What defines a leader? If I were to ask you that question, you would likely say that it is the person with the top position, with the most authority or expertise. The leader is the person in charge!

These are the attributes that come to mind when we think of leaders. But consider this perspective: there is no leader without followers, and following is completely voluntary. You can’t manage your team to success. It is only through leadership that your team will follow you with a strong sense of purpose and commitment, and accomplish together what you set out to do.

Why do people volunteer to follow? Because they trust the leader. When people follow they make themselves vulnerable to the leader. In order to feel comfortable with this vulnerability, they need to feel confident in, respect and admire the leader. Your primary responsibility as the leader is to develop this type of relationship with your followers.

Continuum of Leadership

There is a continuum of leadership. At one end of the spectrum is the trusted leader, who develops high-trust relationships and creates an environment of integrity. At the other end there is the dictator, who uses fear to drive people. Let’s look at what happens within the team under each of these different leadership styles.

The Trusted Leader
With a trusted leader, people follow because they choose to do so. They feel they have a choice. When everyone on the team is there because they want to be there, cohesion develops between the team members. This leads to a sense of commitment to the team, to the leader and to their mission. From this cohesion creativity begins to emerge. The team finds new ways to accomplish things and this leads to continuous improvement, which allows the team and organization to grow and succeed.

The Dictator
Under a dictator, people do what the leader wants because they are afraid of what will happen if they don’t. The coercion spreads among the team members until they too begin to coerce others. This sense of coercion leads to compliance, an environment in which people simply follow orders, which in turn results in stifled communication and lack of decision-making. No one is willing to stick her neck out and point out a problem. Over time, the organization and team become rigid, unable to respond to changes. Eventually the team fails and the organization may even die.

How Can You Become a Trusted Leader?

Here are four steps you can start with right away.

1. Stop Managing and Start Leading
Managing consists of transactions. These transactions are what we do, but they are not what make our team succeed or fail. They are the tasks of the job, which is where we focus far too often. Leading, as opposed to simply managing, deals with transforming people so they become what the team needs—not just task performers.

By focusing on transactions instead of on transforming mindsets and behaviors, you undermine your team’s potential along with your ability to teach your people how to be successful on a team. Being is always more powerful than doing. If you can create the right atmosphere and attitudes, the right actions for success will follow.

2. Drive Out Fear
When you make someone do something through coercion, you can’t help but create fear. If fear is the underlying motivation you don’t have leadership, because no one will volunteer to follow if he is fearful. Fear and trust cannot coexist—they are mutually exclusive. As a leader, you must constantly be on the lookout for fear. Even small pockets of fear can undermine the trust required for success. To eliminate fear, you must create an atmosphere that allows dialogue to occur. Only a safe environment will allow the truth to surface so you can deal with the issues at hand.

3. Build Trust
We’ve asked dozens of team members to rate the level of trust on the team. There was never more than a half-point difference among the responses. Everyone knows how much trust exists within the team. Monitor the level of trust within your team—for example, by using a monthly scorecard—and work to improve it. We measure budgets, production, output, schedule… so why not the most important measure, the level of trust and team spirit?

4. Let Go of the Past
Often we just can’t let go of something that occurred in the past. As it keeps playing out in our minds, we begin to project it into the future. As a trusted leader, you must not allow the past to predict your future. Instead, create a strong, positive vision for your team that overcomes past problems, issues or failures. Trust (or lack of trust) is evident to everyone in a team.

Keep moving toward the trust side on the continuum of leadership. Leadership is not limited to those who have nominal power within the organizational structure. Leadership can be established at all levels of the team. Leadership is available to anyone in your organization and should be encouraged at every level. If you want to produce consistently great results, always strive to become a trusted leader.

SUE DYER is author of the award-winning book, Partner Your Project,
and President of OrgMetrics, a consulting firm specializing
in non-adversarial approaches to preventing and resolving disputes.