Now, more than ever, leaders need to decisively and powerfully nurture trust in the workplace. Although much of what it takes to build trust is common sense, it’s not always common practice. In this short video, I share 10 practical ways leaders can immediately build trust with their teams and organizations.
I recently watched an excellent TED talk, which I think you’ll love, too. It’s about why the best leaders make loving employees a higher priority than profit.
Since the talk is only 9 minutes long, and the topic is an important, yet nuanced one, I have interviewed the speaker, Matt Tenney, to give you a deeper exploration of the topic. After you watch the video of Matt’s talk, I think you’ll enjoy my interview with him, which is below.
1. When you talk about loving employees, you say you’re not talking about a touchy-feely, warm and fuzzy emotional feeling, but rather being concerned about the long-term well-being of team members. Can you give some examples of how leaders can show commitment to an employee’s well-being?
Some general examples include frequently asking about and seeking out ways that we as leaders can help team members to be happier both at work and at home.
This can include removing obstacles that prevent people from doing their best work, reducing bureaucracy, facilitating skillful communication around problems in the workplace, setting clear boundaries between home and work so that employees don’t feel that they need to be checking emails and texts when they’re not at work, and investing time and resources in helping team members grow both personally and professionally.
A specific and counter intuitive, yet extremely impactful example of being committed to the well-being of team members, is refusing the demands of a customer when those demands create unnecessary negative impacts on the well-being of team members. This is something most, if not all, business leaders can relate to.
We have all dealt with external customers who are extremely demanding, not very grateful, and who create lots of stress for team members. A leader who is truly committed to the well-being of team members as the top priority would have a candid conversation with this customer and let them know that if they do not change their ways, the organization would no longer be able to serve them.
This doesn’t mean that the leader doesn’t love the customer. The leader could certainly refer that customer to a competitor who would take care of them.
Supporting team members in this way is a powerful demonstration of love and a powerful way to build loyalty with team members. And, I’m confident than in almost all cases, this can actually improve the profitability of the organization. Oftentimes we find that the most difficult customers are the ones with the lowest gross margins, providing the least amount of profit for the company, despite being the most work.
By finding someone else to serve them, we can create a huge synergistic effect that improves business outcomes. This can give us more time to serve the customers that are easy to work with, who are often the ones with higher gross margins, and who provide us with more referrals.
Also, by making the lives of our employees easier, they will be better equipped to serve those customers well. And, of course, there are side benefits like reducing sick days and improving overall productivity.
2. You share the example of Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines as models of love in action and the success it brings. Why haven’t more leaders and organizations adopted the same approach? What gets in their way?
There are a lot of reasons that leaders and organizations, especially companies, fail to prioritize people over profit.
In some cases, unfortunately, it’s because owners and senior leaders are greedy and self-serving, and only care about enriching themselves. However, I think this only true for a small percentage of profit-focused companies.
I believe the vast majority of leaders want to prioritize people over profit, but there are many forces that prevent them from doing it. In the case of most publicly traded companies, leaders face incredible pressure from the board to maximize stock performance.
Unfortunately, most shareholders have no connection to a company other than the stock they own. They’ve never met a single employee in the company they own. Thus, the company is nothing but numbers on an exchange listing to them. As a result, these shareholders generally only care about whether the numbers are going up or down. And, they want them to be going up every quarter.
Thus, most boards hire and incentivize senior leaders based on their abilities to make the numbers go up every quarter. It only takes a bad quarter or two, and leaders start losing their jobs. That type of pressure to hit the numbers in the short term makes it very hard to do the things necessary to create a culture that drives long-term success, which is a people-first culture. However, all leaders face similar pressure to hit the numbers to some degree.
And, it seems that the bulk of the conditioning all leaders have received most of their lives has been to prioritize winning, or hitting goals, over loving well. This just seems to be what our modern culture values most, especially in the for-profit business world. This conditioning to focus on goals and winning is not easy to overcome, and it hinders our ability to love well.
3. What role does ‘trust’ play in loving your employees?
Trust is an absolute non-negotiable requirement for loving team members.
If members cannot trust leaders, it is essentially impossible for the leader to consistently have a positive impact on the well-being have team members. There will always be a subtle anxiety present whenever trust is absent. This is going in the complete opposite direction of making a positive impact on well-being.
