5 characteristics of trust-based leadership

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Trust-based leadership

“So, what does it look like to be driven, not by fear, but by a higher purpose, a sense of wholeness, our soul?
This is the question  Frederic Laloux asks in his book “Reinventing Organizations” as he talks about fear-based leadership. And then describes how it would like not to be driven by fear:


What replaces fear? A capacity to trust the abundance of life. All wisdom traditions posit the profound truth that there are two fundamental ways to live life: from fear and scarcity or from trust and abundance. In Evolutionary-Teal, we cross the chasm and learn to decrease our need to control people and events. We come to believe that even if something unexpected happens or if we make mistakes, things will turn out all right, and when they don’t, life will have given us an opportunity to learn and grow”

If all you have known in your professional life are workplaces where politics and conflicts were the rule, it may be nearly impossible to consider that something else can exist. And that has to do with our worldview as discussed at the beginning.  Do we see the world as a place of dangers where we are better off protecting ourselves from external (perceived) risks (.i.e separation) or a place where we can take bold steps towards authenticity, vulnerability, trust and wholeness ?”

After we discussed the Google Aristotle project and its findings in the first post of this series, and the difference between fear-based and trust-based leadership, let’s now have a look at what happens when you stop being driven by fear. What is then emerging instead?
I can see a few things unfolding when we are able to change our “glasses” through which we see others and the world in which we operate.

1. Heart-based leadership
The heart is center of one’s personality, the center of character and emotional life.
The heart is connected with our intuition and emotion. Our body is the vessel to make things happen, and our strength to overcome obstacles. “Heart” drives feelings, emotions, intuitions, actions, and reactions.
Therefore, the heart “knows”. He knows how best to deal with specific situations, with the complexity of our world.Heart-based leadership takes the whole into account, not just the limited ego of the leader himself or the ego of others.
Author and teacher Parker Palmer described the ‘heart’ so powerfully as “that centre in the human self where everything comes together -where will and intellect and values and feeling and intuition and vision all converge. It meant the source of one’s integrity. It takes courage to lead from the heart.” Balancing your head and heart is essential to great leadership.
The quality of the relationships you build and maintain matter. Starting to see people as … “human beings” and not as “some guys who report to me”, “guys who need to play by the rule” or “who are here to deliver growth every month” is the basis from which unprecedented levels of engagement can be created.

How you serve your team also matters greatly and you can only do that with genuine empathy, authenticity and vulnerability. Does it sound too sentimental, or even weak for a leader to embrace those qualities? Most likely, yes, but the corporate world does not need more ways to subordinate people nor does it need more “stick and carrot” approaches to lead others.

2. Humility
Leading from Heart. Serving and developing your team. This is where humility is needed, and needs to be cultivated. That cannot be done with the ego in the driver seat.
We see leaders stealing credit for those that are underneath them and then never protecting them when something goes wrong. We see leaders not making decisions or implementing ideas from other people just because of their own egos.
Interestingly, Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t “ discovered what makes companies go from good to great by sifting through a massive amount of data.
He started with the set of every company that has appeared on Fortune 500 from 1965 to 1995, and they identified companies that started out merely as “good” companies that then became “great” companies (defined as outperforming the general market by a factor of three or more) for an extended period of time (defined as fifteen years or more). They ended up with a set of eleven “good to great” companies and compared them to a set of “comparison companies” to determine what made the merely good companies become great.
Those companies have what Jim Collins describes as Level 5 Leaders: a unique mix of humility and professional will.

level5Here are some key principles of level 5 leaders.
✓    “Level 5 leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will.”
✓    “Level 5 leaders set up their successors for even great success in the next generation, whereas egocentric leaders often set up their successors for failure.”
✓    “Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results. They are resolved to do whatever it takes.”
✓    “Level 5 leaders display a workman-like diligence – more plow horse than show horse.”
✓    “Level 5 leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility.”
✓    “Level 5 leaders attribute much of their success to good luck, rather than personal greatness.”

The great irony is that the personal ambition that often drives people to become a Level 4 leader stands at odds with the humility required to rise to Level 5.
The mistake would be to assume they are weak because of their humbleness. Ambition, decisiveness and professional will can coexist with humility, as show in the “Good to Great” companies. Jim Collins wrote his book more than a decade ago, and it seems to me that it is even more urgent years later than it was back then to develop that balance.

3. You attract like-minded people, and become a “magnet”.
Some might call it law of attraction or law of resonance.
Because trust/collaboration/respect/empathy/wholeness is how you see the world, how you look at situations in which you get engaged, you naturally see the good in others, you see and appreciate their potential. It is not about being naïve or helpless. It is just about being, without putting a mask, and see the human being in others too.

4. You in turn free other, let them express their own wholeness
Because others see that you are free, and not driven by your ego or your own personal agenda, that gives them the permission to become that too. This is to me a very important aspect. Have you ever had a leader in your own organization having an impact just by expressing himself authentically, emphatically, with humility and yet with power ? How liberating and inspiring, isn’t?

5. You accept, enjoy and benefit from people difference.
Others feel seen and heard. You collaborate, you are equals. Yes, roles might be different, but you are not on a pedestal or put others on a pedestal either. You end up acknowledging and leveraging those differences, people’s unique strength and abilities. Their unique brilliance.

Series Navigation<< Trust-based leadershipBeing you, at work >>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *