If you're leading a startup or starting a new project, you're at the helm of a ship that's just started its journey in unknown waters. You have a compass and know your direction, but you have no idea about the conditions and the weather ahead. You trust yourself to make the right decisions when challenges arise. Your employees are in a worse state. Like you, they have no idea about what lies ahead. Unlike you, they don't get to steer the ship and respond to challenges. They have to trust you to do the right thing when difficulties arise. They are vulnerable to being exploited and treated unfairly, when things get tough and you're put under strain. Earning their trust, guarantees you better venture performance.
How does a exceptional leader earn trust? Through authenticity. Authentic leaders don't convince you with power. They inspire you with trust.
1. Authentic leaders are ruthlessly self-aware
Authentic leaders look into the mirror and see themselves as work in progress, with both assets and flaws. They have genuine insight into who they are and they believe in themselves. Their earnestness inspires employees to believe in them, too. Their unwavering vision despite an awareness of their own limits, convinces a team that their leader's vision is worth fighting for. Employees know a self-aware leader will do their homework before making crucial decisions, so they trust the leader to lead.
2. Authentic leaders take a balanced view
Authentic leaders are objective. They know that giving any semblance of bias towards or against a team member destroys self-esteem, fragments cohesion and loses the team's trust. Instead, they listen to alternative points of view to increase their objectivity. A leader who admits to their own mistakes and frames every situation objectively, is more likely to be fair.
3. Authentic leaders are fiercely transparent
An authentic leader is always open and clear, so everyone in the team knows exactly where they stand. Uncertainty is a potent source of workplace stress and employees know an authentic leader will flag up issues as soon as they arise. Transparency ensures every voice in the team is heard. Being heard creates mutual respect, which inspires trust.
4. Authentic leaders carry a personal compass.
The journey of any new project will be unpredictable and turbulent. The weather may suddenly change. Employees have no way of predicting the weather, but they can gauge the climate of the journey ahead by the leader's internal moral/ethical compass. An authentic leader who consistently follows a moral/ethical compass will make decisions guided by that compass, even at times of intense stress. Employees know that though decisions may be hard, they will always be fair, and this inspires trust.