Also, giving trust away is a powerful way to demonstrate love. When leaders convey unquestionable trust and their team members, those team members are empowered to grow personally and professionally, and to be the best version of themselves.
4. What are the top 3-5 behaviors/actions/strategies you suggest leaders follow to start putting these concepts into practice?
First, and most important, we need to consciously make love the top priority to begin undoing the conditioning that I mentioned earlier.
An easy but effective way to do this is to change one’s job description. This doesn’t mean asking HR to officially rewrite your job description. What it means is just internally, for yourself, rewriting the job description in a way that reflects what’s most important. Most job descriptions start with a description of the responsibilities to the organization. Instead, I recommend people rewrite their job description so that it starts with this:
“My job is to help the people I work with to thrive: to help them to grow both personally and professionally and to do my best to contribute to their long-term well-being.“
Everything else in the job description would be listed as additional responsibilities. Once the new job description is written, I recommend reading it out loud multiple times every day to gradually undo the conditioning that leads us to believe that achieving the goal and winning are what’s most important.
By reading the new job description out loud multiple times each day, we are telling the brain that loving well is important to us. As a result, we start to see more opportunities to love better, and we’re much more open to opportunities to develop our ability to love better.
It’s kind of like when you buy a new car, or learn a new name, and then, suddenly, you start seeing it or hearing it all over the place. This doesn’t happen because that name or that car just magically multiplied all around you. It happens because the part of the brain that filters out information we don’t think is important has stopped filtering that information out, and is allowing us to see what we now think is important.
Second, we need to look at the problem of being too busy. Most leaders I’m aware of try to do too many things. Unfortunately, there is a direct, negative correlation between how busy we are and how likely we are to love team members. The busier we are, the less likely we are to love well. This was demonstrated in the now famous Good Samaritan study conducted at Princeton University.
So, I highly recommend taking measures to do less and spend more time just being. For those who think that their productivity will somehow go down, I think you’ll be surprised. I feel very confident that your productivity will increase. Productivity is not a function of how many tasks we complete. It’s a function of the value we produce.
Doing less helps you to get clearer on what really matters and spend more time doing that. And, of course, the most important example of this is getting clear on the truth that what is most important in life is loving well. By reducing the number of things we do, we are much more likely to love better.
Third, we need to work on the bad habit of being distracted. I would guess that most people spend 90% of their time distracted either by obsessive use of technology or by their own thinking (or both). This, of course leads to increased anxiety, which makes us much less likely to love well. And, it also means that we’re habitually distracted when we’re interacting with other human beings. If we are distracted when interacting with others, people don’t feel loved in our presence because they don’t feel as though we are truly there with them. The simplest yet perhaps most tangible way to demonstrate love is to give a person our complete and undivided attention, to be fully present with them.
This is why I’m a huge advocate have engaging in mindfulness training. With mindfulness training, we can systematically break the habit of being distracted and cultivate a new habit of being mindfully self-aware and fully present. Mindfulness empowers us to consistently embody love.
Matt Tenney is the author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom, and The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence Without Adding to Your Schedule.
Did you ever play the game Show and Tell when you were in elementary school? It wasn’t really a game in the traditional sense, but more like story-time or a group activity to help the whole class learn more about the presenter.
The premise of Show and Tell is a student gets to bring something from home to show the class and then tells them why it’s important to them or what it represents about them as a person. I remember looking forward to Show and Tell days with great excitement!
My favorite Show and Tell was in 6th grade when Simon Mattar’s uncle showed us his tricked-out 1950’s era ambulance that had been converted into an all-purpose rescue vehicle. This thing was so cool that you could change a flat tire on the vehicle while it was driving down the road! That’s the day Simon Mattar became a legend at Avondale Elementary. I gained a whole new appreciation for who Simon was and what his family was about after that experience.
I think our workplaces would be more productive, humane, and empowering if more leaders played Show and Tell. Not in the same way we did as kids in elementary school, but in our everyday words and actions. Here’s a good place to start:
- Competence – Too often people stop focusing on their personal learning and development once they reach a leadership position. I would argue the opposite needs to occur – that’s when you need to ramp up your education. Showing your team that you prioritize ongoing education sends the message to them that they should do the same. It’s important to not just stay up to speed on the technical aspects of your team’s work, but also on general leadership and management practices. Being a manager or leader is a mindset and skillset unto itself, and the best leaders are lifelong learners.
