"Why do you trust us so much?"

This was an actual question from a college student who is in a leadership and content production role. I've been doing some mentoring this summer, trying to take what I've learned as a columnist for the past 16 years and giving others a little advice.

You know what? It took me a long time to realize why trust is so important. Showing trust and empathy at work are skills you have to learn over time, not something any of us come by naturally. In fact, we tend to have a natural inclination to toot our own horn and look out for number one. In a work setting, we are more likely to figure out how to get the credit for a project than to make sure someone else gets the credit. The great irony of life is that we become more likable, more valuable to an organization, and find more fulfillment overall when we look out for others.

As a boss, it's hard to grasp that at times. Too often, a boss thinks the best approach is to become dictatorial, to set the rules and then enforce them. Why is that? For the "bad bosses" out there, it's an act of self-preservation. They want to make sure they look good. They enact grand dictums and punish employees when they don't perform because they think that is how they'll survive in the workplace. A bad boss doesn't bother showing empathy. The main goal is to keep the budget in check, for the employees to finish projects on time, and for the main leader to look good in front of everyone else (and maybe get a raise). A harsh boss is really making sure the Most Important Person in the Company is getting enough credit and recognition. That's the end game.

There's a better way. It's to see the world from the eyes of your team. What do they need to survive? How are they perceiving a project? Interestingly enough, this act of showing trust and empathy leads to a better team which is better for the company (and the boss).

Of course, there is a big risk. When you trust you also have to accept the fact that the team might make you look bad. Oops, the product demo didn't go as planned. Sorry, the PowerPoint slides have multiple errors on them. A bad boss is constantly harping about the rules and making sure nothing bad ever happens, but without risk there is no reward. The employees don't risk failure to avoid being chewed out. They don't own a project or task because it's all about pleasing the boss and keeping everything safe--including their own job and the perception everyone has of the boss and the team.

I'd rather show empathy and trust, let the employee own the project, then watch as they fail miserably but learn from the mistake. Here's how that works. A bad boss emphasizes failure avoidance, so the workplace is a bit hostile. Failure is disappointing to the boss. Everyone is hiding in a cubicle. They hate the team. A good boss emphasizes trust and empathy. Failure is an opportunity. The employee knows that any failure will not cause a nuclear meltdown (unless you actually work at a nuclear power plant). It will lead to understanding and a way to find a resolution.

An employee who feels that failure makes the boss look bad won't really try anything that risky and won't create anything worthwhile. An employee who believes that failure is not the end of the world will try to accomplish great things.

Think about what kind of atmosphere that creates--one of unity and happiness at work. Empathy and trust lead to a healthy team dynamic. It's OK to fail! It's OK to try new things! It's OK to stretch your abilities and skills! It's OK to be who you really are and complete tasks in a way that works for you! There's no overlord or thought police roaming the halls and slapping your wrist. There's only a boss that wants to see you shine brightly.

Published on: Jul 21, 2017
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