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This month's topic: Be a Person

March 8, 2005      
Topics of Trust and Leadership, from the authors of The Trusted Leader



The authors of The Trusted Leader

We conclude our series of articles for managers “on the way in” with a discussion of being human.

As long as it’s genuine, a little warmth and humility can go a long way. A lot goes even farther.

Next month starts our series of articles on the responsibilities of trusted leaders.

If you get the Harvard Business Review, you may have seen a mention of Rob's upcoming new book with Regina Maruca, The Leadership Legacy, which will be published by HBR later this year. We'll tell you more about the new book in later issues.


The Trusted Leader

Previous Issues:

Six Communications Mistakes New Managers Make

Find Yourself a Guide

Establish Trust by Listening and Doing Your Homework


Next month's issue: Responsibilities of the Trusted Leader

-Rob and Anne-


Be a person, for heaven's sake. When you're in the early stages of building trust, people are trying to figure you out. How best to work with you. What you're trying to accomplish. What's important to you, both short and long-term.

There's enough mystery about you to these people, so giving them a greater sense of who you are can only help. Let people see that you are a real person, with something more to you than bland corporate art on the walls of your office.

You don't have to distribute your spiritual autobiography to the entire organization, but you can let them pick up a sense of who you are. You can refer to your errors on the tennis court, or family mishaps, or children's foibles, or something about your Springer Spaniels and what you have learned from them. These will give a human connection to you (not just from you!) with the people and the organization whose trust you now have to gain, whether you work with them directly or not.

It will be those positive little human nuances that will help you, the same way that other, less positive little human nuances can hurt (like insisting on a private corner office with a window when other colleagues, or even your predecessor, did not have one).

That last parenthesis, by the way, was a thinly-veiled plea for another dimension of being a person to find its way to the fore. That dimension is humility. We talked about this in Chapter 3 of The Trusted Leader - on the characteristics and competencies of trusted leaders.

Humility on the way in is so, so important, simply because the reverse trait, arrogance, is so, so damaging to the building of trust inside. No one, repeat, no one, will make your road to trust an easy one if they perceive even a tincture of arrogance.

This is not an advisory to be falsely humble. We all know how that fake modesty stuff is like fingernails on a blackboard. It's just a reminder (for all of us) to keep egos in check as we start out.

Don't worry. People will find out how good you are. It's what got you to your new role the first place. That, and being a person, for heaven's sake.

Those are the operating principles from the country of New-Ness. They have validity for most other countries as well, whether things are politically stable, or whether, as we shall explore next, we go to places in times of change.

For this month’s article we asked some professionals about their experiences with managers who have effectively built trust “on the way in.” Faith Senie, a senior software engineering manager, told us the following:

“At my previous job, I was reorganized into a new group with a new manager who had just recently come up from the ranks of us software engineers. He didn't impress me as the sort that would make a good manager, so I wasn't happy about the reorganization.

But the gentleman spent a lot of time reading management texts and taking management classes, and clearly showed that he cared enough about the position to improve his abilities. He also asked a lot of questions and told us to be sure to point out when we thought he wasn't doing things right. And when we did so, he did not lash out -- he used the opportunity as a good learning experience. He eventually turned out to be one of the better managers I've had in my career.

I tried to do the same when I myself became a manager four years ago.
Accepting that sort of criticism from former peers is hard! But I made it clear that I wasn't going to learn to fix things if I didn't know they were broken. And my team was not shy about telling me when I was screwing up! I would not be where I am today without their wonderful help...”

Have you ever noticed a new manager doing a great job establishing trust? Let us know.

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