- Integrity – Integrity is about walking the talk. It’s about your actions aligning with your words, and when you’re a leader, you can be sure that your team members are watching your every move. The best leaders show they are worthy of the trust of their teammates. They do that by being honest, keeping confidences, and not playing favorites. At the end of the day, leaders are known by their integrity, and sadly, the lack thereof.
- Care and Concern – It’s a cliché but it’s true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Expressing care and concern for others is one of the quickest and easiest ways for leaders to earn the trust and respect of their team. You can start by building rapport, which is simply finding common ground with another person. You can also express care by getting to know your team members as people who have lives outside of work. What are their interests? Hobbies? Kids’ activities?
- Dependability – Leaders show they are dependable by following-through on commitments. They are responsive to their team members, respect their time, and are punctual for meetings (yes, showing up on time is still important!). Conversely, not being reliable erodes trust with others and shows that you can’t be depended on when it counts.
- People they’re doing a good job – How many of you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive from your boss? Nobody? I didn’t think so. The truth is that most people are starved for a little bit of recognition from their boss. Take the time to verbalize your thanks and appreciation for the good work your team produces.
- People how they can do better – Yes, you heard that right; tell people how they can do better (and show them how). A good coach is always encouraging his team members to improve their skills. Why do you think professional athletes still have coaches? It’s because they know that no matter how good they are they can still get better. I’ve learned through personal experience that withholding constructive criticism from a team member does them a disservice. People can’t improve if they don’t receive timely and accurate coaching.
- The whole story – Too many leaders are selective story tellers; they only tell their people what they want them to know. In the absence of information, people make up their own version of the truth. It’s the leader’s duty to share as much information as ethically appropriate and then trust their people to act correctly. People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.
- Others about yourself – Leaders who share information about themselves, particularly their vulnerabilities, garner immensely more respect and trust from their team than leaders who don’t share personal information. I believe it’s a false notion that leaders must keep their business and personal lives separate. Today’s employee wants to have a genuine and authentic experience at work. They want to know they are valued and appreciated as individuals, not just workers showing up to do a job. Leaders must model that level of authenticity if they hope to attract and retain the best talent.
Show and Tell in today’s workplace isn’t quite the same as it was back in elementary school, but the outcomes are similar. It results in helping people to know each other better, foster team cohesiveness, and develop a greater appreciation and understanding of their teammates. Those sound like worthy goals for any organization.
I have to admit, it’s easy for me not to notice. I get focused on my own goals and priorities and everything else around me seems to fade from view. That focused attention is a good thing when I need to meet a deadline or accomplish an important task, but when it comes to leading people, it’s a deadly mistake. I can get so wrapped up in my own agenda that I neglect to notice the needs of my team members.
I know I’m not alone here. Many people fall into the same trap because they think that’s what leaders are supposed to do. Make decisions, be in lots of meetings, and wear our busyness like a badge of courage. Let me be the first to break the news to you—that’s not how you should lead. Great leaders make time for their people because they know a leader’s best ability is availability. (click to tweet)
You may not think being a good “noticer” is important but I’d argue otherwise. I think it’s one of the top priorities for leaders because it makes you other-focused rather than self-focused.
Being a good noticer builds morale. Being valued, understood, and appreciated is a basic human need, but unfortunately, too many leaders forget their people are actually human. They view people as utilitarian resources performing a specific job function and treat them as interchangeable parts. But taking time to notice people lifts their spirits. A well-timed praising, note of thanks, or even just a personal conversation can turn around a person’s day.
Noticing people also builds trust. It shows your people that you care about them as individuals and not just as workers showing up to do a job. Everyone has a story and good leaders take the time to learn the stories of their team members. I’m not talking about hugging everyone and singing Kumbaya, but simply building relationships. Asking about their kids, getting their input on new ideas, or eating lunch in the break room with your team members every once in a while. With the trust of your team you can reach new heights, but without it you’re dead in the water.
Finally, noticing others keeps your leadership on course because you’re in tune with the needs of your team. The higher up leaders move in the organization the easier it is to get disconnected from the realities of life on the front line. Being a good noticer means you have to stay engaged with your team. It means you are familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly of what your team has to deal with daily. That allows you to make leadership decisions based on what’s really going on versus what you think is going on.
