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"Relationships" Begin with a Capital "T"

Recently, I watched a TED Talk by Rita Pierson, a teacher who talked about the challenges and benefits of building relationships with students in order to motivate them to achieve academic success. The message was very powerful.

In business, leaders face the same challenges. A leader without followers is like the Texan who wears a big Stetson but has no cattle or oil wells to support his claim of prominence – “Big Hat No Cattle!” Gaining followers depends on relationships, which, to a large extent, is a function of trust. How do we gain or lose the trust of followers?

In our firm, we develop performance-based reward systems - motivating employees to work toward achieving defined goals. We follow two time-tested theories of motivation to make plans effective. Through these theories we can gain insight into how a leader can build or lose trust and relationships with followers.

The first is Equity Theory. The principle is, there must be equilibrium between the effort that is required to accomplish the goal and the reward for achieving success.  

At times, a leader must meet objectives that require extraordinary commitment and effort from their team to gain success. Some leaders succumb to the pressure and become ultra-demanding. They force followers to forfeit any personal time or plans to work solely on the task.  They are unforgiving of mistakes or delays. They adhere to deadlines that seem unrealistic.  They may withhold information and micromanage tasks, not allowing followers to make decisions and exercise creativity. In the end, when the team delivers on the leader’s promises, he/she fails to acknowledge the heroic effort and accomplishments by providing rewards and recognition that are consistent with the effort.

We can see a number of missteps the leader took in this scenario. As a consequence of his leadership style, he has destroyed any type of favorable relationship he had with his followers.  Going forward, they are likely to question his motives. They will withhold their full commitment.  They will persistently seek to answer the “what’s in it for me” question before agreeing to future projects. 

So, how does a leader build trust and gain followers?

  • Acknowledge the magnitude of the task on the front end.
  • Be open about the purpose of the effort, who will benefit, and why.
  • Engage followers in planning the approach.
  • Continually communicate progress toward milestones.
  • Share difficulties and encourage collaboration.
  • Continually express gratitude for the additional effort.
  • Celebrate achievements along the way.
  • In the end, reward team members in ways that will be individually appealing. To do this, a leader must know his/her followers and their interests.
The second is Expectancy Theory. Here, the principle is, if I put forth the effort, what is the likelihood that the goal(s) will be met and the reward will be forthcoming? In other words, there is a clear line-of-sight between the effort-achievement-reward.

As in the prior example, a leader is given an assignment that requires the full commitment of her team for period of time. She communicates the purpose, benefits, and anticipated reward effectively and wins the commitment of her team. Although there are some questions among team members as to whether or not the goal is achievable within the time and resources available, she has a reservoir of trust and good will with her team and they commit to the effort. As the project progresses, delays are encountered that are outside of the team’s control.  Deadlines are pushed back. Frustration builds. After months of work, upper management decides to kill the project. There are no funds available to recognize the effort that was put forth. Team members lose commitment and the leader’s credibility is diminished.

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon scenario in organizational life.  What could the leader do to maintain her credibility and keep the team motivated?

  • Apologize for the disappointing experience. Even though she was not responsible for the situation, she represents the organization and is obliged to support the decision.
  • Publically and privately acknowledge her followers efforts.  
  • Aggressively look for assignments that continue to challenge the team and build on the teamwork and collaboration.
  • In whatever way is economically feasible, recognize/reward the team’s efforts.
Here are five keys to building trust:
  1. 1. Always act with integrity, tell the truth and be clear about you motives.
  2. 2. Keep your promises.
  3. 3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
  4. 4. Respect others and regard your followers as equals.
  5. 5. Don’t be afraid to admit a mistake and apologize.
We all live and work in relationship with others. Very few jobs are performed in isolation.  Effective leadership is more than managing tasks, it’s about building relationships with followers grounded in mutual trust and respect.  

Joel Myers is a career Human Resources professional, with over 40 years in the field including 26 years in consulting. The Centre Group helps clients achieve success by “Leveraging the Human Spirit” within their organizations.
Posted: 9/2/2015 7:30:00 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: Big, Business, Centre, Group, Human, Ideas, Joel, Management, Myers, Relationships, Resources, Small, The, Trust

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