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High-Trust Leadership

My writing well has obviously been dry for a bit; I’ve struggled to have Time to Think (thanks, Julie Freischlag, for that concept!) and one of the major downstream impacts is on creativity. However, a convergence of some reading and listening jiggled my brain, so here we are.

I’ve been completely transparent about my love of Kimball Scott’s book Radical Candor for the last couple of years. I don’t think I’m alone in having worked with bosses or supervisors/ faculty who were purveyors of ruinous empathy or obnoxious aggression when giving feedback. I also hope that I’m not alone in having worked with and for some people who mastered the sweet spot of radical candor- caring personally and challenging directly- long before it was a concept in print. If you’ve heard me chronicle my professional journey at any point, you’ll know that Leigh Neumayer and Jeff Saffle both served in that capacity when I was a resident and in my early years as faculty. I always felt supported and respected when they had to tell me to get my “stuff” together because I knew they were trying to help me get out of my own way. In short, I trusted them completely because I knew that they wanted me to be the best version of me.

A key thing that I have come to realize over time, and as I’ve become the more senior person in many of my professional roles, is that fostering that trust is both a huge effort and a huge responsibility. In Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last, he highlights the concept of a “Circle of Safety” present in the highest-functioning teams; these teams also have a culture of trust and cooperation, and the leaders of these teams are critical to creating that culture. “Leaders are not responsible for the job…they are responsible for the people who are responsible for the job.” Leaders, according to Sinek, bring empathy and perspective to their teams (note: this talk is worth every minute of your 35 minute investment this weekend).

This afternoon I was listening to the HBR Ideacast while commuting between hospitals. This week’s episode isn’t immediately relevant to my professional existence- it’s on hiring and firing effectively- but there was a phrase that Joel Peterson used that truly resonated with me. He talked about the importance of creating a “high-trust organization” based upon high-trust relationships so that when it is time for a change that everyone can make that happen on good terms. This aligns with comments that Sinek makes regarding playing the “infinite contest,” which isn’t about winning or losing- it’s about the purpose. Using empathy and perspective to achieve a purpose seems to me how one ultimately fosters a high-trust culture.