Managers must earn employees’ trust: Waning loyalty is the hallmark of the modern workplace

“Trust me.” Yeah, right. Trust is in short supply at work these days. Yet managers sometimes think because they’re the boss, trust should be automatically granted. Can you hear the employee chorus? “Yeah, right.”

Waning loyalty has become the hallmark of the modern workplace. Downsizing, reorganization and other corporate “gotchas” have created employee cynicism. And yet, as a manager, you need to build trust among members of your team. So, how do you pull that off? You can’t wait around hoping your organization will make it happen. It starts with one: you. Trust won’t be given to you until it is earned.
Here are some essential trust building blocks:
Strength grows from vulnerability.
Ironic isn’t it? Yet we can all name powerful, respected people who can bare their throats. We admire that because we know only those with internal strength and confidence will lay themselves open. So, admit you don’t know the answer and ask your team for advice and help. Stay open to opinions and ideas. If you only act tough and strut around like you know it all, the pack will be looking for opportunities to bring you down.
Attempting to control others only drives them away.
Take a lesson from ex-spouses and angry adolescents: control never works. Once you hit adulthood, control tactics only cause resistance and rebellion. Micromanaging the daily work of talented employees or hogging all the good technical work for yourself snuffs the life out of employees and makes them run for the door.
Begin by trusting that employees by nature want to do good work. Be available for coaching and advice. It should look like this: set expectations, encourage, encourage, encourage, redirect, encourage…
Reexamine your policy manual and turn it into a good judgment guide. Only set policies around things that absolutely must be enforced. Policy manuals that stifle only prompt employees to find passive aggressive ways to circumvent the rules
Have a playful spirit.
I used to think I had to have two personalities: one for work and one for my friends and family. I thought I had to don a “professional” mask when I started writing my column back in 1982. When people met me they’d often say, “You’re a lot more fun and down to earth than I thought you were from reading your column.” When I finally started letting my real self out, I not only began to have more fun, but everyone else did, too.
Laugh at the stupid things you do (you might as well…everyone else is). You’ll get bonus points for being human. Encourage those around you to be silly sometimes and let their goofiness out…it’s good for business.
Authentic, open communication creates credibility.
Say what you see. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But it’s probably the area managers ask me to help them with the most. Honest feedback is what everyone wants and few people know how to give. Adopt a philosophy that you want to help people and one of the best ways to do that is to tell them the truth about what is getting in their way.
If you are diligent about sharing information with people about what is going on in the organization, your people will turn to you, instead of the grapevine, as the trusted source.
Curb your urge to be judgmental.
We want those around us to be like us, think like us and act like us. If they don’t, you secretly think they’re not very smart. (Come on, admit it.) We say judgmental things about our boss, our co-workers and our employees.
Instead of judging behavior, start describing it in neutral terms. This is tougher than you think. For example, a neutral approach: “When you don’t come to work on time, your coworkers must answer your phone and handle your customer questions. We need you to be here on time.” A judgmental approach: “You seem to care more about your personal life than you care about your job.”
To build courage, face your fears.
Confident people didn’t inherit a bravery gene. They got that way by taking small risks and then working their way up to bigger and bolder moves. Like a sapling subjected to strong winds and harsh conditions, the mature tree is stronger than its sheltered twin.
What are you resisting or avoiding? Chances are it’s the very thing that is holding you back from where you want to go. Are you afraid of public speaking? Afraid of hurting feelings if you speak honestly? Start small, but start to face your fears. If you don’t, they become bigger bogeymen.
Keep your promises.
Dependability creates trust. There is an old quote from an unknown source, “We judge ourselves by our best intentions. Others judge us by our last worst act.” Do what you say you will do. That means returning phone calls, keeping confidences, showing up for meetings, and stopping at someone’s desk to answer a question when you promised you would.
Just saying “trust me” never works. You can only earn it the old fashioned way.
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational and leadership development strategist. She has developed tools to help recruit employees and create a culture that will encourage them to stay. Visit for more information. Or, email your question to Joan at and visit to search an archive of more than 1,500 of her articles. You can contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500. For more information about her executive coaching process, call (800) 348-1944.

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