Employees will not trust you by default. As a leader, you need to prove your trustworthiness time and time again. You will need to track and manage the level of trust your employees have in you and your leadership.
David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and the author of The Truth About Trust, says employee trust is constantly shifting: trust is an "evolving thing that ebbs and flows," DeSteno tells Harvard Business Review.
Without that trust, it's hard to accomplish much. You need trust to engage and motivate employees. Being a trusted leader also means that your employees will be candid about what's going on in the office, how they feel, what's challenging, and what's happening with team goals. "Managers will never learn the truth about a company unless they have employees' trust," Jim Dougherty, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and veteran software CEO, tells HBR.
But if a scandal hits your company or if you had to lay off a few employees (for good reason), how do you win back their trust? So long as you're decent human being, it' shouldn't be too hard to reinforce your trustworthiness. Here's what DeSteno and Dougherty's advise.
Realize employees don't trust power.
There's good reason why your employees do not automatically give you their unwavering trust. "As a person's power increases, their perceived trustworthiness goes down," DeSteno says. He explains that leaders seem less reliant on others--which means they are perceived as less trustworthy. But authentic, human connection can overcome such sentiments. Get to know your employees. Do not remind the troops you sit atop the hierarchy--that's a sure way to reinforce mistrust. Engage with your employees socially and bond over common ground. Meet for lunch, talk sports, and let them know about you and your life. "Do something that makes them believe that you are one of them," says Dougherty. Treating them like an equal socially will signal that "even though you are the boss, in the end you're all in this together."
Share data, information, and results.
Do your employees know how the company is doing? Dougherty says it is important you are as transparent and open about the company's current health and projections as possible. Being open not only shuts down rumors, but it also helps employees feel included with the goals and mission of your company. "If there is a void of information, employees will fill it, and they will always fill it with negative information," Dougherty tells HBR. Make it part of your regular routine to share performance metrics, data, notes from board meetings, and financial results. This transparency will show your employees that you trust them, which will give them faith in you to be truthful. When you have bad news, don't sugarcoat it. Always think about your integrity. "If you can't tell people the hard stuff, they won't trust you," DeSteno adds.
Encourage your employees.
Giving orders will not help your trustworthiness. Besides, if your employees need to be commanded to do their jobs, something is very wrong. Encourage your staff, empower them to succeed at their jobs, and help them align their professional goals with the company. "You don't succeed in the long run by telling people what to do," says Dougherty. "You have to motivate them to do it." Delegate important decisions and projects to capable employees. Make sure they know what's expected of them, but give them autonomy. "People will trust you if you trust them," says Dougherty.
Take the blame.
As the leader, you are responsible for everyone who works for you. When mistakes are made, take responsibility and do not throw an employee under the bus. But when the team achieves its goals, when the company surpasses its expected performance, give credit to your employees who stand out. In the end, they're the ones doing the actual work. So make sure they feel the love. "The best way to get people to behave well is to give credit," Dougherty says. When things go wrong, when people get laid off, or profits suffer, take the rap. No one trusts a leader who blames the little guy to avoid repercussions. A trusted leader takes one for the team, sacrifices himself or herself, and supports the team to carry out goals.
Continue to acquire skills.
No one trusts a foolish boss. If you're implementing a new technology that you don't understand, take time to learn how to use it like a pro. If the company is getting a client in an unfamiliar industry, do your research. "Even if everyone likes you, you have to be competent to be trusted," says DeSteno. Attend training sessions and sharpen different skills, but don't pretend like you're an expert in everything. Have the humility to ask questions and learn from your employees. "We can accomplish a lot more working with other people and relying on their expertise than we could alone," says DeSteno.