The Basic Principles: Building Blocks of Trust

Article excerpt

Today's Leader: A Slice of Life

The pressure on leaders to performunder the most trying conditions- has never been greater. Leaders and employees report working longer and harder to meet higher expectations, often with fewer resources. One early morning in the life of "Claudia," a typical leader, might represent leaders everywhere looking for answers.

4:24 a.m. Teleconference in 5 minutes. Claudia reviews her notes: complaints from team members in India about being out of the loop, the need to get people fully on board to meet the scary revenue goals, another reminder from her boss that the senior team is counting on her...

5:20 a.m. Productive meeting. Claudia makes a mental note to ask Lois in Denver to use less slang or she'll lose people who don't know the "Americanisms."

5:30 a.m. Claudia sips her second cup and scans the online Journal. Her eyes widen at the headline about a new competitor: "Upstart Firm Signs Contract Worth Millions."

5:45 a.m. 43 new e-mails. Claudia deletes what she dares and opens the "invitation" to required software training for her team. More technology promising productivity? She mentally starts re-juggling resources.

6:15 a.m. Off to the breakfast launch of the "Bright Idea Team." New voice mail (When did this come in?): "You said Dan was good, but the customer knew more about us than he did! Call me." Someone else leaves a voice mail as she leaves one for Dan.

6:16 a.m. New voice mail: "Just a heads-up before the breakfast meeting. You brought me in for some fresh thinking - and all I get is why they won't let us. I thought we were they! See you at 9."

Seven Types of Complexity

Leaders like Claudia are everywhere. AchieveGlobal's worldwide study of demands on leaders today, a rigorous review of leadership journals, focus groups, and a survey of 971 leaders in every global region, identified seven top challenges:

* Far-reaching globalization: "I interact with customers, colleagues, and suppliers in all corners of the world," said one respondent in our study. "That's a given if we're going to succeed."

* Demand for higher and higher productivity: "The bar keeps getting higher. We have to do more than ever before-and faster-with less people. And if we don't, someone else who can will get the business."

* Intense, unpredictable competition: "I used to know exactly who competed with us for projects," said a sales leader. "Now my life is filled with nasty surprises."

* Escalating customer demands: "Consumers know what they want and more than one place to get it," said another leader. "We used to have long-term customers; that's barely the case any more."

* Managing costs while growing the business: "Cutting costs only takes you so far," said this respondent. "We need new revenue, which takes real creativity and ability to deliver."

* Dizzying technological change: "It offers tremendous opportunity," we heard in a typical comment, "but it changes so fast we can't keep up."

* Increasingly diverse workforce and customers: "Our industry draws a younger crowd, yet we still have seasoned people. Getting them together is a challenge."

All these challenges imply a central question for Claudia and leaders like her: "How do I motivate performance when energy is low and tensions are high?"

The Not-So-Secret Ingredient

Today's employees want leaders they can trust - both in a difficult present and a change-filled future. We don't know precisely what those changes will be; we do know they will require focus, collaborative problem solving, and shared accountability. What does it take for employees to collaborate with leaders and accelerate productivity?

"Motivation is critical," said a leader in our study. "It has to be constant and consistent."

As a perennial issue in search of a solution, motivation - "employee engagement" in today's vocabulary - is essential to creating and sustaining the energy required by today's business challenges. …