“You have to first earn my trust and respect before I will follow you!”
Do you agree? Two simple statements I have heard from many disgruntled employees that highlight how important it is for staff to feel that they can both trust and respect their leaders.
The wisdom of hindsight has shown the failure of a company often begins with a breakdown in trust and respect between a leader and their team which then spreads like a virus infecting the whole organisation.
Trust is arguably the most important element of a successful workplace. Much of the recent employee engagement research shows that when trust is eroded there is a corresponding decline in organizational performance, lowered morale, and an increase in turnover. High trust organizations earn a level of loyalty from all stakeholders including employees, customers, suppliers, distributors, and investors that other organizations cannot match.
Trust & Respect: What are we really talking about?
The specific meanings behind the use of the words ‘trust’ and ‘respect’ vary widely among people who use such terms. When I am listening to people who say they have a ‘lack of trust and respect for their leaders’ I hear several different types of issues emerge beneath the surface of their complaints.
The two deeper issues behind Trust & Respect:
Aside from obvious inappropriate or unethical behvaiour – which should never be tolerated, there appears to be two different types of issues sitting beneath the surface of trust and respect problems.
The first deeper issue underlying trust and respect problems with leaders seems to really be about an employees lack of face-time or opportunity to interact with their leader about their job and to feel listened too (‘I have a lot of ideas on how to improve things but never get the chance to provide feedback, or if I do, I can tell they don’t really care anyway’).
The second deeper issue underlying trust and respect problems with leaders seems to be less about ‘face time’ with their leader and more about a lack of regular disclosure information and performance data in an open and transparent manner (‘we only get told when there is a problem – but are otherwise left in the dark’).
In my role as an Executive Coach, I needed to not only understand what a lack of ‘trust’ and ‘respect’ really meant, but also to translate these potentially ambiguous negative perceptions into clear and specific issues that leaders could understand to help them take practical steps to build trust and respect between themselves and their team.
After two decades of managing conflict, dysfunctional teams and leadership coaching, i can honestly say that aside from obvious intentional psychopathic behavior the most accidentally damaging actions of a leader in the area of trust and respect are in their failure to understand how to effectively demonstrate ‘credibility’ and ‘fairness’ to their teams – let me explain….
Trust & Respect: The outcome of Credibility & Fairness
Showing Credibility as a leader: What you don’t know is more important…
Credibility is not so simple for a leader to show. If they brag and out smart everyone they are seen as arrogant and egotistical. If they run around flapping their hands in the air telling everyone ‘the sky is falling and I don’t know what to do’ they are seen as weak and incompetent. What to do?
Clearly we need to find some middle ground between the two extremes above. That is, to show competence and credibility I must be able to share some relevant knowledge of the topic BUT this should lead me to ask questions of the team about their deeper understandings and how they apply their own skills to the subject to create great results (and also ask what I can do as their manager to help them get even better results).
By sharing not only your knowledge but also your knowledge gaps and asking questions, you (1) show your openness and vulnerability (a great ‘trust’ builder) and (2) show the team you have some relevant knowledge AND enable them to genuinely input into the understandings, knowledge and success of not only their role but the wider team and, in turn, the organization (showing your ‘respect’ for their contribution – which they in turn will ‘respect’ you for…)
Showing Fairness as a leader: Transparency is the real issue….
Fairness in an organisation is at times impossible. If there are two candidates but only one job – then by default someone must miss out. If there are two people who need training but only enough resources to train one, then a decision must be made. In families, the same problem of fairness applies with parenting children, it is impossible to spend exactly the same amounts of time and energy with each child.
The solution is not to try to constantly adjust and equalize but rather be open and honest about the imperfection, and at times, the inequality of decisions whilst acknowledging and committing to always trying to find the fairest approach to all.
Hmmm, are you saying that by admitting we are unfair and explaining why, paradoxically people will then feel like we are showing fairness as a leader? YES!
Remember, almost all problems of fairness are really problems of trust. People do not understand ‘why’ things happened nor how you came to your decisions – therefore they assume a personal negative bias. Once you share the information surrounding your decision and the effort you made to ‘try’ to be fair, they are more likely, despite possibly missing out on the opportunity, to have a better grasp of the ethics and morals behind you decision and in turn feel like you have greater integrity as a leader and thus ‘trust’ you more.
Trust & Respect: How do you show Credibility & Fairness?
Here are some questions for you to consider:
(1) Does your team trust and respect you as a leader? What do you do to show them you are credible and fair-minded in your approach to making decisions. Remember the rule ‘don’t tell me – show me’, and make sure your updates and interactions with staff ‘show’ them the reasoning, detail and transparency behind all the challenges and imperfections that sit beneath the day-to-day decision making you face, and they will find you both credible and fair minded despite the knowledge gaps and unavoidable biases you may need to overcome.
(2) As a team member yourself, do you trust and respect your leaders? Do you allow them sufficient grace and tolerance – knowing how hard the leadership journey can be? Do you provide your leaders clear and specific feedback about what you need from them in terms of information sharing, support and feedback OR are you too harsh in your judgment and too quick to find fault?
My Trust & Respect Quick Start
On a personal note, when it comes to earning trust and respect from others, not only do I strive to practice what I preach, but I also find it helpful to regularly reflect on these two powerful and ancient religious sayings: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you‘ AND ‘As you judge others, so you will be judged’.
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