Situational Leadership®: Trust and the Employee Experience

This is the fourth and final blog in a series dedicated to the connections between Situational Leadership® and the employee experience. The first blog referenced The Josh Bersin Company’s detailed research report HR Predictions for 2022. In general, that research identified how a vast cross-section of employees characterized the employee experience by identifying the ideal organization.

In brief review, the traits of that ideal organization include meaningful work, strong management, a positive workplace, a focus on health and well-being, growth opportunity and an organizational culture defined by trust.

The second blog in this series explored the relationship between Situational Leadership® and meaningful work.

The third focused on links between Situational Leadership® and strong management.

Our final installment brings us back to highly familiar territory: the symbiotic relationship between Situational Leadership® and trust. The Center for Leadership Studies has long defined leadership as an attempt to influence and power as influence potential.

There is no one best way to lead. Each leadership style can be effective (empowerment, participation, direction) or, conversely, ineffective (abdication, manipulation, micromanagement). Effectiveness is usually a function of two things:

  1. The situation: The task that needs to be accomplished, in combination with the Performance Readiness® Level (i.e., ability and willingness) of the person performing it.
  2. Power: The influence potential of the leader.

In this regard, leadership and power are literally flip sides of the same influence “coin.” Power is the energy that drives effective leadership. No power? No influence! And that energy originates from two highly interdependent sources in organizations:

  1. Your position: Position power (sometimes referred to as Legitimate power) refers to the comparative degree of responsibility and authority one has for making decisions. Those occupying formal leadership positions in organizations are judged (routinely) by the quality of those decisions. Leaders that make quality decisions perceived to be in the best interests of a wide spectrum of stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers) earn the trust and commitment of those they influence. Leaders that make poor decisions, or abuse their authority, do not.
  2. Your reputation: Personal power (sometimes referred to as Referent power) is the comparative degree of trust and commitment you have earned with those you attempt to influence. Trust is a subjective function of factors such as:
    1. Sincerity: Do others believe what you say?
    2. Reliability: Do you consistently follow through on what you say you are going to do?
    3. Competence: Do you have “the juice” to do what you say you are going to do?

Here is how the Bersin Report defines trust in the organization and how we at The Center for Leadership Studies believe Situational Leadership® continues to actively support that definition.

Transparency, Empathy and Integrity of Leadership

The easiest way for a Situational Leader to assess the Performance Readiness® of a follower for a particular task is to ask:

  • How much experience do you have with this kind of thing?
  • How would rate your skill level for this?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you that we’re going to meet this deadline?
  • How much do you enjoy this aspect of your contribution?
  • Etc.?

Open, authentic discussion is the most effective means for a leader and a follower to align on Performance Readiness® for a task, as well as the approach the leader needs to employ as a result. When others trust you as a leader, they tell you the truth! This is critical (especially if there is bad news to share!). In the absence of trust, there is misinformation. This not only puts performance goals at risk, but it also challenges the ongoing validity of the relationship.

Continuous Investment in People

What do you do if you are a leader formally in charge of a team responsible for delivering several outcomes and your people don’t trust you? Do you wait until you build trust before you lead? Or do you lead as a means of establishing and fostering trust?

Situational Leaders match their style or approach to the performance needs of their followers. They recognize the most inconsistent thing they can do as a leader is to treat everyone the same. The process of aligning approach with performance need is a practical, repeatable strategy leaders can leverage to deliver results and cultivate trust regardless of the task or the impact of disruptive change.

Effective leadership builds trust—and trust positions leaders to be effective!