The role of any leader is just two-fold: to provide a compelling vision of the future that people aspire to attain and, to build trust so those people will be willing to take the journey with you.
Research has identified 10 key practices that build trust in a leader. The most obvious of these is keeping confidences.
Did you hear about John’s wife and what happened in parliament the other day…
Why is it that people love to gossip? Because knowledge is power and gives us identity, but it is only power if others know you have special information that no one else does.
When you are in a position of leadership you are privy to very sensitive information. If you are genuinely trusted, people will share their inner most fears and concerns with you. I have learned that it is a privilege to be invited into people’s lives to hear their greatest joy, and their depths of despair.
It is a self-fulfilling cycle. The more you keep a person’s confidence, the more you are trusted, and in turn, the more people share will with you. The relationship grows. This brings the opportunity to walk with others and mentor or coach them. The reward is seeing a fellow human move out of despondency and into a place where they can flourish.
No experience of this cycle has been more powerful and compelling than the experience I had before, during and following the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. There is a fine line between keeping a confidence and passing on information that you are legally bound to do, but the lessons reinforced through those experiences are a reminder of how to keep confidences.
I have learned that many people who come to speak with me just want someone to listen. They want to be heard, to be valued as a person of worth. They want empathy. More often than not they don’t wish you to act, they just want to share the burden. To genuinely want to grow trust you have to be prepared to carry that burden with them. I learned that in listening the journey of healing begins.
But in this privilege comes huge responsibility. Truly keeping confidences means that you forgo the power that knowledge can bring. To truly keep confidences you have to be totally comfortable in your own skin so your identity isn’t caught up in what you know, rather, it is caught up in how much you are trusted.
In offering this humility before the other person you must always ask them permission if you feel that the information they have entrusted you with needs to go further. A good question to ask is: “Do you want me to do something about this or are you just wanting me to know?”
Keeping confidences is the most fundamental and obvious practice in building trust, but it is the practice that can most easily be a leader’s undoing. If you breach a person’s confidence without their permission, even out of good intent, it is incredibly hard to re-establish your credibility as a trusted leader.