How do effective leaders build trust with employees?

How do leaders build trust with employees

How do effective leaders build trust with employees?

Further Education (FE) leaders face a growing amount of pressure as a result of funding restrictions, structural changes, technological developments and constant reforms. Many FE Colleges provide structured learning and development opportunities such as coaching, mentoring, and training courses. However, many leaders are not able to take the time out of their busy schedules to participate in such initiatives. In the following article, I have cherry-picked some tried and tested strategies to help FE leaders build trust and more positive working relationships with employees.

What is trust? Stephen M.R. Covey, author of the well-known book called The Speed of Trust, highlights that trust can be broken down to four components: integrity, intent, capabilities and results.

We trust leaders who demonstrate honesty and whose values align with ours (integrity). Leaders need to show that they have positive intentions for employees and these are not centred on individualistic gains (intent). Employees need to believe that their leaders have the necessary skills, capabilities and experience to handle complex situations (capabilities). People will trust leaders if they can show evidence of positive outcomes they have achieved in the past (results).

According to a recent survey conducted by Gallup, less than a third of UK employees have confidence in their leaders’ ability to handle complex challenges. Gallup highlights a correlation between UK employees’ engagement and their trust in leaders. The more trust employees have, the more engagement they demonstrate. Lack of trust can lead to weak performance, loss of productivity, and lack of motivation. When employees do not fully trust their leaders, they will be hesitant to contribute with creative and innovative ideas. People will show resistance to change if they do not trust the intention of leaders.

Developing effective and empathetic communications is an essential step. If you work in the FE sector, you most probably interact with a wide range of individuals: external business partners, teaching and support staff, and other senior leaders. Introducing small changes to the way you interact with others can help to make a genuine difference:

Cultural differences- Try to become more aware of cultural differences. You might need to slow down slightly when speaking with non-native speakers and avoid unnecessary management jargon. At times, you need to be able to break down complex ideas and explain these in simple and straightforward language. If you have an unusual accent, remember to give people some time to adjust to it.

Have you ever noticed that many successful leaders are gifted story tellers? Stories make connections between individuals regardless of their backgrounds.

Ask more questions– Do you to give lots of advice to people when they share their concerns? Try to pay more attention to your everyday conversations and notice how many times you give advice.

Before you launch into sharing your suggestions, try to slow down. Do ask more questions about the situation, the challenges, and see if the person you are talking to might have some ideas about how the issues can be resolved. When you refrain from giving people advice straightaway, people feel more empowered to think of responses. Often, they can come up with solutions which are best suited to the challenges they are facing (and these could be even better than what you would have suggested).

Although you may have a vast amount of experience and skills to draw on, try to first give others time for thinking about solutions. When people have the opportunity to reflect on their situation, they develop useful problem solving skills and be able to handle future issues more effectively. Your guidance could of course be most valuable to others, once they have had a chance to think about solutions themselves.

Walk your talk– According to a recent Harvard Business Review Article [Ma4] written by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, consistency is a key step to developing trust between individuals. You need to set a good example for others to follow. Before you ask your team to go above and beyond of what is expected, you need to ensure that you demonstrate this skill in your line of work. If you ‘walk your talk’, people will find it easier to trust you and they will start considering you as a role model.

Be authentic– As a leader, you most likely spend your day spinning a number of plates and trying to juggle competing responsibilities. You probably have a number of meetings to attend, an inbox with lots of unread e-mails and you may spend some of your evenings catching up on work. When you are under pressure, it can be easy to forget to say ‘thank you’ to staff members. It is essential that we acknowledge the hard work of other people, and express our appreciation for their efforts.

Giving staff members feedback may include praise as well as constructive criticism. According to a Harvard Business Review article, employees may develop most when they make mistakes. People need to feel that they are allowed to experiment with new approaches. They need to be aware that making mistakes is part of being human. Failures can help us to develop new understandings. They can contribute to reinventing some of our ways of working and improve our skills. You could encourage employees to think about failures as learning opportunities.

To help people feel more positive about failures, you could explain how you have grown in the past by making mistakes. Trust can be built by expressing the emotions, concerns and doubts you are experiencing. When you are able to share your thoughts and feelings with others, you encourage others to do the same. From time to time, you may not know the answer to questions or you may be wrong. Do not shy away from admitting it.

As Stephen Covey, a renowned leadership authority, said: "Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication."

Building trust is never a one-off event. It is a journey to take. It requires patience, consistency and courage. Trust is an essential part of leadership and management.

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