One of the pillars of leadership is developing and fostering a deep sense of mutual workplace trust. One of the problems facing organizations is a simple lack of trust between employees and their managers.
For managers to experience successful growth and positive results in their respective department or unit, trust must be established on all levels. Without a deep sense of trust, their vision, goals, and plans—as well as unified workplace cohesion—will be unobtainable.
Establishing trust is difficult, time-intensive work. It is earned when synergistic working relationships are established with individual employees. These relationships are characterized by active communication and listening, open and candid interactions, and a total acceptance of all persons as unique individuals. Trust also includes the manager’s personal involvement in ensuring employee as well as departmental success.
The fact that managers are granted authority over employees does not guarantee trust between both parties. Trust is based on truth, which implies open, honest, and direct communication free of personal or hidden agendas. For managers to become totally effective leaders, trust must be earned and established. In the absence of trust, leadership principles will be of little consequence in the workplace.
Managers have a unique role within organizational workplaces. While they are responsible for individual employees and are required to guide and direct their activities, many are working on different assignments, projects, and tasks in varying phases of completion. Many times it becomes impossible for managers to oversee everyone’s ongoing daily activities. This type of environment demands that high levels of trust are established and sustained.
Lack of trust in the workplace stems from areas that managers are often challenged by.
Most managers are generally under extreme pressure to produce ongoing results. Many are focused on agendas that are able to secure or enhance their chances of organizational advancement. In the process, they often create zero-tolerance policies for mistakes and failures. This produces work atmospheres where employees become afraid to discuss problems or results in honest and open dialogue. Rather than trust their managers to support them, they hide pieces of information or mistakes that can hurt or jeopardize them in any way.
Oftentimes managers have direct contact with their employees but often fail to actively listen and engage in conversations that encourage interaction, feedback, or input. Some are only interested in picking out certain information that they want to hear without thoroughly listening to anything else being said. Even though they fully believe they are communicating effectively, their selective listening and targeted talk will demoralize employees and reduce their levels of trust and loyalty.
There are managers who prefer to communicate with their employees via email, written memos, or posted messages and make little effort to interact directly with them on a regular basis. This becomes a major pitfall. Only when managers make it a point to have open discussions and conversations with employees can they become attuned to workplace problems, concerns, and attitudes, and know which motivational methods need to be applied to whom.
All employees must be treated fairly, compassionately, and honestly, and be appreciated for their own particular characteristics and personalities. All have unique needs that must be addressed and met if they are to feel an important part of the organizational team. because employees tend to function with daily frustrations and pressures associated with their assignments and responsibilities, managers as leaders must become actively involved with them on a daily basis to encourage and motivate the employees so they don’t succumb to burnout and other psychological problems.
If leaders wish to establish and build workplace trust, there are specific behaviors that must be avoided.
Criticism. Discussions concerning documented performance results and how to improve them are always necessary and appropriate as one of the manager’s primary responsibilities and functions. However, the manager must make it a point to avoid making unwarranted negative comments regarding an employee’s performance, attitude, and decisions, as these are directly perceived as personal criticisms, not constructive performance or work-related input.
Psychological analysis. Leaders must avoid assuming the role of amateur psychiatrist and analyzing employees’ motivations and behaviors. This includes resisting the urge to prejudge their circumstances, situations, and actions.
Advice. Managers can easily provide solutions or advice without making the effort to seek employee input. As problems are often more complex than they appear, managers can short-circuit the learning process and alienate employees by not allowing them to identify why things happened, how ineffective solutions were reached, or the particular factors that contributed to inferior results. It is important that managers seek employee input about specific problems to understand, analyze, and learn from the facts and pertinent information they possess. Only then should managers provide their advice, suggestions, or solutions.
Command. Some managers tend to coerce, manipulate, and force employees into completing assignments on time or accepting increased responsibility. Leaders need to avoid these types of actions, and instead motivate and encourage their employees to achieve desired results and increase their personal effectiveness and efficiency. They must know their employees well enough to be able to match the appropriate motivational strategy with each individual.
Control. Managers must avoid controlling actions and behavior through intimidation techniques and practices. Threatening employees with negative consequences does not motivate them. Employees need to be consistently and positively encouraged to produce results. Intimidation only serves to demoralize them.
Intense questioning. Leaders must avoid second-guessing and questioning employees on every decision, idea, recommendation, or suggestion they make. Employees must be trusted to make decisions on their own without intense scrutiny and oversight. A barrage of suggestions or intense questioning about an employee’s rationale or methods impedes him. It also sends a message that the manager doesn’t trust him to do the job properly and may even think he is incompetent.
If you would like to learn more about trust building techniques, refer to my book Building & Nurturing Trust in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series, (Majorium Business Press, 2011). This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with its own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions.