Inspiring And Enabling People
To Make A Difference
Martin Edwards is author of the ‘Trusted Leadership’ ethos as detailed in www.trustedleader.org. Formerly Save the Children’s youngest ever Regional Manager, he has raised over £20million for various UK charities. He is now Chief Executive of Julia’s House, a UK children’s hospice.
SP – What is a Trusted Leader?
ME – A Trusted Leader is the most effective leader of all because they get results consistently through being superb with people.
SP – Why, given the array of attributes discussed in the leadership literature, did you choose to focus on trust as the basis for great leadership?
ME – A lot has been written about how great leaders have single-mindedness, dynamism, drive or charisma: the matinee idol version of leadership. But if you want to be the most effective leader, don’t impress on your people that you can achieve anything; make them believe that they can achieve anything.
The best leaders I have ever met all inspire confidence through their emotional intelligence, brilliant interpersonal skills and a fundamental commitment to positive values. These qualities define them as human beings both in work and outside of it. They judge everyone not by the level of their rank but by the content of their character and the quality of their contribution. They are subtle, clever, decent people. They are flexible and adaptable, yet consistent and steadfast. They are trusted leaders and little has been written about how they build that trust in their everyday behaviour that makes the whole organisation highly effective.
SP – Is trust really integral to results?
ME – Somewhere in the team or the organisation that you lead, there is a young woman with a brilliant idea who’s had the confidence pounded out of her by a manager who doesn’t listen. There is a mercurial genius who is distrusted because he seems to like fighting the system but who would actually thrive on more responsibility. There is a talented thirty-something mother struggling with the demands of bringing up children who will leave if she isn’t sometimes treated more flexibly. There is a 55-year-old whose maturity deserves recognition with a role as a mentor. There is a middle manager who feels under too much time pressure to walk the floor because it’s not a ‘bottom line’ activity. And there is a backroom team that feels undervalued because no-one has told them that every ship needs a great engine room. People respond to brilliant trusted leadership. These people are out there, waiting for their leaders to catch up with them.
SP – What are the keys to developing trust?
ME – There are six keys to high performance through trust.
1. Treat your Human Resources as humans not just as resources. Stop and talk to them. Take an interest in their lives. Make clear to each person that they are valued. Find out about their work, their hopes, their concerns and their challenges. As top leadership coach Patricia Summitt says: ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’
2. Fulfil your commitments to the people you lead, even the everyday things that you agree to do, because trust is built on a pattern of lots of little events. If you set a habit of breaking your commitments in minor situations, people won’t trust you to help sort out major ones that you really need to know about before they become crises.
3. A true meritocracy should mean more than just ability being a passport to higher rank; it should mean that any contribution, regardless of its rank, is listened to openly and treated on its merits. This way anyone can have a fundamental impact on the team’s direction. Conversely, ineffective work cultures judge ideas mainly on the rank of their contributor.
4. Value different people and different ideas. Walk the floor to find out why things are going right or wrong at the sharp end of the organisation. Don’t be dismissive: listen with an open mind to differences of opinion. As historian Andrew Roberts said of Churchill, ‘Great leaders know how vital it is to listen to people who disagree with them.’ That way you won’t miss something that could be a terrific insight, and the process of listening and debating builds confidence and shows that ideas and initiative are welcome.
5. Stay true to your values and to the values that bind teams together. Uphold them with total conviction because they are the only thing that should never change about an organisation. They should include integrity, a commitment to continuous improvement, taking concerns directly and only to the person responsible for sorting them out, positively challenging undermining behaviour, and basing decisions on the customer.
6. No ego: as Nieztsche said: ‘He who would fight monsters must take care not to become one.’ However patiently you build trust and teamwork, they can be entirely undone by displays of ego. It’s not just about not boasting. It means acknowledging and learning from failure. And it also means one of the hardest rules of all to adhere to: managers should never complain about their lot to, or seek compliments from, the people they manage.
If you had to choose just one key to make a difference, what would it be?
Stay true to your values every day. It makes an enormous difference. Take the value of continuous improvement: you need to get all of your staff to contribute to continuous improvement all of the time – a simple thing to say but incredibly hard to do. It boils down to encouraging line managers to constantly seek and respond to ideas from the coal face. The biggest timewaster of all in any organisation is choosing the wrong activity and then doing it really well. So it is crucial for managers to be open, attentive and responsive because they are more likely to choose the right activities. All this ultimately comes from your values.
SP – How have you tried to implement the six keys to trust at Julia’s House, and with what results?
ME – First I produced a five-year strategy within twelve weeks of joining, something every leader should aim to do because it brings pace and focus to your work right from day one and it forces you to listen. This set the management objectives throughout the organisation.
We then trained all managers in how to manage people – something many employers fail to do, assuming that they know already. In fact many managers reach their level of responsibility because of good technical skills and it is wrong to assume that they will spontaneously emerge, like a butterfly from a chrysalis, into a brilliant people manager.
We greatly improved the flow of information from each department to one another. I walked the floor regularly so that everyone grew accustomed to talking to me and sharing concerns and ideas. I also communicated regularly in writing with every employee so that no-one could reasonably say ‘they never tell me what goes on around here.’
We agreed with all staff a shared set of values that set a gold standard for teamwork, communication, decision-making and problem-solving. Poor standards in these areas are the most common reasons why people get fed up with their employer. We then trained all line managers in how to manage these new, higher standards.
we signalled that people were valued by enhancing Terms & Conditions.
We did all of this while driving through rapid expansion. The improvements in the way people were led and managed enabled us to grow as quickly as we did, getting more out of everyone and helping them to thrive. The result was that we quadrupled our services in two years whilst also retaining our most talented people.
SP – What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received on becoming an effective leader?
ME – When I succeeded an outgoing leader he told me: ‘For the first six months, blame me! After that, blame yourself!’ What he was saying was that too many leaders blame their problems on people who are long gone, but positive leadership takes responsibility for situations very quickly.