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Living Leader Learnings: How can I get my team to trust me?

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11th Jan 2013
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The challenge

A general manager at the distribution division of a national manufacturer says:   “We have just completed our annual staff survey and it seems that the basic message coming from HR is that we need to find ways to increase the levels of engagement in our teams. As a manager, of course I understand the principle and agree with it, but I’m not really sure what I need to do to make this happen. Do you have any thoughts, please?”   The solution   The Living Leader replies:   Firstly, let’s try and demystify the term ‘engagement’ – the word is being used a great deal at the moment.   It could be helpful to think about it along the lines of: increasing the level of trust and involvement that people feel in terms of being part of a team, understanding its vision and recognising how they make a difference to the bigger picture, ie how does what I do help us to reach the company’s goals?   We can’t force people to feel trust or involvement. It is something that they gradually begin to feel because of their day-to-day experiences, in other words, it is about what we do rather than what we say. Telling people that they can trust us and that we trust them is not what has an impact - we have to demonstrate it.   For example, your closest friend would probably say that they trust you, but it is not because you have spent years telling them that you are trustworthy. Instead it will be because they have seen you do countless, usually small things, that all add up in their mind to that conclusion.   So, it is about listening to people to ensure that you truly understand where they are coming from, being honest about what you may be able to do as a result of the conversation, and then doing it.    It sounds simple enough but, all too often, we don’t really listen in the first place. We say that we’ll get something done, even though we know it is unlikely. Then worst of all, we don’t follow up and let people know what is happening.    None of this is necessarily deliberate – most of us say things with the best of intentions, but the pressure of our own workload can take over and we forget. But the result is that we don’t build trust.  No one big thing  In addition, we often feel that, as HR managers, we should keep our feelings to ourselves. It isn’t right to share our concerns with the team or let them see that we don’t have all of the answers because it is a sign of weakness in some way.    But research and our own experiences with clients appear to demonstrate that the exact opposite is true. Being prepared to lift the mask and be more authentic, asking for the support of our team and involving people in developing solutions to problems rather than simply presenting them with answers, often increases their respect and trust in our leadership capability.   But it’s important to remember that there is no one big thing that you can do. Instead it’s about starting to do lots of small things consistently.   Make time for people, listen to them without any distractions, share your own feelings, ask for their input and support, keep them informed and be honest if there is nothing that you can do about a situation.   Give them the opportunity to take on projects and run with them without constantly asking for updates or giving direction so that you can demonstrate that you have faith in their abilities.    All of these are behaviours that are likely to help your team feel more involved and to trust you more, which is, in turn, likely to lead to an even greater commitment from them – a key foundation for increasing engagement levels. Emma Littmoden is a partner at leadership programme provider, The Living Leader.

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