One basic tenant of leadership is a bold recognition that every worker, regardless of their level, matters to your business. Showing your team their worth, however, isn't simply a matter of throwing around perks. More than anything, people want to be heard and regarded with respect, to know that they have a way to communicate with management.

Building trust so people follow means standing shoulder to shoulder

People don't always feel respected and heard just because you have a feedback box (which people can feel too distanced from you to use), have a company picnic or give them a chance once every few months to maybe ask a question at an open meeting. They feel respected and heard when you get your hands dirty with them, when you walk a mile in their shoes on the company floor.

And no, on a day-to-day level, it doesn't matter if you've had time in the trenches before--great leaders don't think they're exempt or too good for certain tasks simply because they've already earned some experience. They take that experience right back into the trenches, and they get others to follow by being willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone else.

Unless you work as they work, they forever will see you as an "other", rather than a comrade in arms who understands.

By contrast, when you do work face-to-face with people from all levels, you give workers a stronger sense of being directly useful, and you help them grasp the big picture of what they're working for. You're also humanizing the company, which can make them more motivated to go out on a limb for you and your goals. It'll also give you an opportunity to fully comprehend the dynamics within your team.

Making time for face time

Now, obviously, if you've got hundreds or thousands of employees, it's logistically troublesome to make a meeting for everybody. You need time to handle your other responsibilities and make decisions.

But it benefits you to stay connected to the "lower" work you used to do, to schedule visits to different departments and lend a hand, ask questions and go through their motions. You should go see firsthand how projects are coming along, send notes of encouragement or thanks for what you see happening and let others teach you their own wisdom and knowledge. It's these kinds of activities that allow everyone to recognize their own potential and creativity and utilize it, and just like a syrup company doesn't tap just a few maple trees, you want to get juice flowing in as many locations in the company as possible. 

This can work the other way, too, where you bring others to your level. For example, you can have people shadow you, which can prove true transparency in operations and allow you to mentor. Or you can select people from many areas to serve on specific committees with you, not just for you. This kind of behavior can be extremely motivating, as it helps workers feel like achieving your level of success is within reach.

In either case, your goal in being present isn't just to get technical updates or give orders, but rather to interact in ways that let you and your team be empathetic to each other, and to later allow that empathy to reasonably color whatever decisions everyone has to make.

Taking the side-by-side approach and striving for a high level of visibility through your business might mean that you need other types of support, such as an extremely capable second-in-command you can delegate to when you're out and about. It might even mean that you have to wait to pursue other potential projects or opportunities, or that those projects and opportunities get a pass altogether.

But those sacrifices and systems translate into a workforce that trusts you, feels more confident with you at the helm and is inspired by leader-driven faith in future personal growth. The stability you gain from that trust, confidence and faith is priceless.

Published on: Nov 21, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.