Monthly Archives: August 2016
This is what I have learned and try to practise: Keeping confidences

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.

This is what I have learned and try to practise – Acknowledging others

PhD research identified 10 practices that build trust and unlock the path to compelling leadership: acknowledging others is one of them.

I have learnt that leadership is often a thankless task. Very rarely will anyone think to thank the leader. In making this statement I’m not looking for pity, or even a ‘thank you’, but simply point out a reality so other leaders can take encouragement.

People don’t think to thank the leader: I don’t believe this is ever intentional, but symptomatic of the people’s view of people in leadership roles. By nature, we are quick to criticise and blame if something goes wrong but don’t stop to think of the blessings we all receive each and every day.

If you are a leader, don’t get hung up on the fact that you may never be the recipient of gratitude. Your sense of value will be found in the lives you have the privilege of interacting with every day. True motivation to do good wells up in our internal altruistic intent. “No thanks” can be thanks itself if we remember that what we are doing as leaders is to God’s glory. Instead, use this thankless task of leadership as a motivator or a reminder to thank those you seek to lead or come into contact with.

I met an amazing educator last week. Helen is working hard to make a difference in her school. She is a deeply reflective person, desperate to grow her leadership capacity. It was inspiring to hear her share her story. It is rare to find someone so honest and so passionate.

Helen had recently been given feedback about her leadership practice. As a result of that feedback she had adjusted her behaviour. She taught me something valuable about the practice of appreciation.

As a leader Helen had always practised the art of appreciation. She constantly looked for opportunities to thank people. She sent emails, left cards, or visited people to thank them for the work they had been doing: “Thank you Sam for organising the performance last night, it was just brilliant.”

However, Helen taught me that while a nice thing to do, thanks expressed in this way isn’t effective enough. People want to know that their efforts aren’t in vain but that they make a difference. Rather than just saying thank you, it is far more meaningful to thank the person for the difference their efforts are making.

“Thank you Sam for organising the performance last night, I have never seen young Ben express such courage. You have made a significant impact on his life.”

We all want to know that the efforts we go to actually are making a difference. Tell someone this. Instead of waiting to be thanked, ask yourself each afternoon before you go home from work: have I done my best to thank someone for the difference they are making? In doing so, not only will you be building that person, but you will be growing a compelling leadership built on trust.

This is what I have learned and try to practise – Leaders who care

PhD research identified 10 key leadership practices that engender trust, paving the way to compelling leadership. Caring for others is one of them.

I was in Sydney earlier in the week. I was surprised to see so many homeless. Still sleeping on the concrete in the tunnels leading out of the Underground you had to take care not to step on them, or trip on their meagre possessions. No one stopped. Neither did I.

Later that morning I listened to Tim Costello speak, CEO of World Vision. He urged educators to never lose sight of instilling a heart of compassion in the students we teach. His words caused me to stop and question my actions earlier that morning.

It stands to reason that you would trust someone more if you knew that they genuinely cared for you, trust is relational. However, I was surprised, when doing my research, that staff in large schools described their trust in the Head as a genuine care for the people he/she served. How can a leader care for so many people effectively, and how do they balance that with the requirement to make significant decisions that impact people’s lives?

To genuinely care means to have ‘compassion for’. The word compassion comes from the Latin word compati, which means ‘to suffer with’.

As a leader do I care enough to suffer with? What would ‘to suffer with’ mean to the staff member who has cancer, or whose wife has just left him?

To genuinely care is a significant challenge for leaders. It would seem to be a paradox: How can you be compassionate to the staff member you have to let go because they aren’t performing to expectations? To care shouldn’t paralyse a leader’s ability to make a decision, but it should impact the way they meet that person and suffer with them.

The key to real care is relationships. Unless you can look into someone’s face, to enter their world, it is very hard to have compassion.

As a leader to care is hard, particularly when so many things make demands on your time. But as a leader it is one of your most important roles to build genuine relationships with the people you are entrusted to serve. In suffering with others, trust will grow, paving the way to compelling leadership.