How “good parenting” and small talk can make you a better leader
The concept of trust might feel like a funny thing to be talking about at this time however as the last few weeks have shown, it’s one of the key issues affecting business performance according to research by both Gartner and Gallup.
Unfortunately, there are a number of leaders whose business performance is struggling because they don’t trust their teams and their teams don’t trust them.
The leaders I work with aren’t wondering if their teams are in their pajamas and watching Netflix. Their team members aren’t sitting at home trying to work out ways of reassuring their manager that they are actually working; which inevitably leads to longer hours being worked, and the potential for burnout. Those probably aren’t the leaders who would read this blog.
On top of managing a new workspace and performance anxiety, many people are being stretched by family demands and a multitude of other issues. I’ve had several clients share with me that their partners have lost their jobs or been made redundant or been put on limited hours which is causing an increased financial strain. It is even harder to focus on delivering results as our mental buckets become full and we start to wonder if our leader has noticed.
I did some qualitative research with a pool of client employees globally and asked them how they rated the importance of trust at work before COVID and then again today. They were then asked how they rated the execution of creating and building trust by their leader. The results are shown below:
As we can see from the image, trust has become even more important to most employees. Despite best efforts, sadly many leaders have fallen short since the move to virtual took place due to a lack of training, knowledge or support from their organizations They have been left to find the way themselves and this has had a consequence.
I actually asked the importance/execution questions against all six of the leadership traits I focus on, and trust was the one which scored in the top two most important to employees right now.
The dictionary defines trust as, ‘firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something’. To me, the key part of this are the words FIRM BELIEF.
As a child, we mostly all hold a firm belief that our parents have our back. They will protect, provide and help us whenever and wherever possible. And yes there are exceptions to this rule however I am working on the basis of good parenting. It is interesting to me that most leaders never liken their role as a leader as having many similarities to parenting. And the situation now is something like when your kids are under immense exam pressure — x1000.
In business, your employees want to firmly believe that you aren’t virtually peering over their shoulder (micromanaging them); or that you are so “hands-off”, you have no idea what they are up to. Which style are you?
Employees want support, encouragement, to be allowed to try things and know that you will be there to catch them when they fall. Or at least pick them up and dust them off if they do! Remember they are currently having to try a LOT of new things! They also want you to care about them, ask how they are and show your compassionate side. Can you really say you do this as a leader? Do you know a leader who is doing this well?
This cultivation of trust is key to employees delivering at their best. David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and the author of The Truth About Trust states that trust is “essential to boosting employee engagement, motivation, and candor’
This begs the question, how does one build trust? A quick Google search will give you a multitude of lists and tips. I am going to give two small examples that include some practical tips from my programs.
1. There needs to be a simple alignment of expectations and obligations between managers, employees and between employees on what is going to happen and who will do it. A virtual one to one can create enormous alignment, and therefore build trust using four simple questions.
Employees are more likely to follow through on goals set by a manager they trust and to be more forthcoming about the challenges they see on their level. Ask these questions next time you have a 1:1 and ask them with the intent of building trust and see the results.
2. The second example is based around putting back something which was lost for many during the move to virtual. Formally known as incidental socialization, these are the water cooler conversations, the just passing by your desk questions, the lunchroom chats. Meetings tend to start and end with business and not trust-building small talk. We are relational animals and therefore need this interaction to feel a connection and trust.
I recommend leaders try to move meetings to a 45-minute format which starts with small talk. Meetings are initiated at the top of the hour and people need to be there by 5 past which gives 5 mins of chat time. Meetings finish at a quarter before the hour which gives people, who want to, time to stick around and chat. Those who need to get away can do so too.
I could write reams more however the intent is to remind you to take the time to build and maintain trust with your teams, as they really need it right now.
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MENTAL HEALTH NOTE — If you are feeling alone or overly worried about things right now, please reach out to me directly for a chat. I am here to listen and want you to know you have someone to connect with who cares.