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t has long been a cliché of management and leadership press articles to talk about the

accelerating pace of the world and the perplexingly complex, unpredictable and volatile times that we live in. If there is an irony in the way in which this has turned from cliché to understatement in the second half of 2016 – not just in the UK, but globally – then it is one that has induced only nervous or satirical laughter. We can use the word ‘funny’, but the emphasis would be on meanings more closely related to peculiarity than mirth. Te events of July 2016 alone

have probably made many of us revisit how we might define words such as ‘impossible’ or ‘improbable’. Te turbulent current environment should surely underline the importance of earning and maintaining the trust of employees. Faith – a word that has evolved not from religion but from the Latin word for trust – is one of the bulwarks that we have against the impact of darker or dangerous moments. Yet, while there has never been a time or a place for slipshod or careless management, recent surveys continue to show that these times and places continue to exist. Consider, for example, the findings of the Great Workplaces Special Report.1

Te average score for Trust

in Leadership was just 47 per cent, and even this conceals variations. While small businesses might average a less worrying score of 60 per cent, the largest organisations scored just 43 per cent. It is also clearly evident that the answer depends on who you are asking. Directors recorded a score of 72 per cent on this topic. Teir staff – those whose trust needs to be in those directors – showed an average workplace score of just 40 per cent.

The number one practical competency

In times with the potential for considerable economic, social, business and political disruption – and times that are likely to make the non-working lives of employees increasingly anxious and fraught – trust is a premium commodity. Like any other sought outcome, it pays to examine the drivers that can enhance the likelihood of achieving it. And

when we ponder the role of leadership here, it might also pay to remember a quote from Peter Drucker: “Te number one practical competency for success in life and work is empathy.” Empathy, in turn, requires its own

drivers, not least of which is sensitivity. It is not just a matter of getting closer to those with whom we are already in agreement, it’s about exploring and understanding the viewpoint, perspective and feelings of others. Tis is a matter more of respect

than of sympathy, and it requires a degree of mutuality – those in whom we invest the time and effort to reach a better understanding are more likely to respect our own viewpoint and opinion. Empathy is the difference between an exchange of views and a conversation. To quote the American psychologist, Daniel Goleman, who is renowned for his work on Emotional Intelligence: “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”2

Empathy is the difference between an exchange of views and a conversation

It is this self-awareness that is the

foundation of true leadership – if we accept that its most accurate definition is not a role title or a list of tasks but a suite of actions and behaviours that inspire the best in others. Leadership may indeed be an honour, but it is more informative to think of it as a responsibility to others. It is the outcomes of leadership that should be a source of pride, not the status of the position. As a role in which relation- ships are critical, a leader’s ability to understand – and to modulate – their impact on others is a crucial core skill: regardless of how we see ourselves, oth- ers’ perceptions are their reality. And to understand our impact on others, we must first understand ourselves.

 | September 2016 | 33

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