Recently, a new executive coaching client came to me and pointed to a very specific dilemma he was experiencing. He felt, quite strongly, that his employees simply did not trust him. He wanted my help. This was a challenging undertaking and was a multistep process. Together, we tackled the problem and, together, we succeeded in achieving a renewed trust in the company’s leader. Here are the steps we took:
First, we had to figure out if it was, in fact, true that his employees did not trust him.
Second, we had to figure out, assuming the premise was correct, what aspect(s) of him they did not trust.
Third, we had to get to the “why?” question – exactly what had he done, or not done, to lose or maybe never gain their trust.
Fourth, we had to develop a plan to regain the trust.
Needless to say, this was no small task. We had to start at the beginning and work our way through step by step.
Are You Not Trusted?
As I said, we started the executive leadership coaching at the beginning asking whether it was, indeed, true that he did not have the trust of his employees. To get to the bottom of this quest, we looked for the warning signs that confidence is lacking. Here are a few key indicators that you are not trusted by your employees:
• Your employees stop talking when you walk in the room
• You have the feeling that employees are talking behind your back
• You see skepticism in the employees’ eyes and knowing glances between them
• You are excluded from employee activities
• You sense that your rules and mandates are being followed, but without a real “buy-in” or commitment.
• You feel like you have to be tentative in what you say or do around your employees; you feel stressed and unsure of yourself with them.
• Your employees are no longer motivated to follow your lead, are uncommitted or are disinterested.
Looking at these factors, it didn’t take long for us to agree – trust had become a genuine problem at work.
What About You Isn’t Trusted?
Next we asked the following question. “What was it about my executive coaching client that employees didn’t trust?” Untrustworthiness can mean different things in business. We examined a number of different possibilities. Such as:
1. Did the employees think my client lied? NO.
2. Did my client fail to follow through on promises, such as bonuses and other benefits of employment? NO.
3. Had the employees lost confidence in my client’s ability to lead him? YES.
The employees, we concluded, actually liked my client. They enjoyed talking to him. He gave them what they expected and earned. On the other hand, he was not a strong leader. Somewhere along the line, they lost confidence in his abilities.
Why Aren’t You Trusted?
In my client’s case, it seemed to his employees that he lacked the skills to take the business venture from a small company that was just getting by to a strong company that had success in its future. Though my client’s words communicated that he wanted his company to grow, to build a strong client base and to develop and incorporate the technological advances necessary to achieve his goals, the employees had come to sense my client’s own lack of confidence. They fed off of it.
My client had been trying to grow his business base for five years, but without success. He lost a few projects and a few bids for others. He had become frustrated and unmotivated himself. He no longer was energetically pursuing his stated business objectives or following his business plan. He had lost confidence in his own abilities to lead.
If there is one thing that I am sure of, it’s that if a leader, the person at the helm, does not project a “can do” attitude, a sense of purpose, drive and confidence, employees are not going to feel secure. They are going to lose their bearings. They are going to have doubts about their futures. As they become insecure, they lose their commitment to the leader himself. When it comes to leadership development, you must value yourself and believe in yourself. Only then can those who are dependent on you really believe in you and rely on you. In this case, trust had – quite literally – gone down the drain.
How Can I Reverse the Trend and Reestablish Trust?
Fortunately, all is not lost. Trust can be regained. You can move forward. Here are some steps I suggest:
• Acknowledge to yourself that you have lost trust and make an affirmative commitment to regain it.
• Show your employees your renewed commitment to moving the company forward.
• Take steps to get new business clients, grow the business, win projects, change direction or incorporate new technology. Then, share your progress with employees. Show them that you are taking steps to improve and your positive attitude about the future.
• Make positivity your mantra. Give employees a reason to believe in you through your honesty, respectfulness and openness.
• Make sure you “walk the walk.” I know that this may sound trite, but it’s key to achieving and maintaining trust. Your words and actions MUST be synchronized for success to happen.
• Let employees know that you are their leader and that in that role you are committed to their future success.
• Believe in yourself and project that sense of belief.
Losing the confidence or trust of your employees can be devastating; but, it’s not the end. You can reopen the door to trust by acknowledging your shortcoming, defining what went wrong and taking steps to bridge the gap with your employees.