The Bible tells us that we must first trust each other with the little things before we can trust with the big things. So it is with leaders. It is the little behaviors every day that either build trust or damage it.
Employees entrust their leaders with their incomes (salaries) and their careers. These are BIG THINGS. To feel confident in these employees must also be confident in the little things leaders do. Without a high level of trust or confidence engagement will plateau or even drop.
Anyone who thinks they can achieve employee engagement without high levels of trust is sorely mistaken. Trust is a cornerstone in the foundation for employee engagement and leaders must be aware of its level and how their actions and decisions can impact it. There are five strategies leaders can use to be sure they are optimizing trust and therefore building a foundation for engagement.
Make yourself vulnerable first
Trust is a willingness to be vulnerable with another. When my daughter first learned to drive I took her to a parking lot. She drove around the lot and practiced steering and parking. In order to demonstrate my trust in her I made myself vulnerable by allowing her to drive my car. I didn’t take her onto the highway because that was too much for her and too much for me. If she did happen to make a mistake it would be limited in damage and risk. She was still nervous. She was challenged. I was nervous too but I knew I had to take some risk.
Leaders need to take risk with employees. This includes empowering them to make their own decisions and take their own risks while being challenged but not overly so.
Leaders can also make themselves vulnerable by admitting mistakes and not trying to hide them. Recent studies by hospitals showed how admitting mistakes with patients significantly reduced law suits. I advise leaders to look for opportunities to admit their mistakes. This creates an atmosphere of safety that allows employees to also admit their mistakes. Only when we admit mistakes can we begin to solve them. Leaders are human and they make mistakes. Admit it.
Behave with integrity
Leaders must keep their agreements. The fastest way to either build trust or damage it is how you manage your agreements. Some agreements are communicated (either spoken or written) and some are assumed. Leaders who insist on one set of behaviors for employees and then contradict it with their own behaviors are very often damaging trust and engagement.
There should be no double standards on agreements. A typical example is when a leader calls a meeting but shows up late. The unspoken (or spoken) agreement was to start the meeting at the designated time. If the leader doesn’t honor that time they send a mixed message to everyone about any agreement.
Leaders who are respectful in all endeavors are building trust. Respectful behaviors include listening, showing empathy and acknowledgement of new ideas or good work. Listening is a basic skill all leaders must continuously improve. Different communication styles require different types of listening and different levels of frequency. Some employees need a low level of listening and other need more. Effective leaders must be willing to adjust their listening methods to adapt to the needs of certain employees.
Create and communicate shared objectives
Republicans and Democrats often talk of the need for bi-partisanship to solve the problems of the voters. This approach rarely happens because the objectives for each party are very different. This prevents them from trusting each other enough to agree without needing significant compromise.
Effective organizations must align on their strategic initiatives and their performance objectives in order to achieve its desired results. Effective leaders must create and continuously communicate clear objectives. They must be aware of the possible different interpretations (or misinterpretations) of these objectives and manage the variation. It is the leader’s job to be sure all employees can agree on non-competing and complimentary objectives. Very often, misaligned (or misinterpreted) objectives are the root cause of serious employee conflicts.
Effective leaders must be aware of their strengths and their limitations. They must be a role model for asking for help when they hit a problem or issue for which others might be better able to manage. Then they must delegate to ensure quality is assured and delivered.
Being competent requires leaders to have a high level of awareness and a deep appreciate for systems thinking. Too often leaders want to appear as heroes who swoop into solve problems and who have all the answers at the very finger tips. This is a dangerous element in a culture. It breeds incompetence and learning stagnation.
As leaders who want employee engagement we must be aware of our responsibilities. These 5 strategies are just part of the picture but they represent the cornerstone upon which we can begin to build a culture of trust and employee engagement.
Wally Hauck is an EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT GEEK and a PREDICTABLE PERFORMANCE PUNDIT. Wally is passionately obsessed with eliminating the current performance appraisal process because it creates long lasting dysfunctions and damage to trust, performance, motivation, engagement, and relationships.In 1983, while reading the book the Turning Point by Frijof Capra, Wally realized he had been taught flawed thinking his entire life. The world of systems thinking and chaos theory resonated and he made a decision to never go back. From that day forward he vowed to share the insights with anyone and everyone.Wally is a Certified Speaking Professional or CSP. The Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation, established in 1980, is the speaking industry’s international measure of professional platform skill. CSP is conferred throughout the International Federation for Professional Speakers only on those who have earned it by meeting strict criteria. Wally has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania; an MBA in Finance from Iona College; and earned his PhD in Organizational Leadership from Warren National University in 2008. Wally’s new book, The Art of Leading: 3 Principles for Predictable Performance Improvement, provides three basic principles of leadership that form the foundation of success for predictable performance improvement and employee engagement.