability emphasises how leadership behaviour has to be consistent or regular over time. (CIPD Report 2014, Cultivating trustworthy leaders)

Drivers of trustworthiness

In my experience of working with businesses in the development of leaders and identifying the behaviours that great leaders have within the organisation, on the whole employees want a fairly simple and common sense style of leadership to engender and create a climate of trust. Employees talk about ‘approachable’, ‘competent’ and ‘consistent leaders’ who ‘act with honesty and integrity’ and ‘lead by example’.

We want to see that our leader is a real person, authentic, shares the same values and beliefs as us, which means that leaders need to be honest, transparent and open themselves up to others. This requires leaders to abandon their ego to show empathy, consider others first and set out to improve other’s lives rather than their own. It is a selfless role.

Leaders strengthen credibility by demonstrating that they are not in it for themselves; instead, they have the interests of the institution, department, or team and its constituents at heart. Being a servant may not be what many leaders had in mind when they choose to take responsibility for the vision and direction of their organization or team, but serving others is the most glorious and rewarding of all leadership tasks.

— James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Only those who are driven by something bigger – a sense of purpose greater than their own ego – will be able to truly call themselves leaders in the 21st century.

At FP Training we specialise in developing the behaviours that make leaders great.