So I challenge you to make a commitment this week. Take 5 minutes each day to pause, consider your team, and notice what’s going on around you. If you see a person doing a good job, tell him/her so. If you see someone struggling, ask if they need help. If one of your team members seems downcast, ask if they’d like to talk. It’s not that hard; it just takes a little time and effort.
Feel free to leave a comment this week to let me know what you noticed.
When it comes to trustworthiness, being just OK is not OK.
You may have seen any number of AT&T’s “just OK is not OK” series of commercials touting their wireless network. Well, I’m a fan of creative and funny TV commercials, and the first time I saw one of these I immediately saw the connection to trust.
People form perceptions of our trustworthiness based on our behavior. Acting in trustworthy ways creates the condition of trust in our relationships. When you look at what makes people trustworthy, you find they are:
Able: Being able is about demonstrating competence. Able people have the expertise, training, and qualifications to perform well in their roles. They also have a track record of success as they demonstrate the ability to consistently achieve goals. Able people are skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems, and processes that help team members accomplish their goals.
Believable: A believable person acts with integrity by dealing with others in an honest fashion; e.g., keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth, not gossiping, etc. Believable people have a clear set of values. They communicate these values to others and use them consistently as a model for their behavior: they walk the talk. Finally, treating people fairly and equitably is a key characteristic of a believable person.
Connected: Connected people show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps create an engaging work environment. People can create a sense of connection by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and by trusting others to use that information responsibly. Connected people also build trust by having a people-first mentality and building rapport with others. Taking an interest in people as individuals, not nameless workers, shows that these people value and respect their colleagues.
Dependable: Being dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trustworthiness. One of the quickest ways people erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, those who do what they say they are going to do earn a reputation of being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires people to be organized so that they can follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable people also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for their work.
Growing in trustworthiness is a journey, not a destination. You never reach the point where you can say you are fully trustworthy. Trust in relationships is a living organism, constantly interacting with and adjusting to the dynamics of the situation and individuals involved. In order for trust to flourish, it’s important to behave in ways that demonstrate you are able, believable, connected, and dependable.
When it comes to trustworthiness, being just OK is not OK.
If you could have any superpower in the world that would help you be a better leader, what would it be?
Mind-control could be a good choice. Manipulating people’s minds to make them do what you want would certainly make your job easier. Or how about super-intelligence? If you were the smartest person in the room, you could shortcut all the inane problem-solving discussion and just tell everyone the answer. That would definitely improve productivity, wouldn’t it? Or maybe you’d like an out-of-this-world dose of charisma that would allow you to inspire your followers to charge through a brick wall to achieve the vision you laid before them. All of those abilities sound wonderful, but we know that superpowers don’t exist, right?
Well, according to neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D., we all have a very specific superpower, but most of us fail to recognize it as such. What is this leadership superpower? It’s your social skills.
What? Social skills are a leadership superpower? Are you kidding me?
Nope, I’m not kidding. And I believe it, too. In 22 years of working for The Ken Blanchard Companies, I can tell you that one of the top reasons organizations bring us in to work with their leaders is because they don’t have the social skills needed to lead others. To illustrate, let me ask you a question: Who is it that usually gets promoted to a leadership role? The star performer, of course. Well, just because someone is a superstar as an individual contributor, doesn’t mean she will be a superstar leader. Leadership is a whole different ballgame where success or failure usually hinges on a person’s social skills.
In particular, your social skills are critical to creating stronger bonds of relational connection that results in higher levels of trust with others.
There is an epidemic of loneliness in America, and our workplaces are in dire need of greater relational connection. My friend Mike Stallard, is an author, speaker, and expert on human connection in corporate cultures and how it affects the health and performance of individuals and organizations. He recently wrote about this challenge and the benefits organizations can achieve if they improve human connection. Stallard points out that stronger bonds of human connection in the workplace boosts the cognitive firepower of employees, increases employee engagement, tightens strategic alignment, improves decision-making quality and boosts the rate of innovation.
Connection not only addresses the problems of loneliness and its ill effects, it also builds trust. In fact, connection is one of the four key elements of trust in a relationship.
