Life is a battlefield and this one leadership quality, more than almost any other, undeniably separates a good leader from a great one in the minds of his or her followers.
Competence is extremely important in leadership, no doubt. But one thing I’ve noticed many great leaders do differently than their counterparts is risk connecting with those under their command with transparency.
There isn’t always time to get to know everybody, especially if you have a large organization. I’m not saying you have to. But you need to make some sort of connection that touches your followers and subordinates internally.
In the military, the officer who will win the respect of his troops is the one they’ve come to know as competent and transparent. And though it may not always be his role to get his hands dirty, his troops know if push comes to shove he will jump down into the trenches with them.
It may not be his primary role, but he isn’t above it. He isn’t above doing whatever it takes to get the job done. And his men know it.
Simply knowing a leader is willing to do something beneath his role, if he or she must, wins loyalty.
Though a leader at the top of an organization is in charge, he will interview his subordinates from time to time if he is wise.
The officer at war is wise to gather his lower-enlisted men together in a small setting, take off his rank, place it on the table next to him, and say: “Here’s what I know. But as the fighting men on the front lines, I want your opinion. I need to see what you see. If I’m wrong, tell me how. Speak candidly. Nothing you say in this meeting will be met with punishment or consequence. You have my word.”
Two things just happened in the example above.
- A huge weight was lifted off of the shoulders of the subordinates. That is, the freedom and opportunity to speak the truth without fear of reprisal has been granted. This will contribute to ultimately helping the team win and accomplish it’s mission.
- The officer has earned almost instant respect from his troops because he has activated what I call “transparency-based trust” among him and his men. Some refer to this as “getting naked” (and its effective!). He didn’t have to “stoop to greatness” as Patrick Lencioni says in his book, “The Advantage.” But he did so willingly on his own.
When a leader is willing to “take off his rank” and permit transparency among his team for the benefit of everyone involved, he’s making a strong statement which creates a strong bond of trust and respect.
Some leaders fear transparency because they think they’ll be perceived as weak. But the truth is that transparency is an uncommon sign of strength.
If you are first willing to be vulnerable and transparent as a leader, those under you will feel free to do the same.
When your subordinates know you’re competent, focused on the mission, and are willing to be transparent with them, they are more likely to trust you, want to please you as a leader, and will often work harder to complete the mission of your team or company.
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