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Letter to Leaders

Trust: The Leadership Superpower (Part 1)

I was asked the other day what I thought was the single most important characteristic a successful leader must have in today’s workplace.

It’s trust.

Nothing even comes close.

Leaders who aren’t trusted—or who don’t trust others—can communicate all they want, but people will discount everything they say.

You can’t lead if people don’t trust you. And the corollary is:

Employees will never be great unless you trust them.

So what can we as leaders do to engender trust?

Here’s a formula that I wish I came up with. I also can’t find the person who came up with it. (If you know, please email me).

Communication + Transparency = Trust

The fastest fix for most struggling managers is to communicate more.

Our company has been conducting employee surveys for more than 20 years. In all that time, I’ve never once seen employees say, “Please, knock off the communication. It’s too much”. It’s always the opposite – employees plead for more communication. Great employees want to know what’s happening in their department and in the company.

Overcommunicate. This is one of the few areas where frequency is as important as quality (teaching how to communicate well takes time. But teaching how to communicate more is fast and easy).

When there’s a lack of information, people invent their own scenarios; this is the foundation for gossip.

Then there’s transparency. This concept is much newer, and many long-time leaders have extreme reluctance to show even a little transparency. We have clients all the time who tell us not to put a salary range on a job posting – they don’t want their current employees knowing how much they’re paying to new employees.

That’s a perfect recipe to have employees trust you. In fact, states are starting to mandate this.

I’ve never seen anything make CEO’s sweat more than when I show them what Buffer, and other companies do to ensure salary transparency.

When times are tough, the first people I tell are my key employees, and then the entire team. They deserve to know what’s happening. Moreover, if they know what’s happening, they’ll try to help fix it, or offer suggestions I hadn’t considered before.

Not being transparent is telling employees their opinions aren’t valued. It’s my experience that great employees want to help everyone succeed – including me.

Remember, the opposite of trust is doubt, fear, and uncertainty.

Given those two options, I’ll choose trust every time.

Getting people to trust you starts with you trusting them. It isn’t easy. We’ll talk about that in Part 2.


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