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The 1 Thing Leaders Agree is Critically Important for Success, Yet Few Have a Plan to Achieve It

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Imagine, if you will, you are in a large hotel ballroom with nearly 3,000 leaders from 115 countries representing 38 different industry sectors. You’re attending a conference to discuss the most important leadership issues of the day, and 96% of the attendees agree that one specific topic needs to be a high priority in relation to all their other business priorities. You would guess the vast majority of leaders would have a plan in place to deal with such a widely accepted, high-priority business issue, right?

Wrong.

The high priority business issue that is critically important for success? Building and maintaining stakeholder trust.

The number of leaders who have a defined plan to address this issue? Just 34%.

Building trust starts with your most important stakeholders: employees. If your employees trust you and the organization, they are much more likely to go above and beyond to do good work, take risks that fuel innovation, and deliver excellent service to colleagues and customers. But as YPO’s Global Pulse survey reports, even though nearly all leaders say building and maintaining trust is important, it’s hard work to build trust with employees. In fact, survey respondents said it’s easier to build trust with vendors and suppliers than it is with employees. No wonder only a third of leaders have a defined plan for building and maintaining trust in their organization.

Building trust with employees isn’t easy because it never stops. It’s not like other business strategies that have a beginning, middle, and end. You don’t conduct a trust initiative by holding a few team-building events, hanging up motivational posters around the office, giving out t-shirts with pithy hashtag statements on them, and then consider the task done. Building and sustaining trust is part of your leadership and organizational ethos. It’s a way of being, not just doing.

So how can you get started in creating a high-trust culture? Here’s four key steps:

1. Start with You. The most important and impactful thing you can do to build trust is to be trustworthy. Leaders are always being watched, and your behavior sets the standard for what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace. It’s the little things that count when it comes to building trust, and those little things are your behaviors. Do you walk the talk? Do you use behaviors that build or erode trust? Building trust is a skill you can learn and develop, it’s not something that just happens automatically.

2. Create a Safe Environment. An environment of psychological safety is the fertile soil that allows the seeds of trust to grow and flourish. Psychological safety describes an individual’s perceptions about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in his/her work environment. It consists of taken-for-granted beliefs about how others will respond when one puts oneself on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea. Leaders can foster safety by encouraging and rewarding employees who demonstrate vulnerability.

3. Connect. In my experience, a primary cause of low trust between employees and their leaders or organization is a lack of personal connection. Connecting with employees involves building rapport, communicating, and acting with their best interests in mind. People trust those they know and like, and unfortunately, many leaders don’t take the time to foster personal relationships. Granted, in large organizations it’s not possible for senior leaders to have a personal relationship with every employee. But leaders can be more transparent in sharing information about themselves and the organization, interacting with employees in town hall meetings or company events, taking time to attend smaller department or group meetings, and generally making themselves more available and known to team members.

4. Foster Collaboration, not Competition. Research has shown that collaboration has more positive effects on team and organizational outcomes than competition. Unhealthy competition creates a scarcity mentality and perceptions of mistrust among team members, whereas collaboration encourages people to develop trust and reliance on each other to accomplish goals as a collective unit. At The Ken Blanchard Companies we have a saying that defines our philosophy about the power of collaboration in teams: No one of us is as smart as all of us.

Nearly every leader agrees that building and maintaining employee trust is a critical priority for organizational success, yet few actually have a plan to make it a reality. Building trust is not an easy-peasy, one-time effort. It takes constant effort and vigilance, however, the results are worth it because it’s the foundation of your personal leadership and organizational success.

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