Three Critical Skills Today’s Leaders Need

Which of the following factors can render your business model obsolete almost overnight?
a) Geopolitical issues
b) Macroeconomic volatility
c) Disruptive technologies
d) Government intervention
e) All of the above
If you answered “e,” you’re on to something. But there’s one skill that, if a business leader can master it, can help hedge against all of these: building trust.
Plainly put, people find it very difficult to trust business leaders. Recent surveys show that CEOs still rank near the bottom of the list of trustworthy job titles.
We can – and must – do better. As leaders, we all need to work harder at building trust and confidence in business.
So what are the skills that successful leaders need to rebuild trust? These three capabilities are critical.

1. We have to put forward a clear, long-term vision for our business.

To gain our stakeholders’ confidence, we need to clearly explain our company’s purpose and how it delivers value to the groups we serve. Make sure you spend time talking to your employees, investors, regulators and other constituents not only about what you do but also why you do it. For example, at EY we’re focused on building a better working world by improving trust and confidence in the companies, markets and economies we serve. Without trust and confidence, we don’t have growth. So what is the primary purpose of your organization?

2. We must communicate better.

Leaders need to build more open, trusting relationships with shareholders, employees, regulators, governments and the public. How do we accomplish this? By being better listeners. We should be able to listen at least as well as we speak.
Earlier in my career, I spent time as a government regulator. This was a great experience because it taught me how to listen to different viewpoints and sift through varied information. It also taught me that title is not authority; you have to persuade people to follow you. In business this means, we need to answer questions about all aspects of our vision and the value our company generates.
Employees at all levels want to hear what they can do to make their organization’s vision a reality. This is critical because engaged employees have a direct impact on the bottom line. The publicly traded companies among the Great Place to Work Institute’s “100 Best Companies to work for” have outperformed major stock market indices consistently over the past 15 years.
Rising government involvement in business and an uncertain policy environment require leaders to really listen to the concerns of lawmakers – and their voters. For global companies, this means engaging in conversations not only in Washington and Brussels, but also in Beijing, Moscow and New Delhi.

3. We have to build our bench strength.

As leaders, we need to become better at building high-performing teams around us. In today’s complex, interconnected world, no one person can listen to every stakeholder and offer all the answers. We should surround ourselves with nimble teams of people who have different views, various specializations and diverse backgrounds – people who resemble our client base. We need to remember that no one of us is smarter than all of us. While the leader is ultimately accountable, it truly does take an agile team to drive growth in today’s organization.
For many leaders, improving these three skills isn’t easy – but, then again, nothing worthwhile is easy to master. By basing our leadership on these three building blocks – a clear vision, better communication and inclusive teamwork – we can restore trust in us. This will lead to improved business performance and, ultimately, a better working world.
Photo: Vinoth Chandar/Flickr
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