I was recently working with a group of first line leaders that represented several departments in an organization. We were discussing the importance of trust and how to create an environment of trust. As often is the case, I heard from the group, “My boss needs to hear this stuff. He doesn’t do any of this”. I’ve been at this long enough to know that some truth and a lot of perception is involved in those statements. When I challenged the group to have a conversation with their boss about their perceptions of the environment, I got the usual - an emphatic, “No way!” We know trust is the foundation to good leadership and a strong organization. Yet we often pay little attention to ensuring that trust actually exists, let alone nurturing it. Trust isn’t a competency or skill – it is (for lack of a better term) a “living thing”. By “living thing”, I mean it can grow; it can be injured; it can be withheld or freely given; and, it can cease to exist. I believe that trust is created and built upon three primary components – Intentions, Words, and Relationships. So, with that in mind, I want to share (one more time) – How to build an environment of trust. Intentions We all have met people that we were skeptical of their intentions. Often we can relate it to past experiences, reputation or our “gut feeling”. Often the skepticism is just part of the tension that exists between leaders and followers (as well as leaders who lead other leaders). Unfortunately, the world we live into day reflects a “always question the intention” attitude. Those you lead need to believe and see that your intentions are good. How do you do that?
- Practice open, back and forth dialogue. Tell those that you lead what you’re thinking and ask them what they are thinking. People should not have to guess your intentions. State your intentions. When we poorly communicate, people will fill the void with their own stories and perceived intentions. And those stories that people create are seldom good ones.
- Be honest with yourself. Often we hide behind the excuse we’re protecting the people, the company, or the future. If your intentions are being questioned, ask yourself these questions:
- What do I want for myself?
- What do I want for others?
- What do I want for the organization?
Hopefully, your answers are well-intended. Your next step would be to ensure that your actions align with your intentions.
The most powerful tool we have are our words. There is a song that says: “Words can build us up or put us down. Words can give us life or kill our dreams”. All too often we are careless and not very thoughtful with our words. As leaders we do not get a pass for poorly chosen words - we are responsible and accountable.
- Hone your message to be succinct and clear. Limit yourself on the number of words that you use. Less is really more. Practice it. Ask someone to listen to your message and then tell you what they heard. If they don’t nail the message, keep honing it.
- Use words that connect to your employees – example: “Your input and ideas are critical to our success.”
- Drop the excessive expletives and descriptors. Drop the “always”, “you should have”, “what were you thinking”, “if you’re not on board”, “this is my department – ship - project”. People stop listening and begin to judge and create their own story.
- If you put too much negative emotion and body language into your words, people hear and react to the perceived negativity. Your message is lost.
- Want to know how your words are “landing” with your employees?
- Watch their body language – especially their eyes.
- Are they asking appropriate questions or sitting silently?
- Ask them how you could improve with your choice of words – make sure you really want to hear.
In my earlier years, I had a boss that could not seem to remember my name correctly– even after a year. This same boss would make statements like: “I’m not here to be your best friend.” Believe me, I didn’t want this boss as a best friend – I just wanted to be called by name! How would you define your relationship with your employees? How would they define the relationship? Good, bad, or indifferent, a relationship exists with all our employees. Studies continue to show that people want to know that their boss cares about them as an individual. That level of care is defined differently for each person. The stronger the relationship between leaders and their employees the more engagement there is for everyone.
- Relationships matter – make them a priority. Have one-on-ones with your folks at regular intervals – performance review time doesn’t count. Customize those times to the need of that employee.
- Don’t use the excuse that you don’t have time – even a 5 minute conversation will improve the relationship and engagement.
- Don’t play favorites – it gets noticed.
- Ask for ongoing feedback – for you, for the organization, for the team.
Trust can be achieved and maintained when people believe that your intentions are good, that your words support those intentions, and that you choose to have a caring relationship.
There is an additional benefit to nurturing and growing trust. The day will come when trusting you to lead through a tough time is paramount to the success of a project and/or the organization. Your employees will “have your back”. How do I know? They trust you!