In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom who has hid himself, his disfigurement and his true talents in the depths of a Paris opera house, desires the love of the beautiful leading lady Christine. He uses tricks and fear to manipulate Christine and others in an attempt to obtain this. But instead, he is hunted down and captured. Only when his mask is removed and his true self is shown with all his flaws, does he get his true desire: a heart-felt kiss from the beautiful Christine.
This story has many parallels to stories of leaders charged with creating change within their organizations. Regardless of what or who you lead – whether it’s a company, a division or a department – if you are responsible for making changes, to be successful it is essential you possess three traits – the Tripod of Trust:
Character is the traits that make you who you are; qualities like honesty, loyalty, courage. If these traits are viewed as trustworthy, people will begin to trust you to lead them through the process of change.
Competence refers to your skills, knowledge and qualifications. To gain people’s trust you must prove yourself an expert in that area and be someone who knows what is best for the organization and all the people in it.
The first two traits should be rather inherent to the role of the leader and come naturally.
The third trait is clairvoyance, which in this context means being transparent. It is often the most difficult for leaders to develop because it seems counter-intuitive to leadership. Allowing the people around you to see who you really are, both personally and professionally, your strengths and your weaknesses, when you are supposed to be the leader may make you look flawed and less than capable of leading.
But the truth is that in order to be an effective leader you cannot hide from others. You must open yourself up – allowing people to not only see your professional and personal strengths but your professional and personal weaknesses. Leaders who do not do this create a subtle but unmistakable message: “I won’t let you close. I do not trust you enough to risk you knowing me beyond professional boundaries.” The impact of this causes people to step back from you with similar distrust, and you cannot lead others who are stepping away from you. People do not distrust you any less because of your weaknesses. They trust you more, because you have shared them with them and you have been honest.
Likewise, covering up aspects about the change that is forthcoming creates distrust, It implies, “I’m greater than you. You don’t need to know.” And while you might believe you are doing this for good reasons, like people’s protection, it ultimately comes across as patronizing, and this type of attitude creates resentment, and ultimately resistance.
So what type of leader are you? Do you operate like the Phantom, using masks and secrecy? Or are you transparent? Like Christine, people can handle the truth. When you are truly open with them – showing your strengths and flaws, true trust is created and the change process will begin.