In the latest in our Brexit blogs series, programme director Doug Parkin considers the ART of leadership – authenticity, responsibility and trust.
Let’s turn the whole leadership thing on its head and ask, instead, the question “what do followers need and expect?” What do they need to follow willingly and with energy and commitment, and what do they expect from leaders in terms of behaviour, communication and relationship? And before we become too fixated on polarised notions of leaders and followers, it is important to acknowledge that great followers are as important as great leaders. Most of us occupy both roles in our lives at different moments and in different ways, and there is often a grey line between the two as leadership is shared and followers become empowered.
Starting from perhaps quite a low base, following the recent EU referendum and Brexit decision, trust in public/political leadership has taken quite a battering and a real appetite seems to be emerging for more authentic, genuine and sympathetically attuned or connected leaders. These are themes consistently engaged with on Leadership Foundation programmes.
Authenticity – a little thing called integrity
There is a courage that sits at the heart of authentic leadership that is about showing who you really are through “being” who you really are: the big difference, for example, between saying you have integrity and showing you have integrity. Authentic leaders do not lead from behind a mask. James Kouzes and Barry Posner had, at the core of their enquiry into leadership, the question “what do you most look for and admire in a leader, someone whose direction you would willingly follow?” The leadership quality that was ranked consistently top over more than 20 years by a very large set of contributors across six continents was “honest”. Their work shows this to be “the single most important ingredient in the leader-constituent relationship” and that “regardless of what leaders say about their own integrity, people wait to be shown; they observe the behaviour”. The top four personal traits and characteristics for willing and committed follower participation, identified with remarkable consistency, are:
Responsibility – misleaders
Leaders also have a responsibility to be honest in their communications and engagement, particularly around change and when portraying a vision of the future. Manipulating people either through the content and manner of communication, or through the style and timing of engagement, will cause the leader/follower relationship to crumble or, worse still, turn toxic. There is certainly a sense-making role for leaders, particularly when operating in complex and uncertain environments, and that may involve putting across the truth of a situation “as I see it”. But that is very different from misleading people, or preying on their fears and insecurities to sell a particular position or develop a sense of urgency. Leaders should be “dealers in hope” (Napoleon Bonaparte), not peddlers in fear, and, whatever the situation, they need to live by the principle that “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
In their 2011 book of the same name, John Rayment and Jonathan Smith identify four main types of MisLeadership: missing, misguided, misinformed and Machiavellian. Alongside these, particularly the cunning and duplicity of the Machiavellian leader, we could perhaps add a fifth form of misleadership, the knowingly misleading leader. To knowingly mislead in a trusted leadership role is quite simply a betrayal of responsibility – a betrayal of followers.
Trust – the glue that binds followers and leaders together
Integrity is fundamentally about the person of the leader and the degree to which they are able to inspire trust and carry respect. The importance of trust for successful and engaging team/organisational leadership cannot be emphasised enough: “trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together”. A survey conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management and the journal Management Today in 2009 used the following six dimensions to establish an index of leadership trust: ability, understanding, fairness, openness, integrity and consistency. The findings of their survey of over 5,000 UK employees pointed to one clear conclusion, “integrity is the foundation of trust and it grows in importance with seniority”. Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, takes this still further by making trust the core foundation of high functioning or high performing teams. And linking back to authenticity, Lencioni teaches us again the importance of honesty and vulnerability in leadership:
“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Megatrends survey in 2013 revealed that just 37% of employees trusted their senior managers. (One could speculate, perhaps, where this figure might be with regard to national political leadership at the current time…). This built upon a series of case studies published the previous year called “where has all the trust gone?” Following this, in 2014 the CIPD produced a research report called Cultivating Trustworthy Leaders, which identified four pillars of trust:
- Ability – demonstrable competence at doing their job or fulfilling their role.
- Benevolence (genuine concern) – a concern for others beyond their own needs and showing levels of care and compassion.
- Integrity – adherence to a set of principles acceptable to others encompassing fairness and honesty, while avoiding hypocrisy.
- Predictability – a regularity of behaviour over time.
Authenticity begins in the heart and works outward through the values we embody and the behaviours we display. The integrity that flows from this creates a core responsibility for leaders not to mislead others for their own purposes. And, to complete the ART of leadership, trust is the essential ingredient in the leader/follower relationship that enables teams and organisations to flourish.
Doug Parkin is a programme director for the Leadership Foundation and is responsible for a range of open programmes – including Future Professional Directors, Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership and Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching (in collaboration with the Higher Education Academy). He also undertakes bespoke consultancy assignments for universities and works on some of our main international projects. Key interests include educational and research leadership, the leadership of professional services, strategy development, organisational change and leadership for sustainability.
 Campbell, S. (2009). The Truth about Trust, Index of Leadership Trust Special Report. Edge Magazine, The Institute of Leadership & Management, UK, September 2009: 20-25