Just trust me
Simon Sinek, a renowned author on leadership methods and qualities, constantly accentuates the types of inspiration one can impart when in a position of leadership.
During his TEDTalk presentation entitled “Why good leaders make you feel safe”, he passionately expressed his views on what leadership is, and what it means to those who hold such positions.
Sinek explained that, in order to survive from the dangers of the world, evolution has turned us into social beings, making us live and work together inside a circle of safety.
Trust and cooperation does not surface unless we feel safe, and can coexist in a good system of survival. So how do we come to that deep sense of trust and cooperation?
Personally, I believe we should start with the question: how do we trust someone, or something?
Even heroes in action movies “trust no one”.
But Sinek believes otherwise; it should be our initiative to trust others first and take the risk, because it lets them know that we have confidence in them.
Leaders in troubled times
Trust is complex, and can be earned or lost for many reasons, thus becoming more critical during periods of uncertainty such as in the case of an organisational crisis.
Great leaders are known to sacrifice the numbers to save their people in a tough economic climate. Would we trust such leaders if we have been assured of our positions during a crisis?
According to researcher Dr. Aneil K. Mishra, with regards to human trustworthiness, studies have shown that trust is based on emotional belief that the other party is competent, open, and reliable.
Of course, there are also multiple aspects to be taken into consideration. Leaders also have a heavy responsibility of leading the company away from impending losses.
Professional analysts advise that for interpersonal relationships, trust and cooperation can only materialise when employees feel that their environment and futures are safe.
Sinek offers more, adding that:
“Trust and cooperation are very important; the problem with the concept of trust and cooperation is that they are feelings and not instructions.”
It is true that we cannot simply instruct a person to trust in us, nor to cooperate with us.
But, there is always someone who seems more appealing to the crowd than others, whose character seems to gain trust from others easily. So how do we secure the trust of, and cooperation from others?
Survival of the fittest
Danger is a constant; it will never go away, either in our work or private life. Let’s just say, in the case of an economic crisis, it is not unusual to admit we fear for our jobs or positions.
The dangers of this situation are so complex that they affect a substantial part of one’s life, such as family financial commitments, investments, and also retirement plans.
Practically, in today’s Malaysian society, unemployment is unacceptable.
There are both pros and cons to a dangerous situation. While we realise the responsibility of independence, we should also build on our clarity and creativity in finding ways to solve problems.
Good leaders realise that this can lead to an individualistic culture, where the strongest will survive, the rich become richer, and competition among employees to perform will be at an all-time high.
Yet, Sinek’s preposition is to start from the condition inside an organisation (the inner circle).
Similar to the concept of a functional family system, we trust in each other to provide for the family, and keep each other happy and safe.
Rank and file
We should always bear in mind that leadership is a choice, not a rank. There are many people in the senior-most levels of organisations that we know of, but they may not strike us as true leaders.
Time and again, we notice or come in contact with people from very senior levels who seem to possess no leadership qualities.
They could be from senior management, and as employees, we do what they say because they have authority over us. But if we had the choice, we would not follow them.
On the other hand, there exists people at lower levels of the organisation who have no authority, and yet are absolute leaders with a loyal following. Why is that?
The answer is because these individuals have chosen to look after the people around them.
With such a strong emotional gesture, wouldn’t you feel appreciated and motivated to work harder for this sort of leader?
“We call them leaders because they are the ones who go first. We call them leaders because they take the risk first before anybody else does. We call them leaders because they will choose to sacrifice so that their people may be safe and protected, and so their people may gain. And when we do that, the natural response is that our people will sacrifice for us. They will see that their leader’s vision comes to life. Why? Because they know that we would have done the same for them.”
In some cases, people call this strategic influence, where one nurtures key relationships to the point where people’s actions and values are shaped through his/her ability to maintain everyone’s satisfaction levels.
The people we are referring to can be both clients and employees. In many spheres, influence usually indicates power.
It is considered a critical skill to be able to influence others to work for you, unless you still think you can get things done alone, without outside help.
This skill should not be limited to just the people from the middle or upper levels of management.
In Sinek’s presentation, he notes that in order for employees to feel secure and work with unwavering trust, companies need to consistently develop and maintain a conducive workplace environment for people to carry out their responsibilities.
This environment is not just physical, but is shaped and coloured by the behaviour of leaders.
Thomas Chan is a psychology graduate from HELP University, Kuala Lumpur. He aspires to become a certified professional corporate trainer. To achieve this goal, he is actively exposing himself to the corporate environment and engaging with some of the prominent leaders of this society. Drop him a line or two in the comment box below or email at email@example.com. For more Thought of the Week articles, click here.
Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 28 February 2015