There are those who contend that the global pandemic has changed what followers need from their leaders, but that’s not really true. What has changed are the circumstances, and those circumstances have served to emphasize what followers have always needed from their leaders.
For instance, a recent Gallup survey found that the four greatest emotional needs workers have right now are trust, compassion, stability and hope. Those seem like perfect antidotes to fears and uncertainties brought on by the coronavirus chaos. When you think about it, though, when have followers not needed trust, compassion, stability and hope from their leaders?
There are plenty of examples of when authoritarian leaders have succeeded without providing one or more of those reassuring qualities, but there’s never been a time when followers didn’t want them or need them. The authoritarian leader may have gotten people to follow out of fear, ignorance, or desperation, but not because he was giving them what they really wanted or truly needed.
Those days, of course, are long gone. Workers have more clout and followers have grown to demand something different. Something better. They want authentic leadership, and the pandemic, much like the Great Recession or any other challenging climates, simply makes the need for it more obvious.
Trust is the cornerstone, and, unfortunately, it’s long been missing in the follower-leader relationship. Even before COVID-19, Gallup found that just one in three employees strongly agreed that they trusted their leaders.
There are many reasons for this, but it’s easy to see how feigned compassion, inconsistent stability, and false hope would play key roles in a lack of trust. In other words, if you can’t trust that a leader’s compassion is genuine, that the stability will last beyond the moment, and that the hope is based in reality, then you aren’t likely to trust that leader on much of anything. You might go along in the short-term, but you won’t be as engaged or effective as you would be if trust were present.
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A lack of trust is much easier to spot during difficult times, and the fallout that results from it is far more damaging to a business. So it’s fair to say that trust is more important during the pandemic. But if leaders wait until a lack of trust will be fatal to their business before they start building it, then it’s probably too late. It’s like deciding to give up spareribs when you’re the middle of having a heart attack.
For transfluent leaders, trust isn’t just a goal, it’s a habit. It’s the product of showing genuine care day after day after day until it’s an expectation among your followers. It’s about consistently providing people with the resources they need and the psychological stability of knowing that you will truthfully tell them everything you can tell them as soon as you can tell them. It’s about having credibility in the relationship that is strong enough for them to have hope in a better future.
That sort of trust can’t be created overnight, but it’s never too late to start building it for tomorrow. If you survive that heart attack, don’t go back to the spareribs. Tell people you know your diet has been a mess, promise to make some changes, and then start living it every day, one salad at a time. And when things get better, don’t go back to your old leadership ways. Trust, compassion, stability, and hope aren’t just menu items for a pandemic; they are essential to long-term success.