Connection is about caring for others. When people see that you act with goodwill, that you have their best interests in mind, they are more apt to trust you. They trust your intentions because they believe you won’t do anything to intentionally try to harm them. Connection also builds trust through open communication. Sharing information about yourself and the organization shows people that you don’t have any hidden agendas. People see that you don’t use information as power, and you don’t withhold it in an attempt to retain power over them. You can also build connection through rapport. In Stallard’s article, he cites the example of a Costco manager who builds rapport by making it a point to remember the names and something memorable about all 280 of his employees.
Trust is important because it’s the magic ingredient of organizational success. It acts as both the lubrication that keeps organization’s running smoothly as well as the glue that holds it all together. Research has repeatedly shown that high levels of trust in organizations lead to higher revenues, profit, innovation, engagement, and lower costs related to turnover, accidents, sick-leave, and employee theft.
So forget about wishing for the superpowers of mind-control, super-intelligence, or hyper-charisma. You’ve already got a superpower and didn’t even realize it. Now it’s time to put it to work.
Trust is the absolute, without a doubt, most important ingredient for a successful relationship, especially for leaders. Unfortunately, though, most leaders don’t give much thought to trust until it’s been broken, and that’s the worst time to realize its importance.
According to a study by Tolero Solutions, 45% of employees say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting work performance. A 2015 study titled Building Workplace Trust reported that only 40% of employees have a high level of trust in their management and organization, and 25% reported lower levels of trust in those two groups than they did two years before.
Many leaders think trust “just happens,” like some sort of relationship osmosis. These people often understand trust is important, but they don’t know what it takes to have their people perceive them as being trustworthy. There are four elements of trust in a relationship. Leaders demonstrate their trustworthiness when they are:
Able—Leaders demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their roles. They achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. They show good planning and problem solving skills and they make sound, informed decisions. Their people trust their competence.
Believable—Leaders act with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. They walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with their personal values and those of the organization. They treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are fairly applied to all members of the team.
Connected—Trustworthy leaders care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected leader who cares about people.
Dependable—People trust leaders who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of dependable leaders. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable leaders are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support.
Trust enables cooperation, encourages information sharing, and increases openness and mutual acceptance. It creates a culture of safety that leads to greater innovation and appropriate risk-taking. Trust also paves the way for unleashing employee engagement. A 2016 study we conducted showed leader trustworthiness is highly correlated to the five key intentions that drive employee work passion: discretionary effort, intent to perform, intent to endorse, intent to remain, and organizational citizenship.
Building trust is a skill that can be developed. You can learn how to become more trustworthy by being able, believable, connected, and dependable in your relationships, and therefore more trusted by your employees. Trust doesn’t happen by accident. YOU make it happen.
“We’re re-evaluating all of our vendor relationships.” Oomph! It felt like a punch to the gut when our client uttered those words, especially the “v” word. For several years this organization had been one of our top 5 clients, and now this new client contact was replacing our previous partner with whom we had a trusted and successful relationship. He clearly had a new strategy that didn’t involve us and was looking to move his business elsewhere. Despite our best efforts, over the course of the next 18 months our business with this client evaporated.
How did we move so quickly from being viewed as a trusted partner with this client to a vendor who could easily be replaced? It had nothing to do with the quality of our products and services, our price, or our capabilities as an organization. It had everything to do with the level of trust in the relationship with our new client contact.
We had developed an extremely high level of trust with our original sponsor. She viewed us as a trusted advisor who looked out for her best interests. She knew that our primary aim was to help her succeed, not just to sell products and services. We collaborated on projects together, learned from each other, and were vested in creating win-win solutions.
This level of commitment was reflected in the language we used when speaking about each other. She was our client – a person who uses the professional advice of another – and we were her partner – a person in a relationship where each has equal status. Our new client contact clearly viewed us as a vendor– a person who sells something.
So how you do create a relationship with your clients that transforms them from thinking of you as a vendor to one of a partner? I believe you have to build a solid foundation of trust and you do that by being:
- Able – Competence in your role is a prerequisite for building trust with clients. Do you know the details of your products and services inside and out? Do you know the business challenges your client faces and how your organization can help them be more successful? Clients value and trust the advice of competent professionals who have a track record of success and have taken the time to thoroughly understand their needs.
