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Follow the leader who is a good communicator


This month, the results of a survey by Glassdoor revealed that Google’s Larry Page was ranked the highest-rated chief executive by his own employees. Mr Page topped the list with an astounding 97 per cent of surveyed employees approving of the way he leads the company.


The results don’t investigate what contributed to that rating, but it’s safe to assume that part of his appeal is the trust he inspires among employees. Naturally, it helps to be leading a company as successful as Google, with the kind of brand allegiance and employer-of-choice appeal that most companies would take millennia to achieve. As a workplace, the company has succeeded in creating an aura of incredible desirability that explains why many employees would report feeling pleased and privileged with most aspects of their work. Perhaps Mr Page benefits by simply basking in this reflected glow?


Such a suggestion doesn’t credit Google employees with the critical capacity they surely have. In management, and particularly the upper echelons of leadership, trust is an incredibly slippery commodity – far, far easier to lose than it is to gain. In many organisations, there is a sizeable gap between the leaders and the led, and much of this separation can be explained – at least when you look up – through a lack of trust. How leaders overcome this situation is a major challenge, as trust encompasses some delicate components.


For a start, it is about trust in a leader’s competence – whether employees believe a leader has the skills to push on and get things done. People have confidence in those who are capable and will trust a leader who appears to know what they are doing.


If you think of the recent news of the departing Twitter chief executive, Dick Costolo, you can see this isn’t straightforward. Mr Costolo’s exit appears to have been welcomed by investors, with the company’s shares trading higher almost as soon as the announcement was made. At the same time, there has been a clear outflowing of support from Twitter employees for their leader, with Mr Costolo even managing to trend on his own platform.


This suggests that he had the trust of his employees even as he started to lose the trust of the market. It also shows that trust must be built on a solid foundation. Ultimately, employees have a vested interest in their organisation doing well and they need the trust placed in their leader to be repaid with real results. In the present case, perhaps Twitter employees had greater patience and trust than its investors, but there would have been an inevitable tipping point if promised results didn’t appear.


So results are critical to build and maintain trust. Equally fundamental is effective communication that evidences character and integrity. In a small firm, this may be actual contact with employees with the aim of building a genuine connection. In a larger organisation, this might be providing direct updates on company decisions or through opening up effective ways to provide employee feedback.


Such things help a leader to extract themselves from the opaque world of the boardroom to present a clear and understandable picture of what they are trying to achieve. Communication opens the way to listening to concerns and then following through with promised actions. A leader can also demonstrate the consistency of decisions, and show how high-level choices affect and benefit those lower down.


This clarity of purpose provides the real balance to delivering results. A successful leader needs to clearly communicate their approach and targets, and then they need to get there. If they achieve both, they are likely to gain the trust of a workforce that will work harder and produce more. Mr Page has been praised at Google for maintaining his visibility to staff through forums such as weekly all-employee meetings. In driverless cars, medical technology and mobile platforms, he is also clearly delivering some exciting results. Small wonder then that employees believe in his leadership.


Ahmad Badr is the chief executive of the Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group.


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