Today’s leaders need to work with total transparency

10 January 2018
Author: Eve Poole

“I work for Universal Exports.” Such a good cover story. In Licence to Kill, it got 007 into an enemy warehouse, when he persuaded the guy on the desk that he’d come to arrange to ship a shark to Regent’s Park Zoo. In those days, there was no Google to run a quick check on anyone. As long as you had a plausible story and a bit of official-looking paper, you were good to go. 

This was the case for anyone who worked abroad, but I think it was also the case with leadership more generally. “Leaders are born, not made,” we were told. So if you looked the part (male, tall and handsome, with the right accent, and an old school tie) you got the job. And, generally, people followed you. 

The ability to use Google to check on people is just one wave in a sea of change in recent years. It’s redefined our views about authority and deference, about class and gender, and about legitimacy and impact. And all the trends tend towards one end result: leaders these days – particularly those working internationally - need to be comfortable operating with total transparency. There is now no off-stage.

Leading in a fishbowl

The only way leaders can cope with leading in a fishbowl is by developing top skills in emotional intelligence, self-awareness and authenticity. Because if you don’t have these in spades, no-one will follow you, and you’ll quickly get found out. 

But all you need to be an effective leader in today’s watchful world is a reliable set of what the Army calls Standard Operating Procedures. We know from the research what most leaders need to be able to do, day-in-day-out and under pressure, with total ease. It’s not rocket science. It’s mundane things like difficult conversations, killer presentations, deft decision-making – you’d recognise most things on the list.

And what the military have learned down the centuries is that the more of the predictable you can programme in as habit, the more brain-space you’ll have left to cope with the inevitable surprises that you’ll face when you’re actually deployed.

Building relationships through trust 

“Leadersmithing” is a new approach to leadership development that takes this seriously. It specifies both what you need to know as a leader, and how to acquire the skills you’ll need. It sets out 52 craft practices, one for every week of the year, to help you curate your own journey. Here is one of the exercises, about trust.

Do any of your relationships need a trust boost? Analyse them using Maister, Green & Galford’s Trust Equation. They hold that Trust is a function of: 

  • Credibility – do you know what you are talking about? Are you qualified? Do you sound sure? Do you look right? 
  • Reliability - are you constant? Do you always deliver? Or does your performance vary? 
  • Intimacy - people trust people, not CVs. Where is your common ground with the other person? 

But beware, their research shows that self-orientation destroys trust. If your agenda is too selfish, the other person will feel played and will not trust you. So be transparent and generous.

You can use the trust equation to structure your introductions, to audit your communications, and to analyse any relationship you have that seems to have broken down. Particularly for those working remotely, it is a vital health-check tool when you don’t have the luxury of face-time to establish durable rapport.

Of course, acquiring new leadership habits takes time, and there are quite a few of them to master. If you diary them in today, you might not have suddenly become the best leader in the world tomorrow, but you’ll be a better one. And before you know it, you’ll have developed all the muscle-memory you need, to lead in the whole range of challenging leadership situations that you face, in the very vital and fiendishly complex NGO sector.

Eve Poole is delivering a participative workshop on The New Leadership Challenge at the Bond Annual Conference on Tuesday 27 February. Her book Leadersmithing was published by Bloomsbury in March 2017.

About the author

Eve Poole

Eve Poole has been teaching, consulting and speaking on leadership for over a decade.