For what seems like since time immemorial, I’ve been telling leaders and leaders-in-training that leadership is a two-part choice.
First, your conscious decision not just to be a PR, marketing, or communications practitioner or manager but to lead people: human beings, with all the baggage that comes with it. The most challenging job in the world. And the most fulfilling.
And yes, you have a choice if you want to jump from manager to leader.
Second, your teams, peers, and stakeholders’ decision to follow you. Or not.
Whether you realize it or not, they have that choice. They can come to the office every day (even if that office is via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.) They can do the work. They can check items off the to-do list. But that’s not following you.
What I’ve described above is rather transactional, isn’t it? I believe that effective leadership can be transformative for the follower, for the organization, and for the leader.
And please note: this isn’t just about leading your team. If you’re on the corporate side and leading an agency partner, this article is also for you!
To quote one of my favorite lyricists, Oscar Hammerstein II, “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.”
And it starts with trust.
Trust is the core of any relationship, in life, in business, and in leadership. Without trust, it’s not a relationship; it’s just doing the work. (Please see the point above about “transactional.”) And that, my friends, isn’t enough to lead.
I’m not alone in this view. According to Richard Jones, VP, State Government Affairs, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, and with whom I worked decades ago at Ogilvy & Mather PR, “At the top of the list (of leadership attributes) is trust. Effective leaders cultivate a high degree of trustworthiness. They do this by behaving ethically and by being open, honest and direct in interpersonal dealings… this gives their followers confidence their leader is someone on whom they can depend.”
Remember, trust isn’t granted because of your title, because your name is on the door, or where you sit on the company organization chart: Just like making money when it comes to trust, you must earn it!
(In light of where Smith Barney ended up, that ad didn’t age well!)
Your team members must have the confidence that you have their backs to choose to follow you. Team members choose to follow leaders whom they trust. It’s as simple and challenging as that.
To build that trust, it’s about standing by your people, no matter what. As my dear friend, Michelle Egan, APR, Fellow, PRSA, 2023 Chair of PRSA, points out, “Stand by the people you lead. When I ask someone to take on challenges or make decisions… they will make mistakes, and I will stand by them. Their mistakes are my mistakes, too.”
Do you genuinely own your followers’ mistakes? Do you stand by them? Imagine the effect on your relationship with your team members and their desire to follow you if you did.
A valuable thought to explore is, “Do I have anyone on my team who doesn’t trust me?”
If you do, what must you do to increase that trust? And are you willing to take those steps?
As I’ve stated frequently, mindset and energy are reciprocal, even contagious. So, regarding that person who doesn’t trust you, it’d be worth exploring if you trust them fully. If you don’t, what must they do to increase that trust? And are you, as a leader, willing to have a courageous conversation with that person around this?
If trust is the first, most important step in becoming an effective leader, a very close next step is always treating your team members, your peers, and, yes, your boss, with respect.
The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, was so right: R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
And she wasn’t just right about the role of respect in romantic relationships. It’s core to building business relationships and to having followers.
A Georgetown University study of 20,000 employees globally found that being treated with respect by their superiors was rated as the most crucial factor, even above being recognized, appreciated, and offered growth opportunities.
Why is this so vital to your followers?
Some theorize that we’re acutely aware of what we don’t get. So, if you’re in an organization where you get lots of respect (and I hope that’s the case!), you may not be aware that your team members don’t feel respected.
Think about that: as a leader, you may not be giving your employees what they want most. Hmm.
If you suspect your team members aren’t following you with the level of engagement and loyalty you desire, might it be because they don’t feel they’re getting big doses of respect from you consistently?
If that’s the case, what might that be doing to their engagement and loyalty to you and the organization? And if you’re not happy with your answer, in this era of employee disengagement, how can you afford not to do something about this?
Where Trust and Respect Meet
Michael Sneed, former EVP, global corporate affairs and chief communications officer, Johnson & Johnson, and a leader I respect, captures the intersection of trust and respect perfectly, “Effective leaders need to build from a position of trust and respect. You need to trust and respect others and, in turn, work to earn theirs over time.”
For me, they capture one of the main posts of this article: that for others to choose to follow you, whether your teams, your peers, your boss, or your agency, you must create an environment of trust, and you must consistently communicate respect.
And you can’t assume you’ve got either. They must be earned.
What actions will you take today to earn their trust and respect?