“Me First!” You expect to hear this in kindergarten, but not in corporate America. After all, shouldn’t adults know how to play fair, share willingly, and cooperate?
Unfortunately, with employee engagement at all-time lows, many leaders find themselves increasingly confronted with demoralized, unhappy, or even outright-hostile employees. Energy levels plummet. Productivity suffers. Teamwork deteriorates. People look out for themselves first and foremost. And, just like frustrated parents, leaders often respond by “getting tough” – demanding more collaboration, greater commitment, and increased effort.
Unfortunately, this approach rarely delivers the desired results. The truth is that employees are paid for their time and their talent, but their hearts, ideas, passion, loyalty, and creativity are things that must be volunteered – not commandeered.
And this act of volunteerism is almost exclusively based on one thing…trust.
A willingness to trust is the foundation of any strong relationship – personal or professional. When you lead a team or an organization, what you really want is for people to trust you enough to place the “fine china” of their lives – commitment, creativity, passion, and extra effort – in your hands.
But, to earn this trust, a leader must get to the point where authority is granted because of character – not because of power or position.
How do you start to build this foundation of trust? Here are some things to consider:
- Humble yourself: Trust-building leaders don’t just “show” the way. They share the work with their team, realizing that actions often speak louder than words.
- Listen: A client recently boasted about his “open door” policy. After a little investigation, we learned that very few people actually walked through that open door. In contrast, trust-building leaders proactively create opportunities to truly listen to those they serve – with the goal of “hearing” what is being said rather than “solving” the problem.
- Connect: When you connect with the people you are leading – by humbly working along side of them and sharing stories and experiences – you let them know that you understand them as people, not just job functions. This connection builds trust.
When your employees can truly say, “I am heard,” “I am understood,” and “I can trust my leader,” then – and only then – will they entrust you with their “fine china.” To get there requires some heavy lifting. It’s as much about what is in your heart as what is in your head. But the results – an engaged and energized workforce – are well worth the effort.