“I’m terrified we’re going to get significantly more customers!” he blurted out at the team meeting, visibly relieved to get the words off his chest.
Despite voicing the politically incorrect fear—what if we’re actually successful?—his colleagues rallied around him, offering support and seeking to understand, rather than calling him crazy. While proud of his team’s response, my client was also nervous. Some were clearly scared, and might resist growing, and how might that impact his organization.
Committed to fostering a culture based on trust and alignment of actions with key values, my client reached out wanting to know if it was inevitable, that as the business grew, trust would be lost. An underlying belief fueling his fear, that larger, more successful companies govern by fear, designing processes to prevent abuse by employees whom they distrust.
What Does Being Real And Brave Look Like In The Boardroom?
Great leaders are open, honest and direct with themselves first. They engage in a process of self-inquiry to cut through their own self-delusion, which includes blaming others and taking little responsibility. Such introspective work can be difficult and painful, as it involves recognizing they’re not innocent, and most leaders aren’t willing to acknowledge their own complicity in creating difficult relationships and situations. Importantly, great leaders also bravely step up and go first, naming the situation and putting words to it, just like the employee did, even though he was terrified to tell his colleagues that he was terrified.Knowing it in their bodies, feeling it in their stomachs, great leaders do the right thing and take bold action. Trusting their gut instinct is an expression of being authentic and true to themselves, which has the potential to shift difficult relationships and situations.
Given the values my client embodies and models, the employee was comfortable enough to speak up and name the counterintuitive fear—what if we’re actually successful? A real and natural emotional reaction, as so many people are just as afraid of success as they are of failure. As a result of the company’s psychologically safe culture, the team responded by rallying around their colleague, because he spoke up courageously, voicing his fear clearly and directly. They sought to listen and understand with open-hearts, asking questions like—Why do you feel this way? What can we do about it? Importantly, authentic leadership also creates the conditions for the effective manifestation of operational goals. By surfacing and openly discussing the issue, my client could speak to the appropriate organizational processes involved, while also directly acknowledging the feeling of fear.
In organizations where employees don’t feel safe and secure to name and voice their fears and concerns, the issues are driven underground, where they fester and become unconscious sabotaging forces.
When you lead by being honest with yourself first, through self-inquiry, and are also brave enough to go first, you too can create a safe, supportive culture where employees thrive. Where their whole, and therefore best selves get to show up to work every day. You may be surprised to discover that your process of self-inquiry comes with the added benefits of increased confidence, trust, ease, and wisdom. You’ll find yourself navigating challenging conversations and personalities by leaning in with a calm and self-assured energy, despite any fear and difficulty you may be feeling.
Ask Yourself These Questions About Trust:
What if, it’s not about asking yourself how you can be more like Jobs was, or Bezos is, but about looking within and discovering who you are? Instead, asking yourself—What are my values? What kind of CEO do I want to be? What kind of leader do I want to be? What kind of company do I want to build? With a clear sense of your guiding principles, and a well-calibrated, internal compass, you’re better able to tune out the noise and opinions of others. You’re able to push yourself, learn more, and embrace discomfort to achieve your purpose and mission.
What if, your employees felt safe to voice their opinions without judgement or recourse? Felt comfortable to share their fears and concerns without ridicule? Felt secure to take risks and knew, even when they make a mistake, it won’t be held against them? The supportive culture encouraging more grounded, open-hearted, and open-minded conversations, and team members doing the “right” thing, because they care about each other, and the company’s mission. Research shows that teams with psychologically safe environments have employees who are less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately, who are more productive and successful.
What if, it’s neither about losing trust, nor fostering more of it? Trust isn’t something we actively create, it’s a byproduct of the values that we embody and model, like being real, bravely leaning into conversations and situations we’re afraid of, as well as excited about, speaking directly and clearly, even when we’re scared.
What if, the real question is how can you continue to be real and authentic, successfully nurturing critical leadership values, even as your company grows?
More Effective And Resilient Leadership
Trust is the consequence of being in alignment, where our inner and outer life match.
Like my client found, if you stay vigilant, not about maintaining trust, but about being real and brave, you will by default create a trusting and trustworthy culture.
By holding himself first, connected with his inner core, and then holding each employee accountable to the same standard, he will successfully maintain trust, even as they grow. If he has that conversation with his team, and co-holds that within the organization, he will create the conditions where not just his senior team, but all employees, embody the same critical leadership values, like being real and going first, even when scary and difficult.
When great leaders have the audacity to be themselves and tune into their inner core, they create an environment where they’re allowed to be themselves–authentic, transparent, clear, consistent, trusting and trustworthy–and inadvertently, create the conditions for others within the organization to be themselves too. Unveiling their true selves not only leads to more confident leadership, but also results in better, happier, more resilient employees. And that can fuel a pivotal shift in any company or career.
Stay true to yourself, speak directly, honestly, and encourage transparency. In doing so, you’ll create a safe, supportive container where great work can be done, and importantly, where difficult conversations can be had, bad news shared and taken in, and negative feedback delivered.
If you’re interested in identifying and implementing the best ways for you to show up and engage at work and at home, while also enhancing your personal leadership style, shoot me an email and we can talk.