The Leadership Trust Deficit
Employees want consistency between their leaders’ words and actions. But only 11 percent strongly agree that their managers “walk the talk,” a 2011 Maritz poll reveals.
Fairly or unfairly, leaders’ behaviors are magnified and weighted, including their values, work ethics, integrity and perceived honesty. Employees have high moral expectations for those they choose to follow.
3 TYPES OF TRUST
There are three different forms of trust, according to “The Enemies of Trust,” a February 2002 Harvard Business Review article by leadership experts Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau:
- Strategic trust—the trust employees have in the people running the show to make the right strategic decisions. Do top managers have the vision and competence to set the right course, intelligently allocate resources, fulfill the mission and help the company succeed?
- Personal trust—the trust employees have in their managers. Do managers treat employees fairly? Do they consider employees’ needs when making decisions about the business and put the company’s needs ahead of their own?
- Organizational trust—the trust people have in the company itself. Are processes well designed, consistent and fair? Does the company make good on its promises?
Clearly, these three types of trust are distinct, but they’re linked in important ways. For example, every time a manager violates her direct reports’ personal trust, organizational trust is shaken.
THE TRINITY OF TRUST
While many factors contribute to our perceptions of trustworthiness, three vital traits comprise “the trinity of trust,” writes management consultant James Robbins in Nine Minutes on Monday:
Character: What do your employees see when they look at you? How do they perceive your values, work ethic, integrity and honesty?
Competence: Employees place more trust in you when they believe you’re capable of effective leadership. This does not mean you’re the smartest one in the room—a position of superiority that, in fact, undermines perceived competency.
Caring: The most neglected ingredient in the trust trinity is the ability to show you care. Employees want to feel that they matter.
Repair the Trust Deficit
Business professors Lynn Offermann and Lisa Rosh urge leaders to do a better job of opening up to people in a June 2012 Harvard Business Review article.
“Studies indicate that senior leaders who reveal something about their lives outside the office do so without undermining their authority,” they write, while cautioning against excessively intimate disclosures.
Offermann and Rosh offer the following tips for a balanced approach to “skillful self-disclosure”:
- Open up. During the course of your workday, squeeze in an occasional impromptu conversation with a subordinate about interests other than work, such as children’s activities, restaurants, sports, movies and the like. Share a glimpse into your personal life while taking time to listen.
- Empathize. Offer brief, personal acknowledgments of significant events in employees’ lives, such as additions to family, marriage, family death and serious illness. Share how a similar event impacted your life without overshadowing the employee’s circumstance.
- Remain professional. Share information that enhances the work relationship, yet doesn’t harm your reputation. Exercise discretion; avoid oversharing.
5 STEPS TOWARD A CULTURE OF TRUST
Improve your connection to people and build trust with these techniques:
- Go on a walkabout: Walk around the office each day to touch base with individual contributors to your company’s success. While email and group meetings are important, one-on-one “face time” is critical.
- Capture vital statistics: Learn about each employee’s life: spouse’s name, children’s names and ages, major hobbies. Use questions to elicit meaningful information: “Where are you from?” or “What do you do on your days off?”
- Find similarities: Instead of focusing on differences, find mutual interests (hobbies, desires, career goals).
- Ask for ideas and feedback: Trust must already be established for people to be honest with you. Ask what they need to perform their jobs better. Acknowledge that you hear their opinions and will think about what they’ve said. Don’t dismiss or argue the merits of their input; offer a simple and genuine “thanks for sharing that.”
- Acknowledge progress and milestones: In many organizations, problems are solved, barriers are surmounted, tasks are completed… and nothing is noted. People crave acknowledgment and recognition, so seize these opportunities to build trust.
WHEN TRUST IS BROKEN
When trust is broken, take immediate steps to fix the problem instead of ignoring or downplaying it. Employees will be skeptical and/or suspicious, so choose your words carefully.
You needn’t have all the answers or a detailed plan. There can even be a lag between naming the problem and describing what you’ll do. Just let people know that you’re aware of the issue and its impact on them, and that you’re committed to setting things right.
Identify the problem as precisely as possible. Is there an adversarial relationship between people in the sales offices and those at headquarters? Are people doing end runs around a department that has a reputation for arrogance?
Imagine what success will look like in practice. You may, for example, establish clear roles and responsibilities, an exceptions policy, a dispute resolution process, and submission and response protocols. In meetings, you can spend less time assigning blame and more time on what the staff is doing right.
With greater trust, managers and leaders can reap tangible business benefits: increased productivity, improved performance and genuine employee engagement.