Trust: Of Dads and Dragons.

Internal Comms professional Kate Jones, provides her thoughts on the role of trust in leadership.

Is your MD a dad or a dragon?

Someone who is looked up to as a protector, making the difficult decisions on behalf of employees, or an entrepreneurial spirit who wants to crowdsource the best ideas from throughout the organisation, Dragons’ Den style?

The recent Top Banana report into leadership and trust picked up on the current crisis of faith in big business. Much of what’s been written about the shadier goings-on in financial services and the less than honourable behaviour of some of our Honourable Members has taken the external view – what’s the impact on customer perception, on voter loyalty, on brand advocacy?

Spotlight

As a passionate internal communicator, I was pleased to see the report turn the spotlight inward to explore the link between leadership, trust, employee satisfaction and ultimately business performance.

Over my almost 20 years in internal comms, I’ve worked with CEOs, senior leaders and line managers who’ve been both dads and dragons. Top Banana have asked me for my reflections on building trust within organisations and what I’ve seen happen when senior managers are, or are not, creating an environment that fosters trust.

Most of the employee engagement surveys I’ve come across include a question along the lines of ‘Do you trust the decisions taken by senior leaders?’ Elsewhere in the survey, people will also be asked how well their ideas are acted on and whether they’re given the freedom to make their best contribution.

Leadership styles

And there you have the two sides of leadership style as it relates to trust. Is the management style avuncular – a case of “Just do your job and let the grown-ups worry about that” – or entrepreneurial, where employees’ ideas and challenges are valued and seen as a central part of moving the business forward?

In a nutshell, it comes down to whether leaders demonstrate that they have faith in their people. When people feel that the boss believes in them, they walk that bit taller, are proud of their ideas and willing to share, believe that they can suggest better ways of doing things and innovating, and are more likely to go the extra mile – that ‘discretional effort’ that all the employee engagement articles talk about.

So what are these leaders doing to show that they trust their people?

  • They don’t take the credit.
  • They don’t keep secrets – they treat their people like adults and let them know the full story, good or bad.
  • They back their people up and stand up for them.
  • They are visible – out and about around the business, available for people to ask questions and comment on whatever’s important to them.
  • They continually ask for and act on employee feedback.
  • They encourage their senior team to collaborate and think across boundaries.
  • And most importantly – they let people get on with it. Set the outcome, then get out of the way.

I’ve heard many people comment that the top-down communication channels we still use today were created for another time and place – the factory floors of the industrial revolution. Well, isn’t the patriarchal hierarchy a relic of that time, too? Dinosaurs, dads or dragons – I know which works for me.

Kate lives on Twitter at @how_IC_it and blogs at howicitblog.wordpress.com