Mistrust in leadership has taken root in the public, in part the result of a litany of scandalized politicians and overpaid and questionably competent CEOs. But what if you are, in fact, a capable and good-hearted CEO, and just can't seem to convince your employees?
John Dame, the founder of leadership development company Dame Management Strategies, says gaining trust from the troops is all about the example a CEO's behavior sets. "Real leadership--the kind that inspires people to pull together and collectively achieve something great--can only be exercised when an executive is trusted. And trust arises when someone is seen acting selflessly," Dame writes in the Harvard Business Review.
Below, read Dame's keys to becoming a selfless, trusted leader.
Ensure employee safety.
As a leader, it is in your power to provide for the safety of your employees, Dame says. But safety is not only the act of preventing physical harm; it is about the overall environment and collective mindset you create at your company. "Safe is not cutting people as soon as there is a dip in the economy. Safe is not giving raises to a few executives while colleagues languish with small or nonexistent increases. Safe is not producing extraordinary profits while failing to develop a clear career path and development plan for every employee," Dame writes in HBR. "What safe is, is a place where people come to work not worried about whether they will have a job tomorrow, where compensation is fair, where employees feel that they have gotten a little bit better at their job every day, where they feel there is opportunity to advance and learn, and where their bosses treat them like they are important contributors to the betterment of the organization. Safe makes a great company."
Serve your employees.
Dame's advice harks back to servant leadership, where a leader serves his or her underlings. The service mindset "isn't built by an external set of rules or process, but grows from a set of deep-rooted values that are lived minute-by-minute by leaders," he writes. Dame cites the example of one of his CEO colleagues, who inverted the company's organization chart so that the customer-serving employees were on the top. With the CEO and other senior executives on the bottom, the chart signified the company's sole purpose: to support and serve client-serving employees. "Not only did this help with executives' priority-setting, it was motivating to everyone," Dame writes. "People do better work for a CEO who they feel is working for them, too."
As a leader, you will need to make personal sacrifices that benefit your employees. But this doesn't mean working late hours and giving up weekends. You need to sacrifice yourself, not your time. "[The] sacrifices that matter most are the ones that involve sticking one's neck out for a colleague or taking a stand that puts one's political capital at risk," Dame writes. He relates a story of a CEO he coaches who once made a huge sacrifice: The CEO's company was in the process of being sold and the new owners wanted him to fire a portion of the staff that was at the $45,000 per year salary level. Instead, the CEO suggested trimming the executive team as a quicker way to bring the company back into the black. The new owners took his advice and fired him. Fortunately, due to the leadership he exhibited, he had a list of companies waiting to hire him.