- Believable – Are you a person of integrity? Do you admit mistakes and take ownership, or do you make excuses and shift blame? Clients want partners that act ethically, responsibly, and place their needs ahead of your own. Sometimes being a person of integrity means telling the client “no.” Trusted partners are willing to be honest with their clients and advise them when they can’t provide the best solution the client needs. Trusted partners look for creative ways to help the client address their issues and find solutions to problems that may or may not involve their own products and services.
- Connected – No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. You can be the most competent professional around, but if you don’t establish a personal connection with your clients, your efforts at building trust will be limited. Trusted partners know their clients as people, not just business associates. Get to know your clients by being genuine, authentic, and demonstrating care and concern.
- Dependable – Simply following through on your commitments to clients goes a long way in building a trusted partnership. Maintaining reliability with clients involves having an organized approach to your work, only making promises you can keep, and doing what you say you will do. One of the quickest ways to erode trust with clients is to over-promise and under-deliver.
Trust is the key ingredient that allows you to move your client relationships from one of being a vendor to that of a trusted partner, and it starts with learning the ABCD’s of trust: Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable.
Feeling like a shadow of your former self? Is there a lack of emotional connection in your relationships? Do you find others not sharing important information with you or excluding you from activities? If so, you might be suffering from Low T. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Millions of well-intentioned leaders experience Low T at some point in their career. It’s a treatable condition but it requires leaders to understand the causes Low T and how to avoid them.
Causes of Low T
Trust is an essential ingredient in healthy relationships and organizations. It allows people to collaborate wholeheartedly with one another, take risks and innovate, and devote their discretionary energy to the organization. However, there are certain behaviors and characteristics of people who experience Low T in the workplace.
- Taking credit for other people’s work
- Not accepting responsibility
- Being unreliable
- Not following through on commitments
- Lying, cheating
- Gossiping or spreading rumors
- Hoarding information
- Not recognizing or rewarding good performance
Treating Low T
Reversing Low T requires understanding the four elements of trust and using behaviors that align with those elements. The four elements of trust can be represented by the acronym ABCD.
Able – Demonstrate Competence. Leaders show they are able when they have the expertise needed for their job. They consistently achieve results and facilitate work getting done in the organization. Demonstrating competence inspires others to have confidence and trust in you.
Believable – Act with Integrity. Trustworthy leaders are honest with others. They behave in a manner consistent with their stated values, apply company policies fairly, and treat people equitably. “Walking the talk” is essential in building trust in relationships.
Connected – Care About Others. Being connected means focusing on people, having good communication skills, and recognizing the contributions of others. Caring about others builds trust because people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Dependable – Honor Commitments. Dependable leaders are reliable and consistent. They respond timely to requests and hold themselves and others accountable. Not doing what you say you will do quickly erodes trust with others.
Do You Have Low T?
Think of the ABCDs as the language of trust. The more leaders focus on learning the language of trust, the more trustworthy they will become, the more trust they will earn from others, and the more our organizations will embody the ideals of trust. Download this free e-book to see if you are suffering from Low T.
Don’t Settle for Leading with Low T
Too many leaders settle for leading with Low T because they don’t understand how trust is actually formed in relationships. Trust doesn’t “just happen,” as if through some sort of relationship osmosis. Trust is built over a period of time through the intentional use of trust-forming behaviors. Good leaders focus on using trust-building behaviors and avoid using behaviors that erode trust.
If you’re a leader, particularly in a large organization, the chances are your people don’t see you as a real person. They have a mental image of what they perceive you to be like, not who you actually are, says research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin.
This mental image is formed through random encounters with you such as emails, videos, speeches, meetings, and stories about you shared by others. Washburn and Galvin say employees follow four basic rules when forming a perception about their leaders:
- They judge a book by its cover. Right, wrong, or indifferent, we all tend to do the same thing. We take whatever limited information we may have and draw a conclusion of what it means.
- Employees look for answers to specific questions like: Does the leader care about me personally? Have high standards? Offer an appealing vision of the future? Seem human in a way I can relate to?
- People prefer the answers to these questions in a form of a story. Stories help string together and make sense of the limited facts at their disposal.
- Trustworthiness is the key factor employees pay attention to in the stories about their leaders and they tend to disregard the rest.
To effectively get people to follow you and rally around the goals you want them to achieve, you have to earn their trust. You also have to let them know you mean them no harm; you are behind them, supporting them, and have their best interests in mind. In order to get them to know you for who you are, you have to be REAL: reveal, engage, acknowledge, and listen.
