Being a boss is never easy. It's a 24 x7 gig in which you have to be eternally vigilant of what you are doing and how it's impacting those around you. You are constantly being watched by your team members, colleagues and those you influence. Very often, successful business executives don't realise how their inadvertent acts can attenuate the "trust" that is fundamental to their leadership.
You have to be especially careful if you have been doing well and have been moving up the corporate ladder. I have seen bosses who begin to believe that because they have done well, they don't have to bother with "soft issues". They believe nothing really matters other than meeting their KRAs (key results areas) and keeping those above them happy. Some bosses don't realise that what they sometimes term as "non-material actions" can create a "trust-deficit" and impact their ability to influence those they lead. This does not happen overnight, but slowly the team weans away from the boss.
Building and sustaining trust does not mean being nice but doing what is right...
Remember, for employees trusting a boss is about having the feeling that he will do the right things for them and the organisation at large. Just to clarify, building and sustaining trust does not mean being nice but doing what is right, which could sometimes even mean conveying tough messages to employees without impacting their dignity and self-confidence.
At a conceptual level, trust gets built through the competence and character of a leader. This has various dimensions and is a subject for another time. What I am sharing here are common behaviours of bosses that can destroy the trust of those they lead. Since a boss is a leader, both these words have been used interchangeably.
1. Always being stuck to their mobile phone
I don't know if it's due to OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) or scant respect for those around, many bosses seem unable to keep their phones aside during business review meetings or even one-on-one discussions. When a leader is busy on the phone during meetings, it shows that something else is more important than the discussions underway. It may seem like a small, unintentional thing, but it shows the low level of concern the leader has for those around.
Remember: Consciously keep aside the mobile phone before a meeting and proclaim loudly, "Let me put the phone away." And then don't look at the phone until the discussions are over.
When a leader is busy on the phone during meetings, it shows that something else is more important than the discussions underway.
2. Being distracted during one-on-ones
Not being mentally present during a one-on-one discussion is a behaviour that bosses think they can get away with. Unfortunately, it's pretty obvious to the other person that the boss's mind is elsewhere. Even all the attentive nodding in the world can't really mask it. This is because the human mind can identify images that are seen for as little as 13 milliseconds, which means that the person opposite can pick up the minutest of facial expressions - including a glazed look in the eye, a tiny delay in response and so on. The impact this has is that the person may feel that they are unimportant to the boss.
Remember: Make a conscious effort to make sure you are fully present during the conversation. Be mindful of staying in the moment and not getting lost in your own thoughts.
3. Not owning up to ignorance and mistakes
A leader is not expected to know everything under the sun. There are things that they might not know. They should have the humility to acknowledge this to the team instead of putting on an all-knowing façade. A leader should be able to say "I don't know" with confidence. The team will appreciate the candour -- they can easily see through bluffing.
Similarly, a leader should be able to own up to mistakes with an "I am sorry" or "It was my mistake." If he looks for scapegoats or just keeps quiet, he shall lose the respect of his team.
Remember: Owning up to what one does not know or what one has done wrong, does not make you weak. Rather it demonstrates your courage as a leader and the team's respect for you will go up.
A leader should be able to say "I don't know" with confidence. The team will appreciate the candour -- they can easily see through bluffing.
4. Having a loose tongue
The relationship between a boss and subordinate is quite like that of a doctor and a patient. Bosses are often privy to private information about employees (ranging from details about their professional performance to personal matters). The golden rule for a boss is to never talk about personal details employees either when they are in the organisation or when they've moved on. I know this leader who shared some personal details of one of his subordinates with a friend thinking it would ever go forward. However, this somehow reached the ears of the subordinate after a couple of weeks. The leader did not even know but he had lost a trusted subordinate forever.
Remember: Loose lips sink ships.
5. Not keeping promises
I have seen bosses who have a tendency to make hollow promises to their teams. They may do this for various reasons: to calm an irate employee, to divert attention, to alleviate fear, to reduce uncertainty, sometimes they just do so casually. They make these promises without thinking of the consequences or of the actions that will from that point be expected of them. But an unkept promise can completely erode trust for a boss. Just as a boss holds teams accountable for what they do, she should also be accountable for the promises that she makes.
Remember: Be very careful before making any promise, big or small, to an employee. When a boss breaks a promise, subordinates feel let down and lose their respect. The boss, on the other hand, loses credibility. Don't forget that you're a leader. And a leader never breaks promises.
As a boss and a leader, never take the trust of your teams for granted. You have to continuously work on it despite your achieving success in the organisation. Sometimes it's the small things that can erode trust, so be on the watch.
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