Every great company started from a great idea, or built upon an existing great idea. Somewhere, an entrepreneur with a desire to make things better had a thought about a product or service the world needed, and they went for it. But that's not all it takes. Along the way, other people joined the team and contributed new and thoughtful ideas, adding to and supporting the original idea.
Companies are built layer upon layer from great ideas given by your team. These ideas encourage and direct ways to become better, differentiate your business, solve problems, take away pain, do great things and win. When new ideas stop, business stalls and failure increases. Ideas come from people, growth comes from people and successful business exists because of talented people.
So, trust your people! Without trusting your team to contribute in meaningful ways, you fail. It's the leader's responsibility to ensure a culture of trust exists, which invites and rewards opinions and innovative ideas.
Here are three keys to building trust.
Many of us are horrible listeners because we're too busy, we assume we already get the point, we jump to conclusions, we keep adding our own two cents or we just don't care enough. We need to be better. When we really listen, we build trust. Listening makes us more approachable, and employees will believe we have an open mind and that we'll both hear and understand them. Employees know when you're faking it--so it needs to be real.
Action follows if you truly listen, even if it's to simply explain why an idea is worth pursuing or if it just can't be a priority right now. Also, where it makes sense, give ideas life and a chance to succeed or they'll stop. Listening is active, not passive.
2. Be humble.
Regardless of how smart you are, you don't know everything and you'll never have the collective brainpower, knowledge and insight of every employee. So be humble enough to recognize that great ideas come from everyone.
I worked with a programmer who was incredibly intelligent and at times offensive to other team members. It built resentment and frustration, not trust. I asked him to operate under the assumption that there is always the possibility that he could be wrong. I suggest we all operate that way. Be open to improvement, change, innovation and then make sure to highlight others. It's amazing the trust that can be built by giving honest praise to the true sources of good things.
3. Give employees freedom.
Truly listening and a little humility should naturally lead to employee freedom. People thrive when they're open to challenge the status quo and have a meaningful impact on their work. They need freedom to grow, freedom to run, freedom to learn and even freedom to fail.
We've all been in, or heard about, those toxic environments where employees operate out of fear--that mess-up-and-lose-your-job fear or I'm-the-boss-and-I'm-king-of-you fear. For those of you with people in your organization who create this feeling, fire them now. Actually, try to train them, but if they won't change, then fire them. Fear creates toxic cultures, and toxic cultures kill trust.
A culture of freedom, wisely crafted and providing a framework of mission and vision, will lead to an incredible result.