In Leadership, We Trust

“You’re watching your back, like you can’t relax.” – Avril Lavigne

Employee engagement is a lagging and leading indicator of productivity. The Gallup 2013 “State of the American Workplace” indicated that 70 percent of employees in the U.S. are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.”

Poor employee engagement is not a symptom, it’s an outcome. Trust is necessary for positive engagement levels. Therefore lack of trust is a likely root cause when engagement levels, and ergo productivity, are low.

Leaders need to actively focus on trusting others and being trustworthy themselves. Here’s some trust-habits.

1. Watch colleague’s backs, don’t stab them. When back-stabbing happens, the stabber and the stabbee are immediately viewed with suspicion. “Cinderella betrayed Snow White? I guess I can’t trust Cinderella, so I won’t volunteer to work on her project like I planned.” “Snow White did what? I think I’ll look around for another person to make the apple pies?” Betrayal disrupts like a big rock thrown in a small pond.

2. Give the benefit of the doubt. We all have bad days. You can’t know what might be going on in someone’s life. Delayed tasks and mistakes – we all make them; cut the co-worker some slack, especially if this behavior is atypical. If you know the person well enough, perhaps pick a casual moment to say ‘everything OK?’ or offer help. (If it becomes typical, that’s another story; a performance management story.) Being known for someone who doesn’t judge or leap to conclusions, but is open to learning from mistakes, not blaming for them, will build trust.

3. Be honest when someone appears to have caused a problem, but give them a chance to explain. “Prince Eric, it seems the widget you built may have caused a major customer service outage. Can you review for me what happened?” Looking to cast blame, rather than understanding what happened and offering advice, make people trust you won’t “throw them under the bus.”

4. Be approachable. Be known for someone who can listen to difficult situations, stay calm, and handle appropriately. I’m Type A myself, and it can be tough to hear startling news and control my reaction. Difficult circumstances are the ones where it is most important to summon control. People will trust you more if they feel you won’t freak out.

5. Avoid knee-jerk e-mails. All the emoticons in the world don’t substitute for face-face or even a phone call. An upset or angry frame of mind leads to communications you may regret. Write want you want to say in a document (close e-mail so the Send button isn’t even in sight), and let it sit for a night or a day or even a week. If you still want to send, perhaps have a trusted co-worker read it first. Once you click Send, you can’t take it back, and you could damage trust.

Going back to Avril’s song lyric, employees who experience or witness betrayal and lack of trust are distracted by watching their own backs. Heads down, “just-get-me-through-the-week” attitudes prevail over collaboration, transparency and contribution.

Building trust takes time and focus. Damaging takes a split second. Protect the trust.


OK, I only have one aside this Friday, but it’s a big one! @UofNH student @RealAlexPreston is a top 3 contestant in American Idol! All of us in Durham are rooting for this talented young man.

Well, maybe I do have one more. Happy Mother’s Day, and on Sunday May 11, whether you are a parent or not, send a thought to the kidnapped girls in Nigeria and their families. May the situation result in their safe return.







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>