Michael Argyll was one of the best-known English Social Psychologists of the twentieth century. The eminent professor of psychology at Oxford University authored or co-authored over 44 books. As an academic he is best known for his studies on happiness and communication cycles. One of his extensive studies explored friendships and what ‘rules’ contributes to strong growing relationships. I’ve written and spoken about these ‘friendship rules’ before primarily exploring how organisations can build customer loyalty. Three of the key friendship rules are: Being supportive; sharing dreams and aspirations and allowing other friendships. Recently, following questions from leaders on how to build trust with colleagues and at a Board level, I’ve seen value in re-surfacing this work and adapting it as a framework for building leadership trust.
Trust is a crucial part of any growing and strong relationship. Good leaders recognise the importance of gaining trust with their colleagues, partners and customers. Building trust requires patience, consistency and most of all authenticity. It takes time to build but can be shattered with a single ill begotten act. Leaders often start on the back foot finding it harder to gain trust as leaders than they would in personal relationships. This is in part due to the tarnished reputation of leaders: Think Enron, Bernie Madoff, RBS’s ex-CEO Fred Goodwin, Barclay’s ex-CEO Bob Diamond and many other banking crisis leaders, excreta the list goes on.
Competitive advantage is fleeting in today’s transparent fast paced technologically driven world and exceedingly difficult to gain and retain. But the benefits are huge for those that do as trust offers a currency and advantage for leadership that is truly sustainable.
Frameworks are useful for understanding important issues and based on Michael Argyll’s friendship rules here is a leadership framework you can use to build trust:
Are you supportive, in everything you do? It’s easy to be supportive when you agree with a colleague, but what happens if they make a mistake or fail? There is a great story of a hedge fund manager who invested in stocks that lost millions. The manager went to see her CEO with a well-crafted resignation letter. The CEO however, on hearing of the resignation sat her down and said that he could not accept it. Tearing up the letter the CEO said: “Your error cost several million dollars, but it’s an error you have learned from and it’s one you are unlikely to make again. Given the significant investment in your training, do you not think it would be fair to give the company another chance?” The hedge fund manager went on to become one of the company’s most loyal and successful managers.
Share dreams and aspirations:
Break down barriers by sharing your dreams and ambitions and more importantly invite others to share their dreams with you. Trust can only be build when you show a more vulnerable and personable side. There is a corporate veneer that prevents most leaders from being genuine. Get rid of the veneer by sharing your dreams and invite others into your circle of trust.
Argyll referred to this rule as: allowing other friendships. This makes sense in personal relationships but requires a reinterpretation for leadership. Trust can be built by brokering connections. Are you helping colleagues to connect with other people or resources that will help them personally and professionally? Do you do this without any expectation of benefit in return? If someone in your team or business will profit from an introduction to a connection you have, broker that connection. It’s always amazes me how leaders guard relationships they have built up in business. After all networks have an influence on power and position. But this is a narrow view on controlled power. Think of how significant and powerful Facebook has been in brokering and enabling relationships. As a leader be a broker who connects people. The real power and influence comes from being a trusted nodal point.
Trust builds powerful leaders and by using the framework we call “Delivering the Benefits of Friendship”, you can ask the questions and focus your attention on factors that will help you build trust with people who are important inside and outside your organisation.