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What it takes to lead: trust, respect and affinity with people are cornerstones of leadership.

Back in the 1980s, a one-time IBM salesman and singing cowboy by the name of Robert Fulghum wrote a little book that became a worldwide sensation. All I Really Need to Know 1 Learned in Kindergarten stayed atop the best-seller lists for two solid years. It was translated into 27 languages and sold in more than 100 countries.

As the title suggests, this marvelous book asserted that the really important verities of life we learn as young children. Perhaps nowhere is that more true than in communication, especially for the sake of leadership.

Consider what we learned about communication as youngsters on the playground:

* Thou shalt not lie.

* Practice what you preach.

* Actions speak louder than words.

* Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

* Seeing is believing.

In other words, we learn early on that credibility is the currency of communication. We learn that we cannot get away with just saying whatever we want, when we really don't mean it. Other people resent and dislike that, and they will resent and dislike us.

As we grow into adults, we come to appreciate the significance of this. We realize that all the fast and fulsome talk in the world cannot buy the allegiance and dedication of people, whether they're our kids or our employees or our constituents. Only our credibility as leaders can do that. Without credibility, our communication is like counterfeit money.

Moreover, we realize that the measuring rod of credibility does not belong to us as leaders. Rather, it belongs to the people we seek to lead. They and they alone measure our credibility. If they find it in our leadership, we and they can go anywhere. If they don't, we and they can go nowhere.

Those of us who think a little longer about the challenge of credibility also realize that when we begin to assert ourselves as leaders, credibility becomes more elusive and difficult. It begins with simple trust, for sure, but it seems to demand more than that. It also requires respect and affinity with people.

By trust, we have in mind a high regard for the veracity of one's word. People who trust someone believe that person is telling the truth. The truth that he tells may be a factual depiction of reality. Or it may be a sincere statement of intent or a frank and honest description of his opinion, values or perspective.

By respect, we're referring to a high regard for the leader's command, control and competence; his ability, energy, initiative, resources and perseverance--in short, his authority. In the colloquial, this quality is often referred to as "street cred." People must recognize and respect a leader's capacity for situational authority in order to believe he is capable of accomplishing that which he is setting out to accomplish.

By affinity, we mean a high regard for a common bond of interests, needs and concerns. Apart from someone under the hypnotic spell of a cult, no one willingly follows a leader whose purpose runs counter to their own well-being. Rather, people look for nobility of intent: an honorable purpose that aligns with their own well-being. What is important and valuable to the leader must be, or must become, important and valuable to the people she would lead, and vice versa.

One or even two of these three cornerstones is not enough. Respect and affinity in the absence of trust leaves a residue of doubt. Affinity and trust in the absence of respect leaves a residue of skepticism. Trust and respect in the absence of affinity leaves a residue of opposition. Leaders need all three: trust, respect, and affinity with people.

Now, most of us didn't actually learn this part in kindergarten. But those who never learn it at all will never capture the hearts and minds of people.

They will never lead.

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Thomas J. Lee is a Chicago-based consultant and speaker on leadership credibility and engagement.
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Title Annotation:in my opinion
Author:Lee, Thomas J.
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2012
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