Hidden Lessons in Leadership #14

The chairman and chief executive of Cardinal Health, George Barrett, shared his experiences and perspective on leadership in a recent interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times.   Throughout the interview, in speaking about his experiences and the leadership lessons he learned, George Barrett framed leadership not as a position or skills but as qualities of a person—mainly trustworthiness.

Being trustworthy implies others can (and will) trust you—you are person who can be trusted.  It means you have demonstrated that you are not duplicitous; that you are not a divided person, but one with integrity.  “People have to believe in you.  And when they stop believing in you, you can say all that things in the world but it’s very hard to mobilize an organization when they’ve lost that belief”, says George Barrett.

Though trust is most often developed through experience—what you’ve done and how you have related to and treated others—it speaks to the confidence others have in what you will do.  As George explained, people “ have to trust that you understand them…that you have their interests at heart.”  If people are confident that you will act competently with their best interest at heart then they will see you as trustworthy.

To do so means that you actually care, which takes courage: Courage to give of oneself to others—to be vulnerable to another.  It takes courage to acknowledge your limitations—being honest about your strengths and weaknesses—affording you the ability to act consistent with your capabilities—making promises you can fulfill.  As George noted, “people really have to believe that you know what you are doing.”

In the end leadership requires developing productive partnerships with those you lead.  As Barrett asserts, “leadership is a two way street.  I tell my team I expect to learn from you as well as you’ll learn from me.”  Leadership and followership are inseparable, not in the sense that it takes followers to be a leader but in the sense that to lead you must also be willing to follow—showing that you truly trust those you lead.  Foundationally there must be trust—an essential human need—for  leadership.

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