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A culture of trust

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Inspite of a compelling vision, rock-solid strategy, excellent communication skills, innovative practices, deep consumer insights and talented teams, many corporates are just not able to take the organisation to the next level simply because leaders don’t trust each other

Rupak Agarwal

Did you ever manage a team where more than 50% of the leaders did not trust each other? When was the last time you did not trust the boss you were reporting in to? One of the most critical tasks of a CEO is to build a culture of trust, an environment where leaders trust each other. A culture of trust is the most critical building block of any great team because it gives you a sense a safety. When your team members feel safe with each other, they feel comfortable to open up, take appropriate risks and expose vulnerabilities. And building trust takes time. You will observe team members not sharing information openly, battling over rights and responsibilities, not cooperating seamlessly, not sharing bad news in time, not sounding alarm bells over “ticking” little bombs and working in silos.
Many leaders believe that others will trust them because of their position in the organisation. But trust is not a benefit that comes packaged with the nameplate on your door. It must be earned.

Here are some practices that will help build a culture of trust:

Share your vision

Every employee looks up to you to know what is your vision, in which direction you are going to steer the ship and how you plan to take the ship in that direction. When you share your strategy for success, you acknowledge your trust in employees who determine that success. And they will work hard to show that your trust is well placed.

Leading through e-mail?

Trust is all about relationships, and relationships are best built by establishing genuine connections. The more you hide behind your email, the more difficult it is. Go out to connect and listen – have more and more “face time”. Ask questions, listen, and, above all, show gratitude. Simple questions like “what are your biggest pain points?” and “how I can help you?”, give them so much freedom to speak and you hit a goldmine. Don’t limit yourself to appreciating only the big things – try appreciating the little things that you observe.

Promise made, promise kept

As you connect and listen, it is very important to listen intently with a genuine desire to intervene and help. Do you have personal discipline and a system to make a list of all little things that you need to follow through? When a team member tells you something which needs some action from your end, you are making a promise to them and you must ensure that you do your part. When sitting in reviews there will be action points for you. Do you have a system to ensure you do not miss any of your action points and follow them to their logical end? When you view such subtle promises you make as unpaid debts, magic begins to happen.

Family circles

Every leader needs to know his first line like his family member. That’s how emotional bonds gets built beyond the immediate work area and trust is created. Asking simple questions like “how is everything at home?”, “how is your child doing?”, before a work chat helps strengthen trust. Once or twice in a year, send a thank-you note to family members for supporting your employee to deliver at work. Engaging with your team outside of work at an informal environment does help in breaking the invisible wall between you and your team.

Encourage bad news to flow in

Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes Benz once said, “The higher you climb up the ladder, the more people will tell you what a great guy you are. The worst trap you can fall into is believing them.” Encouraging bad news to flow in to you seamlessly is a key leadership skill to build trust.

Trust is like a forest – it takes a lot of time to grow, but can burn down with just a flame of carelessness.  

- The author is business head, Godrej Properties

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