“To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” –George MacDonald
Over the course of our working lives, how many times have we been let down by our leaders – for promises not kept, changes that are never made, money that is never spent, or raises that never come?
Enough times to keep our guards way up, and our trust level way down, when a new leader enters the room.
I’ve been in that situation a few times in my career, where we had acquired existing operations that were, for the most part, been ignored or marginalized by their previous corporate bosses.
That first meeting with staff was always a difficult one, because there was a wall up, and a palpable attitude of “OK, you’re the new sheriff in town, but we’ve been burned too many times. We’re wary. We’re skeptical”
“Why should we trust YOU?”
That wall HAS to be broken down. Your effectiveness as a leader depends on it. It’s one of the core 8 Principles of More Human Leadership (click the pic for more details)- asking for, and getting, the trust of your team.
You need believers- in the cause of becoming a great business, with happy customers, and……happy employees.
There are 12 essential ways leaders can build (or rebuild) that trust:
1 ) Acknowledge a turnaround isn’t going to happen overnight – you can’t walk into the room thinking you can convert everyone simply by saying you’d be different, or by making attractive promises. Knowing you have to earn it is the right (and only) first step.
2 ) Show empathy about the past trust issues – or, “you can’t ignore what happened before” (even though it wasn’t on your watch).
3 ) Recognize the value of the work that they perform, and its importance to the cause – NOBODY in a business organization should ever be “on the margins”.
4 ) Ask for “open minds” and patience – You can only make a real conversion by your future actions; rather than asking for trust straight out, it’s far better to ask for the chance to earn it.
5 ) Admit the change isn’t going to be easy – and it might even get worse before it gets better – Building a great team involves high levels of accountability, and dedication to higher standards. Typically, most teams haven’t been used to that kind of attention. My favorite saying in these situations was – “the good news is, we’re going to be paying closer attention to you, and the bad news is, we’re going to be paying closer attention to you”.
6 ) Show up more often – Nothing helps skepticism and cynicism thrive like leaders staying in their ivory towers.
7 ) When you do show up, don’t make speeches – engage in conversation (including listening) – My favorite way to do this was to conduct morning “round tables” over coffee and donuts, and sit in conversation WITH my teammates at those tables. That coffee and donuts were one of the best investments I ever made.
8 ) Admit that you will make some mistakes along the way, and own up to them – Nobody, or no organization, is perfect. You’re going to mess up. But you have to be honest about it.
9 ) Put the “why” into any important change you make – Putting context on policy changes, process improvements, higher standards, or any other major employee affecting action is critical to bridge building. Take the time to answer the “why” question – it will pay big dividends.
10 ) Keep your promises (by being prudent with them) – It’s SO easy to make promises, especially when we need a quick morale boost. You just need to make ones that you can keep. I know, it sounds so logical, so….easy. But in the heat of business battles, it’s not. Promises are not like candy- use them wisely. And when you put one out there, do everything you can to keep it.
11 ) Walk the walk, THEN ask for trust – It’s only after keeping at the first 10 steps that you should finally take the next step of asking for trust. Saying those words, “trust me”, is a huge thing, and with a good track record, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting it.
12 ) After the dust clears, and the hard work pays off -tie it all together by speaking to the “new believers”, and then reach for greatness– There is a moment when you’ll know it’s “there”; you can feel it in the room. Acknowledge it. Talk about it. Tie it all together. With grace and passion. Then, reach even higher with a team of believers – to greatness.