How do leaders become more trustworthy? I’ve been reflecting on Barbara Kellerman’s book The End of Leadership. Everyone has at one time in their career had to endure a truly bad boss. What can we be aware of to ensure we don’t fall into the trap of becoming an untrustworthy bad leader ourselves?
Leaders can become more trustworthy, effective and ethical by following these steps:
- Limit tenure in positions of power; share power.
- Don’t believe your own hype; get and stay real.
- Compensate for your weaknesses by hiring and delegating well.
- Stay balanced and healthy.
- Remember the mission.
- Develop a personal support system (mentor, adviser, coach, best friend).
- Establish a culture of openness in which diversity and dissent are encouraged.
- Be creative, reflective and flexible.
- Avoid groupthink; ask the right kinds of questions.
- Question assumptions; get reliable and complete information.
- Establish checks and balances.
Most of these are trust issues that come up in the coaching sessions I have with executives. There are a lot of steps one can take to avoid falling into the power-traps of bad leadership. (Image: Freedigitalphotos.net)
What Followers Can Do
If bad leaders are to be stopped or slowed, followers must play a bigger part. Everyone is a follower no matter what your position in an organization.
But many followers consider the price of intervention too high. There are real benefits for going along, with real costs and risks for not going along. We often choose to mind our own business. Nevertheless, incompetent and unethical leaders cannot function without followers.
Kellerman suggests followers can strengthen their ability to resist bad leaders by observing these guidelines:
- Empower yourself.
- Be loyal to the whole, not to any one person.
- Be skeptical; leaders are not gods.
- Find allies; develop your own sources of information.
- Be a watchdog (especially if the board seems too compliant).
- Take collective action (even on a modest scale, such as assembling a small group to talk to the boss).
- Hold leaders accountable; use checks and balances already in place.
Luckily, more followers are stepping up to the plate, demonstrating a willingness to share responsibilities, power, authority and influence. They know that once bad leaders are entrenched, they seldom change or quit of their own volition. It’s up to us to insist on change—or an early exit.
The path to exercising empowerment is often full of dangers, and I recommend not going it alone. Having a trusted coach can help you take the road less traveled.
What’s your opinion? What can you do to bolster trust in your working environment?