By John Saunders, WeAlign Associate Coach

One of the most important things a leader can do is build trust in his or her leadership and among the group.  A significant and often undervalued factor in building that trust is the leader’s emotional maturity. Often, leaders expect others to trust them based on their position, their track record and experience, or the brilliance of their strategies.  Yet emotional maturity, and in particular the leader’s behavior in difficult situations, has more impact on the trust level of the group than any other factor. People want to know: Are we in this together?

A key test of emotional maturity is behavior under stress.  When things are going well, it’s much easier to be patient, supportive, respectful, and encouraging.  When there is a significant problem or the volume of work reaches a certain threshold, it’s much more difficult. 

Here are two questions to ask yourself, and others you trust and who will be honest with you, about your emotional maturity, and especially how you react under stress.  They’re not yes or no questions, but more of a never/rarely/sometimes/usually/always scale. Certainly, you want to be working towards both qualities as the day-to-day norm.  As the depth and strength of your emotional maturity grows, you will be able to continue to manifest them under increasingly difficult circumstances.

How well do I remain relational?

To “remain relational” means to continue to focus on the relationships with people rather than just task execution.  Do I still care about and am I willing to listen to what others think and feel? Do I just want to make the problem, person, or feeling go away?  Do I duck for cover, and try to make sure I can look good even if things go badly? Do I go into the “I’m going to fix this” mode, where I interrogate, judge, feel very certain that I’m right or at least smarter than everyone else, and try to pressure people to do things my way?

There are gross deviations from remaining relational, like screaming at people and openly playing the “blame and shame” game.  It’s also possible that you can lose your ability to remain relational and still remain (at least on the surface) fairly professional and polished.  Even in the latter case, people will sense that it’s about the problem, not about really working together and respecting one another, and will feel like they can’t trust you fully.

How well do I act like my best self, in line with my values and the group’s values?

My identity is linked  to my values and the values of my group and is expressed in my behavior.   Again, there are gross violations of values like illegal behavior or intentional deceit  Few will follow you if those things are exposed. At the same time, most people expect a higher standard than strict legality and factual correctness.  If say that I value things like fairness, respect, and transparency, is that what I consistently display, or do I make decisions that are expedient but not in line with those values?

Most people don’t expect perfection.  They realize that life is complex, and that there will be times when you slip from your standards.  However, they also expect a level of consistency, and your humility to acknowledge and apologize when you’ve slipped in your behavior, and for you to show improvement over time.  

Emotional maturity may seem subtle, but with trust being one of the major assets of your organization, it’s worth the investment.

Note:  These two questions are based on the first two habits from the book, Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits For Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead by Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder