I was recently at a client event and the conversation came around to the subject of leadership trust. Actually, the conversation focused on one individual that every member of the group considered to be an outstanding leader. This was a perfect opportunity for me to find out exactly why this individual was so well respected. The answer was quick and easy: TRUST.
Every person in the group commented on how much they trusted this leader to have their best interest at heart, treat them fairly and respectfully, and represent the best interest of the organization at the same time. Wow! That’s quite a balancing act. How could they all be so confident that this is how he would perform?
Once again, the answer was quick and easy. They had all worked with this leader at some of the most difficult times for the organization, and it was his behavior and performance at those times that ensured how he would perform in the good times.
This conversation took me back to my years as a professional boat transporter. I spent over a decade moving boats around the Caribbean. A boat owner from Tampa might want his yacht waiting for him in Puerto Rico. I would make sure his boat was there safe and sound when he arrived.
Over the years I have set out on countless long distance boat trips. Never once did I leave my home port expecting to run into bad weather and rough seas. Actually, we would go to great lengths to schedule and plan to avoid bad weather. However, due to the length of the trip, we would sometimes encounter bad weather, regardless of our planning and preparation. Remember, I said “sometimes”, not “usually.” But it was these “sometimes” experiences that distinguished the service that we provided from that of competing delivery services. We had distinguished ourselves by how we had performed during the storms. Our clients (read: stakeholders) knew exactly how we would prepare, and how we would perform if the hard times hit. The result was TRUST. Our clients (stakeholders) knew that they could trust us, in the good weather, and in the not so good.
Let me be clear. I know of very few instances of a captain losing a boat in stormy weather. The measure of the skill of the captain is rarely whether the vessel is lost. The measure of skill is the overall condition of the vessel and the crew after the storm passes. It is not based on survival or not. It is based on the level of loss and cost.
Effective leadership always requires wisdom and skill. But effective leadership during the “rough seas” requires a much higher level of communication, focus, and decision-making.
If I am leaving port with someone at the helm, I want to TRUST that this captain (leader) has done everything possible to avoid the rough seas, and to prepare for their eventuality. But I also want to TRUST that if the weather does take a turn for the worse, that I can TRUST that this captain has the skills to bring us safely through the storm, while having protected the best interest of both the crew and the vessel.