Demonstrate respect for returned trust

By Gale Mote/Tree Full of Owls

According to research conducted by Gallup Corp. and outlined in their best-selling book, “Strengths Based Leadership,” followers need to be able to trust their leaders.

According to Talentkeepers, the leadership talent employees value most is trust building.

We know that trust is the foundation of all strong relationships and teams.

When I’m training supervisors and managers, we always begin by discussing how their behaviors establish trust, not their words. Then, we begin to outline specific actions that build trust. How would you respond? How do managers need to behave for their employees to trust them?

I remember facilitating a training class where the senior manager of the group walked into the conference room and took his chair to the back wall. He spent the majority of the session immersed in his smartphone, not in what his team was experiencing and learning. I often wonder what his team thought of his behavior — perhaps it was expected or welcomed. To me, it sent a message that the training was not a priority and the employees should do as he says, not as he does.

Be a role model and walk the talk. Make sure your actions align with your personal and the organization’s values. Be willing to stand up for what you believe. Remember, when you become a manager, you are “on stage.” People watch what the boss says and does. Every action sends a message. Be sure it is positive, aligned and principled.

Be vulnerable. I once had a supervisor who never said “I’m sorry” or “I don’t know” or “I’m really bad at this and I need your help.” His employees knew he was imperfect; unfortunately he was the emperor with no clothes. Admitting mistakes and taking ownership for decisions demonstrates you are real, genuine and authentic.

Employees do not trust managers who are egoists and arrogant. When you take credit for work that is not your own or overstate your own contribution to a team success, you lose credibility. In his book, “Good to Great,” I remember an analogy Jim Collins used to describe Level 5 leaders: When everything was going great, they would look out the mirror to see who they could praise and recognize. When everything was going wrong, they would look in the mirror and ask, “How am I contributing to the problem?” Good advice then and now.

Have you ever witnessed a manager explaining a company decision like this: “Senior leadership has mandated that we can no longer use the empty lot across the street for parking. I don’t agree with it either — it doesn’t make any sense. We don’t have an option so let’s just do it.”

Your peers and colleagues expect and deserve your loyalty. If you disagree with a leadership decision, always discuss it behind closed doors, not in front of your employees. Be a unified front and ensure that everyone in the organization is receiving a consistent message.

Be transparent and speak the truth. Engage in straight talk with employees; tell them what they need to hear, positive or negative. If you don’t know the answer or cannot speak to the question at the time, simply say so. Do not make promises you cannot keep. Always follow through on your commitments.

What happens if you fail to keep a commitment or follow through on a promise? Apologize, take ownership and learn from your mistake. Do not place blame or make excuses. In my 22 years of training managers, I have never heard an employee say, “You should meet my boss. We respect him so much because of the quality of excuses he makes every day. He can throw you under the bus and you still feel good about it — a rare quality indeed.”

Employees frequently describe “being unfair” as a reason why they do not trust their managers. Fair does not mean equal. It is important for managers to differentiate performance and distribute rewards and recognition accordingly. Great managers know to treat every employee as an individual and all are different. Fair does not mean equal. It is important for managers to know what policies and procedures are non-negotiable. For example, if it is important for everyone to be at work on time, a manager cannot turn a blind eye to tardiness just because someone is a peak performer in all other aspects of her job.

Consistency is another measure of fairness. In situations with similar circumstances, did the manager respond in a consistent, appropriate manner? Also, make an effort to engage with all of your employees. While it is natural to be drawn to some employees more than others, employees will perceive favoritism if you only have a relationship with a select few.

Always respect privacy and maintain confidentiality. Demonstrate respect for employees and they will usually return the favor. Do not participate in gossip or rumor mills. As a leader, demonstrate loyalty and support for your team, colleagues and leadership.

Successful relationships are a matter of trust. Remember, trust builds when every person is more trustworthy. Take the time to inventory your trustworthiness. Do you like what you see?