Last week we wrote about how distrust is a barrier to change. This post outlines some of the leadership skills and behavior known to increase trust and employee engagement. You probably do some of these things really well already, but perhaps the list will remind you where improvement is still needed. This is also a useful list to share with those who are just beginning to develop their leadership skills.
Be Forthcoming About Bad News
Sometimes leaders are reluctant to share information that employees may perceive as negative. Fight this impulse. During times of change or disruption, more communication is needed, not less. Employees take even bad news better when they know that no information will be withheld. It also helps to deliver negative information directly; in most cases, it is better not to punt the task to front-line supervisors.
People respond best to language that is clear, direct, and free from business jargon. Ten dollar words might work great in an annual report, but when communicating with employees, use language that makes sense to them. This will help your message get through while reinforcing that you are a human too.
Involve Employees in Decision Making
The more input people have in decision making, the more likely they are to respond positively even if the decision is ultimately not what they would have suggested. There's something about being heard that opens people's minds. Also, and perhaps more importantly, your employees probably have some fantastic ideas for improving the processes they operate!
Share the Vision
It may not be necessary to understand the organization's strategic vision and goals to complete the tasks of every employee, but sharing the vision has many benefits. When people's goals are aligned with the overall strategy, they are more likely to engage emotionally and put forth extra effort to advance the cause. It also makes setting priorities and making decisions much easier across the board.
Don't Be a Walking Title
While it is important to keep boundaries in an employer-employee relationship, people don't trust titles. They trust other people. It's important to relate on a personal level to the degree that you can. Have lunch with a team member, tell them about your family, share what you did over the weekend. In short, be professional, but be yourself.
Admit it When You Make a Mistake
When you fall short or make a mistake (and you will), don't try to cover it or blame others. Accept responsibility, decide on corrective action, and apologize if necessary. Employees will respect and trust you for it. It will also reinforce that making an error isn't the end of the world.
Allow Others to Fail-Forward
You're not the only one who will make mistakes, and that's OK. When you give people room to try new things and experiment with improvement, there will be ideas that don't work or poorly executed projects. That's all part of developing a culture of positive change. Your reaction to mistakes will govern how much and how quickly your team can improve.
Stand By Your Word
One of the basics of trust is integrity. If people can't see that you mean what you say, they will not trust you or the organization. In the rare cases that you can't follow through with a promise or plan, explain why and demonstrate humility.
Meet Your Own Expectations
If you want your team to display a set of behaviors and attitudes, you must lead by example. Culture starts at the top, and team members will look to you to demonstrate what is acceptable and what is not. Never ask others to do what you are unwilling to do yourself.
Get In the Weeds Once in a While
Trust develops when someone believes that the other person understands their point of view. One way to get there is to work alongside employees from time to time and get your hands dirty, either literally or figuratively.
We mentioned earlier the importance of feeling heard. Talking to someone who is nodding but not really listening can make matters worse. Instead, engage with your employees when they have something to say. Repeat information so you can confirm that you've understood. Ask questions and provide nonjudgemental feedback.
Act on Employee Ideas
You are ultimately responsible for what happens in your organization or department, but the more you implement ideas from front-line employees, the more willing they will be to contribute additional opportunities for improvement. What better way to demonstrate that you trust their creativity and judgment?
Recognize Engagement and Achievement When it Happens
According to Globoforce, 86% of employees who were recognized in the past month said they trusted their boss. This went down by almost half to 48% when employees reported not being recognized. Your employees probably do small but amazing things every day. Make sure to notice it.
Earning the trust of your employees requires effort, but it's worth it. In "Further Evidence that Trust is the #1 ingredient for a Strong Company Culture," Forbes reported that employees who feel they have a culture of trust at work experience 74% less stress and feel 76% more engaged than those in 'low-trust workplaces.' That's a lot of incentive for practicing these simple but powerful leadership skills.