Monday, May 2, 2011

Nonprofit Managers Must Build Trust

Cross posted from the NPTimes Blog...

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Our distrust is very expensive." When it comes to nonprofit managers and CEOs, this couldn't be more true. Let's face it, for a nonprofit to be successful, its employees have to trust the head of the organization. Without this, performance can suffer and, as a result, so will the organization's mission.

John Hamm (not that one, in case you are wondering), talks about how important trust is for company leaders in his new book, Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership. As the title of the book implies, it gives leaders nine tips on how to get employees to trust them. Here are some of these tips that Hamm mentions in his book:

• Hamm stresses that you don't have to act like a "boy scout" to gain the trust of your employees. In fact, he writes that the best leaders are those who don't try to act like anybody other than themselves. In fact, it's very easy to see how a manager or other leader who acts too kind might seem suspicious to employees.

• Along the same lines, Hamm wrote that it's important for a leader to look for chances to show that they are human by proving that they have authentic fears, imperfections, and emotions. He gives the example of a CEO named "Carl" who grew up in humble surroundings. Carl always told stories of his hard upbringing while leading his employees, as he knew this would make them feel more comfortable around him; it made him more accessible and, in turn, more trustworthy. To me, this was the most surprising tip Hamm gave; it's something I never thought of before, as we are often taught to hide our emotions from those we work with.

• Another interesting point was Hamm's mention of the so-called "adulterer's guarantee." Essentially, this is when a leader tells an employee that they lied to someone else, but that they would never lie to you. Some think doing this would show an employee that their boss is behind them, but it really just exposes the leader as a dishonest person. If this leader would lie to someone else, why should an employee believe they are not lying to them? And is usually the case with these situations, the story of this incident will spread, hurting morale.

• Finally, Hamm wrote that a leader should never punish "good failures." These are failures that occur despite an organization doing everything right, and are usually associated with taking a calculated risk for a project. By punishing employees for these "failures," employees will be more averse to taking risks in their work. And since risk-taking is the key for any organization's success, this is most definitely a bad thing. Instead, leaders should strive to create a culture where innovation is promoted, so that all these good failures can eventually lead to something successful.

If you are interested in learning more about Unusually Excellent, visit the book's website.

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