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Leaders of today need to gain trust while adapting to the digital age

Anthony Robins, one of the world’s bestselling authors and entrepreneurs once lamented in his best seller: Awakening the Giant Within, that a great leader is one that has attained the highest level of self-mastery which enables one to discover, not only their true purpose, but to take control of their lives and surrounding while harnessing the forces that shape one’s leadership destiny.

It is important for a leader to not only demonstrate strong character and ability, but to also demonstrate that his or her leadership capabilities can be trusted.

Today, South Africa finds herself at a precipice in terms of where leadership is headed. The country, which once boasted immense promise in the times of exemplary leadership from icons such as Nelson Mandela who ushered in a new era of peace, hope and prosperity post 1994.

From a communication perspective, leadership from the two divided entities (government and organised business) appears to be in dire straits as a series of crises from both spheres of SA’s economic landscape threaten to choke the life out the strides our country has achieved since it attained political freedom.

From #FeesMustFall where fed up students marched to the union buildings demanding a free education for all, to probably the worst telecommunications crises to hit a South African company at MTN, it is important to highlight a very important aspect of leadership that appears to be playing at the margins, and that is reputation management.

Any leadership entity worth its salt understands that reputation, as well as brand management are important pillars of the organisation they represent because in order to be a success as a leader it is important to realise that it is not just about the financial strength of the company.

Steering a company to financial prosperity is a given with all the right resources and expertise at your disposal, but protecting your image and reputation takes an extra effort. A prime example is the pickle that MTN finds itself in, how long will the company take to recover from that damaged reputation without placing reputation management as one of its core functions post the R17.6 Billion ($5.2 billion) dollar flop.

David Horsager, author of The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line is of the view that among all the attributes of the greatest leaders of our time, one stands above the rest: They are all highly trusted.

He believes that you can have a compelling vision, rock-solid strategy, excellent communication skills, innovative insight, and a skilled team, but if people don’t trust you, you will never get the results that you want.

Therefore, “leaders who inspire trust garner better output, morale, retention, innovation, loyalty, and revenue, while mistrust fosters scepticism, frustration, low productivity, lost sales, and turnover. Trust affects a leader’s impact and the company’s bottom line more than any other single thing,” explains Horsager.

One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to assume that others trust him or her simply by virtue of his or her title. Trust is not a benefit that comes packaged with the nameplate on your door.

It must be earned, and it takes time. As a leader, you are trusted only to the degree that people believe in your ability, consistency, integrity, and commitment to deliver. The good news is that you can earn trust over time, by building and maintaining eight key strengths such as clarity, compassion, character, contribution, competency, commitment, consistency.

Leaders who demonstrate these characteristics highlighted by Horsager tend to function well when dealing with issues of crisis communication because they understand the positive spin offs of an open door policy, especially in a consumer related environment where portraying an image of quality is of paramount importance. There are tangible case studies where the results have been positive for companies who deal with issues in a credible and trust worthy way that everyone believes.

In this day and age there is no switch off time and credible leaders are those who understand the different channels of communication in the current digital age where access to consumers of one’s products is so much easier than what it was 20 years ago. Instead of hiding behind task teams, commissions and investigations the digital age should serve as an opportunity for one companies or governments to engage directly with their consumers and constituencies. The opportunity to display the superior quality of your product or empathy for the people is greater now than what it used to be.

Trust cannot be built overnight because it requires time, effort, diligence, and character. Inspiring trust is a monumental task that needs to be handled with care and a high degree of authenticity.

It is difficult to build and is easy to destroy but once gained can blossom into fantastic relationships with employees, citizens, customers and consumers.

Article written by: Bridget von Holdt
Bridget von Holdt, executive director of Glasshouse Communication Management, is a highly skilled public relations practitioner and was voted as one of the 10 most influential public relations practitioners in South Africa.

Von Holdt holds Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) status and boasts 30 years of experience in the public relations and the events management field. She has served on the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) Council as the member for South Africa. In her own right von Holdt is a multi-award winner.

Von Holdt’s experience in public relations includes all aspects of communication including strategy development and implementation, media relations, crisis communication, social media initiatives, event management and new product launches – innovative ideas on reaching the client’s target audience. Her vast experience also includes strategic planning, stakeholder relation programmes, investor and financial communication, marketing, advertising resources and design.

Glasshouse Communication Management is a result of a merger between Inzalo Communication and HMC Seswa which consolidated in July 2013 to form a new entity.

Tel: +27 11 646-9992

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