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How to Lead by Example and Create Trust Within Your Teams

During the past years as an Agile and Lean Coach, I've had the great fortune of experiencing a variety of situations within companies and among clients that opened me to many challenges and experiences. Most of the time, they came in the form of requests or needs and I was surprised to learn that the majority of companies and leaders first look at things like creating more transparency in the organisation, tailoring an Agile Transformation strategy, development processes, training sessions and workshops, but what I have come to realize is that not too many people that need all of these know what to ask for in the very beginning — that is to “to build a team.”

For me, at its core, it's all about doing more vs talking more. If I had to describe it in just 3 words, I would always say: “lead by example”. Any discussions about leadership will include the cliche that the best leaders lead by example and impactful speeches, and everyone will usually nod and agree. And if you are reflecting personally on the attributes of those you have willingly followed, you will find that common trait too. It seems there is little doubt or awareness on the fact that we influence others through our actions, especially when we are in leadership roles. Survey data shows that this is also the most common perception among leaders in many areas of business.

So, the challenge here is to realize that it isn't just leaders who are leading by example — we all are! As a leader/supervisor/manager, people are watching us, all the time! They are noticing everything we do — whether it is what we would want them to emulate . . . or not. Since people are watching and are being influenced by our behavior and actions, for better or worse, it begs a (very) important question:

What is the example we want to be setting?
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This might seem like a simple one, but I have found that in practice, it isn't quite that clear or noticeable to people in leadership roles; and even when it is clear, it isn't all that easy. If your vision of “leading by example” is creating some sort of team/group of mini versions of yourself, you are misguided and going about it the wrong way. The problem is that it won't really create the results you desire on the long run, even if your behaviors are fully worthy of being followed or are perceived as such.

What “leading by example” should really mean is that our actions do influence others to behave and respond in ways that we identify what is valuable and appropriate for our organizational outcomes. In other words, while we need to focus on our behaviors and actions, it shouldn't be for ego purposes, but the organization's benefit and growth. This is also made more difficult because we have a hard time describing or expressing what we really want from others. We talk in a high level, vague & ambiguous language that is very difficult to turn into behaviors that can be emulated by others.

Data from surveys as well as direct input from teams shows that there are key attributes that they want from their peers:

  • Engaged and empowered people
  • Flexible and open to change people
  • Focused people
  • Good attitude people
  • Good work ethic people

This is a good focused list, but what do these things really mean as we go through work each day?

Well, if we are going to lead by example in “relationships” to that list, we need to know what we really mean, and identify the behaviors that create those outcomes.. To answer the question implied in my title, examine your examples and check if they relate to the five items on the list above.

It's very important to take into account that these things mean different things to each company/organization. There is no one size fits all solution so your ownership of these ideas and behaviors makes all the difference. So, rather than translating all of these for you, I will give you one example to help you get started.

If you want engagement and empowerment, consider the following behaviors:

  • Act Like an Owner — make decisions based on the highest good for the business and objectives.
  • Be Proactive — asking what you can do to help or improve a situation.
  • Be Accountable — recognizing that there is always part of the project or result that you can impact in a positive way.
  • Try Things in Service of the Desired Goal — and if you make a mistake, own it, be transparent about it and learn from it.

While this is just a partial list, it is also my list and how I translate those principles into actions. For me, if my team members are engaged and empowered, they are doing these things.

If we want our influence on people and teams to be positive and productive, we must make an effort to be as clear as possible on what we want from others, and then make sure our actions (as well as our words) support that. When we do this, we are leading by example in an intentional, efficient and productive way.

“Workers don't quit their jobs, they quit their bosses.”
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This statement is true to a great extent and it takes trust to keep the whole team together.

You might hear a number of people complaining about their boss every single day. Trust is something that can't come directly to you. You can't make anyone trust you; it has to be earned. Managing a team of people who don't even trust each-other is an absolute nightmare for any leader.

On that note, I thought I'd share my recipe for creating a solid trust within a team:

Be Open With Your Team

It is important to expose yourself to your team. Exposing doesn't mean spilling your secrets to let them take advantage of you, but to make them feel that you are nothing different from the rest of your team. You should have the guts to admit your failures and demonstrate your thoughts without any barriers.

Create Your Circle of Safety

The whole motive of building trust within the team is to keep the information safe in order to get desired results in the end. Treat your people like 'human beings' and give them a sense of security, belonging, an ultimate purpose and proper care. The first step to trust is to actually care about them; the team needs to feel cared for to trust you.

Active Listening

Always listen to the views of others with a motive to understand rather than just to reply. You should be of an understanding nature at first place, if you want the team to understand you. Be a calm listener and consider others ideas before making the final decision. Moreover, always do what you promised otherwise they won't be able to trust you to lead.

Lead by Example

In most situations, the team members are always keeping an eye on your actions and taking cues from you. If you want your team to arrive on time, make sure to be in office on time first. If you want your team to be more open to expressing problems, you have to lead the way. Leading by example simply means that you have a good character and workers are often more inclined to trust a leader with a good character record.

Support Your Team

Treat the team members like they are the key parts of your organization. The vital factor to build team engagement and trust is to show them support. Always be the first to back up your staff in case they have been falsely accused. These little actions will help in doubling trust.

Respect All Your Team Members

Respecting each and every person on your team is a very important step towards gaining their trust. It's just like that saying, “Treat others how you want to be treated.”

Think about it, how can you expect trust and respect from others if you don't practice it yourselves? Nobody in the team is going to trust you until you start earning their respect.

Take Responsibility as a Team

Take responsibility as a team and don't jump to take all the responsibility only onto yourself (as a leader). It will help the team as well to feel as one single cell rather than pointing towards the author of the problem. Talk about the problem, not the person. Ask how the problem can be avoided in the future and encourage the team to collaborate towards fixing the problem.

Accept Disagreements & Focus on Solutions

Accepting false agreements is just as bad as fighting in most situations. An open discussion is the best way to solve problems when differences in opinions arise. Explore new ways with the intention of focusing on solving the problems as a team rather than focusing on who caused the problem.

When the presence of disagreements in meetings/discussions starts to appear, it means that the team trusts you enough and is not afraid to tell you the truth.

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Hopefully this article does three things for you:

  • Gets you to think and clarify what you are looking for from your team.
  • Gets you to look in the mirror and see if you are delivering those things personally.
  • Gives you a process for translating what you want into the behaviors that produce it.