Here is a quick and easy way to measure the caliber of any leader.
Lack of Fear
Fear is the enemy of trust, and trust is what you must foster in order to be a great leader. My favorite quote on this connection is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”
In any group, if the leader creates an environment where there is very low fear, the trust will grow to a high level. It is as reliable and unstoppable as the mold on last week’s bread.
Good leaders create an environment where there is less fear. That does not mean there is never any fear within the organization.
Sometimes scary stuff is needed in order for the organization to survive. But in those times of uncertainty, great leaders redouble their communication activities to keep people aware of what is going on.
In draconian times, it is the lack of solid reliable information that causes the most fear. When leaders are as transparent as possible, it leads to open communication. This practice means lower fear, and higher trust, even when things are not pleasant.
Nature hates a vacuum. If you have a bare spot in your lawn, nature will quickly fill it in with something, usually weeds. If you take a bucket of water out of a pond, nature will fill in the “hole” immediately. When you open a can of coffee, you hear the rush of air coming in to replace the vacuum.
So it is with people, if there is a void of information, people will find something to fill in the void – usually “weeds.”
That is why rumors attenuate in a culture of high trust. There is no fuel to keep the fires of gossip going. Leaders keep people informed of what is going on all the time. This transparency helps people vent their fears and focus on the tasks at hand, even if they are involved with unpleasant things.
Eliminating fear is much more than just sharing information openly. Most fear in organizations comes from the feeling that it is not safe to voice a concern, especially if it is about something the leader wants to do.
There is ample evidence in most organizations that people who voice their concerns about what the leader is doing get punished in numerous ways. They learn to hold their observations inside rather than risk getting clobbered.
Trust cannot grow when people are fearful, so in most organizations, it is the lack of ability to be candid with the leader that hampers the growth of trust.
Contrast this pattern with one where the leader is enlightened to welcome and REWARD people for their candor, even if it is contrary to what the leader thinks is right at the moment. In that kind of culture, trust grows because fear is extinguished.
If you see an organization where people know it is safe to express their opinions (in an appropriate way and time) it is the result of a great leader at work. If you see an organization where people are afraid to speak their truth, the leader of that organization is weak and has a potential to change and grow into a stronger leader.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 585-392-7763.