Photo credit: Image provided by Getty Images (Ivan Bliznetsov)

Employee trust in their leaders is key to building a high performance team

Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on March 31, 2024.

The foundation of every effective organization is trust in that organization’s leadership. An annual Gallup survey indicated that in August 2023, only 23% of employees agreed with the survey question, “I trust the leadership of this organization.” The survey scores ranged from a low of 17% in January 2011 to a high of 24% in May 2019.

Quoting the Gallup survey, “However, when leaders communicate clearly, lead and support change, and inspire confidence in the future, 95% of employees say they fully trust their leaders.”

In August 2019, I wrote a column on building trust within organizations. This is an update of that column.

So, how do you build trust?

Help your employees be successful

I recently heard Steven G. Rogelberg, author of “Glad We Met,” speak about the importance of managers regularly holding one-on-one meetings with their direct reports.

Rogelberg emphasized that the meeting is not for the manager, it’s for the direct report. He stated, “It’s a meeting for the manager to learn what’s on the minds of the people that work for them—to understand their needs, concerns and challenges.” The purpose of the meeting is “to provide help and opportunities for support.”

Helping a direct report overcome obstacles will help engender trust in their manager. This is the basis of “servant leadership” practiced by many effective leaders.

A leader’s job is to help their direct reports be successful. Quoting Richard Branson, co-founder of Virgin Group, and echoing the sentiments of many effective leaders, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Be consistent and readable by those within your organization

As a CEO or other leader, there should be no misunderstanding of your tone at the top—which are the values to which you hold yourself and your employees accountable, and the type of organizational culture you are nurturing. Employees trust and want to work for an organization with high ethical standards, and work for a leader that lives by those standards.

Photo credit: Image provided by Getty Images (Ivan Bliznetsov)

Don’t blame other people for your mistakes

If you make a mistake, own it and share how next time the issue will be handled in a different manner. You don’t create trust by blaming others for your mistakes. Those that do this never last long within the kind of organization in which we all want to work.

Allow your direct reports to share with you a contrary point of view

I have worked for bosses who were not interested in hearing contrary views. This did not engender trust. As the leader, compare others’ opinions on how to proceed on an issue with your own view. Through discussion and debate, you may accept their view or discover a third alternative path, better than either of the first two paths. In my experience, if you follow this process, you will rarely choose the wrong way to proceed.

Create an environment that allows employees to share the brutal facts of reality

As a leader, you want your people to feel safe in sharing bad news. Don’t shoot the messenger. You can’t solve a problem unless you know what it is. You want your people to have trust and confidence that you will listen to them.

Help employees develop a sense of ownership in what they do

Empower employees; don’t micromanage. Show your employees that you trust them by letting them decide how to accomplish an objective. This will help your employees develop a sense of ownership in what they do. When this occurs, you can rely on them to drive results.

Be accessible and transparent

Create opportunities for all employees—not only your direct reports—to talk with you. Walk around the office or factory floor. Show interest in what they are doing but avoid telling them what to do. If an issue arises that needs to be addressed, talk with your direct report responsible for that area.

Hold town hall meetings to talk about the business and respond to employees’ questions. Be as transparent as possible, except for things that cannot be publicly shared.

The best talent will want to work for companies where there is a high level of trust with the senior leadership and among fellow employees. These are the companies that have the lowest turnover and achieve the highest long-term returns to shareholders. This is the type of company at which we all want to work.

Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at stan@silvermanleadership.com.

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