Do your direct reports tell you what they think, or what they think you want to hear?

Do your direct reports tell you what they think, or what they think you want to hear?

Hear what I want to hearHow do you create an environment where your direct reports feel comfortable enough to tell you what they think rather than what they think you want to hear? Start by building trust.

Trust and respect — why are these so important in the working relationship?

Honesty and integrity are basically the same thing – both are sorely needed in today’s workplaces, so why are they often lacking?

Open, honest communication is so difficult. Why? Often because of a lack of trust, or the fear that opening up to my co-workers, bosses and direct reports may be used against me. To have an environment where direct reports feel safe enough to tell you what they think and not what they think you want to hear requires trust.

Paying attention. Listening and being present. Sharing your vision. Doing what you say you will do. These are all hallmarks of the successful leader, and are part of the formula to build trust. You can buy books on trust by the ton and read on-line posts and columns till all you see are a blur of pixels. So why, with all these resources available to us, is trust so hard to find? My insight is that although we all talk the talk, we rarely walk it, especially in times of economic uncertainty, when business is flat. Top executives end up being more concerned about the company than the people in it. But even in good times, the focus tends to be on productivity and efficiency rather than the human factor. I realize I’m generalizing but the reality is despite the movement towards commitment and employee-focused management, the old “command and control” model is still very common. It’s a hard model to break.

Trust starts with focusing on others, not on self.

Trust starts with focusing on others, not on self. It also starts with an initiative, doing something for another. To gain trust you first need to demonstrate trustworthiness. If you say you will do something, follow up and do it. Consistently doing this builds trust. Giving people the opportunity to try new things without restrictions, allowing them to offer suggestions, builds trust. Sharing your vision of where you want to go, what the future will look like builds trust. Sharing when things are not going so well and asking for feedback builds trust.

Maintaining contact is also important in creating and keeping trust. Be visible and available to your direct reports. If you can’t be visible because you lead a diverse team geographically or it is a virtual team, maintain contact by phone and personal emails. Make sure you find some reason each week to connect to your direct report, whether it’s their birthday, work anniversary or something they did well. Catch someone doing something well and comment on it. Build a currency of trust with your team.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, building trust takes time, but it can be lost very quickly. Of course mistakes can happen, but when they do, own up to it, take the responsibility, say you are sorry and that you will watch out that this doesn’t happen again. Your direct reports will see this and respond positively.

So how do you create an environment where your direct reports feel comfortable enough to tell you what they think rather than what they think you want to hear? Start by building trust.

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