- Reveal information about yourself—Leaders often withhold information about themselves because they believe they have to maintain a safe distance from their employees; they can’t be friends. I believe that principle is misguided. As research shows, people want to have authentic relationships with their leaders. They want to know the person behind the title, and sharing information about yourself is a primary way to accomplish that goal.
- Engage employees as individuals—Every employee wants to be seen and known as an individual and not just a number showing up to do a job. Knowing your employees on an individual level gets harder to accomplish the higher you move in the organization. It’s simply a matter of too many people to spend time with and not enough time to do it all. But it’s doable if you have a plan. Get out of your office and walk the hallways. Peek into cubicles and offices and ask team members how they’re doing. Inquire about how their kids are doing and what’s exciting in their lives outside of work. Be a guest attendee at department and team meetings so employees get some face-time with you and can relate to you in a small group setting. The more you can engage people on an individual level, the more they’ll understand you care about them on a personal level.
- Acknowledge employee contributions—When I conduct training classes on building trust, I’ll often ask the group to respond to this statement: “Raise your hand if you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive at work.” No one ever raises their hand. People are starving for acknowledgement of their efforts and contributions, and you would be amazed at how much trust you can build by authentically acknowledging your employees. Leadership and management guru Ken Blanchard has said that if he could choose one lasting legacy of his work, it would be the philosophy of “catching people doing something right.” Authentic praise and recognition unlocks commitment, engagement, and passion in your team’s performance.
- Listen to learn—Too often leaders think and act like they are the smartest person in the room. Thinking and acting that way leaves little room for you to learn from the people who usually know the most about what’s happening on the front lines of your business. When you have the chance to interact with employees, spend more time listening than you do talking, and look for ways to incorporate their feedback in your decisions and plans. The simple act of listening is a big trust booster in relationships because it signals to the other person that what they have to say is important, you care, and you value what’s being communicated.
Work, and life, seems to move at a frenetic pace these days. There are always urgent and important matters to deal with and it’s incredibly easy to develop tunnel-vision in regards to our projects and lose sight of our people. All of us leaders need to remember that our actions are under a microscope, and our people develop perceptions of our leadership through random bits of information that comes their way. We can’t lose sight that a fundamental element of successful team performance is developing personal and authentic relationships. A great way to do that is to show our people that we are REAL.
If you’re a senior leader in your organization, chances are the vast majority of employees don’t view you as a real person.
Research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin shows employee perceptions of senior leaders are governed by mental models they form through incidental interactions with the leader, such as emails, videos, speeches, or other impersonal means of communication.
So what should you make of that? First, it should make you question the level of trust people have in you. Second, you should know that without trust it’s virtually impossible to influence and inspire your team to follow your lead. And third, it should prompt you to consider ways to build a more personal relationship with those you lead.
But where to start? Start at the beginning. Start with building rapport.
Merriam-Webster defines rapport as “a friendly, harmonious relationship; especially a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy.”
Rapport is a fundamental component of having a connected relationship with someone, and the lack of personal connection is the reason people view their leaders as impersonal avatars. Research has shown the importance of warmth as a critical factor in building trust. Your team members are wanting to know that you care about them as individuals and not just nameless worker bees showing up to do a job.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant or charismatic you are as a leader; if your people don’t think you have their best interests in mind and truly care for them, they won’t give you their trust, loyalty, and best performance. Establishing rapport with someone creates an environment of warmth and safety which allows trust to blossom.
Building rapport isn’t rocket science but it takes an intentional effort. Here’s a few easy and practical ways to foster rapport with someone:
- Remember and use their names
- Learn something about their life outside of work
- Share information about yourself; show some vulnerability
- Strike up a conversation (about them, not you)
- Identify mutual interests
When clients tell me their organization is suffering from a lack of trust between senior leaders and front-line employees, the first area I explore is the sense of connectedness between the two groups. Almost always the issue boils down to the front-liners not having any semblance of a personal connection to senior leaders.
It’s a predictable dilemma. The further up a leader moves in the organization, the wider her span of control becomes and the harder it is to have a personal relationship with each employee. However, through effective communication techniques, conveying a sense of authenticity by sharing information about yourself, and intentionally making the time and effort to connect with people as much as possible, you can develop rapport with your employees that leads to high trust and loyalty.