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NIH chief built trust by defining success

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management,Profiles in Leadership

Employees need to trust you as their leader if they’re going to outperform as a team. They must believe you’ll put their interests ahead of your own.

If they suspect that you’re biased, they may ignore (or worse, rebel against) your directives. Participants may break into opposing camps, arguing over whether to support or abandon you.

One of the best ways to build trust is to define success. Let the team know why it exists, where it’s going and its potential to strengthen the organization.

When Francis Collins became director of the National Institutes of Health in 2009, he was already well known to a small group within the NIH. That’s because Collins had run the Human Genome Project (HGP), an NIH unit.

In assuming his new post atop the entire NIH, Collins now oversaw 23 institutes. He didn’t want people from the other 22 units to think, “Given his background in genome research, Collins will favor the HGP over the rest.”

To allay such concerns, Collins convened a meeting with all 18,000 employees across all NIH units. He shared his vision and painted a picture of a successful future.

Reassuring the employees that he sought to advance the entire NIH, he likened his role to a “conductor of the orchestra, focused on choosing the scores.” With this metaphor, he expressed his commitment to recognize the merits of each unit.

Like Collins, give teams a clear sense of your expectations and how you view your role. Don’t assume that they know how you’ll hold them accountable. Set goals and explain what criteria you’ll use to track progress so that everyone can tell when goals are met.

— Adapted from Own The Room, Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins, Harvard Business Review Press.

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