Trust in Leadership

||Trust in Leadership

Trust in Leadership

What is the worst characteristic in a leader?

I was asked this question recently by a friend of mine who works for a formerly state-owned utility organisation in Scandinavia. He was about to recruit for a senior leadership position and felt stifled by a legacy culture within the organisation where length of service traditionally opened the door for more senior roles rather than merit or even more seldom – showing a high potential as a future leader.

My friend felt that the recruits likely to come forward to the internally advertised role would be those who were ‘next in line’ by way of an unwritten rule – they had been serving the organisation over the longest period of time. None of these were particularly well cut out for the vacant leadership role but he felt under pressure to conform to the normal process.

How can this still be happening now?

It shocked me that this could still be the mentality within an otherwise innovative and forward thinking organisation which had to reinvent itself to stay competitive in a privatised market-place.

I answered truthfully that it did not make sense to hold interviews trying to spot the unwanted characteristics – it made more sense to focus on identifying those with the most important attributes in a leader.

I therefore shared the 3-word mantra continuously drummed into us OnTrackers by our own CEO and leader – Kevin Johnson: Trust, Credibility and Compassion.

Without Trust nobody will want to follow their leader. We have to feel secure in that what is being said is what is true or we will start feeling uncomfortable, deceived and unwilling to do what is being asked from us. It is when the trust is broken that employees tend to start looking elsewhere for other jobs.

Without Credibility nobody will stop and listen to what the leader says because they either believe they know better themselves or they will turn to someone who holds that credibility and seek leadership from that direction. This in turn leads to an untenable situation where the leader fails to be the one directing and engaging his workforce. Other strong characters who hold credibility may end up causing conflict, discontent and at worst a semi-anarchic culture where those who think they know better make their own decisions without respect or regard to what their leader asks them to do.

Without Compassion the workplace would be a sombre world indeed. I am very lucky to work for an organisation where not only my own boss, but the whole senior leadership team feel confident in how to show compassion in a genuine way. It may not be possible to always see the right path or read a situation from every employee’s viewpoint but they always try and they always have the guts to reconsider a decision when presented with a valid argument for why they may have missed the mark on that point. That practise and desire to do the right thing by their employees alone shows compassion. Without Compassion, the human element of leadership is removed and the leader may run the risk of turning into a robot. As employees we need the compassion to thrive in the environment in which we work; to feel listened to, understood and to feel that we matter as human beings – not just as human resources to fulfil a set of tasks. 

So how did I answer my friend?

I advised him that he should focus on spotting the candidates with the greatest potential in the above areas and he will find the strongest candidate for the role he is advertising. I cannot wait to see what the outcome will be!

A much better way to recruit, however, would of course be to focus on identifying your in-house high potential talent (HiPos) – drawn from all levels and functions – and then develop this talent into tomorrow’s leaders. Those who have the right values, integrity and thinking of a leader from the start are far more prepared to be developed into great strategic leaders than those who may be next in line who have served a career without necessarily having developed into great managers or leaders and showing the right attributes of a leader

If you would like to talk through ideas around how to identify and develop your HiPos of the future, please do get in touch on Or check out our white paper

About the Author:

Cecilia has a track record of over 14 years as a Senior Account Manager and Client Engagement Manager within the L&D industry. She has vast experience of working with both global and local organisations at an international level, implementing learning programmes and interventions specialising in leadership and management development solutions.