How to be trusted

One of the things that's most important to me as a manager is that I trust my people and that my people trust me.

I'm not here to watch like a hawk over my folks to ensure they're doing their work; and that means I place a lot of trust in them to be mature, professional, adults that are engaged in their work. Sure, I'll check in from time to time – but in the same way that you go for your annual check-up, or get an oil change before a long trip in your car.

...and my folks, in turn, trust that I'm not full of shit when I tell them that. They also trust that I have their backs through the hard stuff, and that they can be their open and authentic selves when we're working together.

How do you get there? It's deceptively simple: be trustworthy.

OK, sure, that's a little pat. But sometimes simple isn't easy. In order to be trustworthy, you have to be reliable, honest, full of integrity, honourable, principled, truthful, ethical, virtuous, and above suspicion. It doesn't hurt to also be responsible, loyal, and safe. Honestly? That's a pretty tall order to impart upon someone when you first meet them. You're just not going to get there right away.

So what's a manager to do?

I've already talked about this a little. Walk your folks' walk and talk their talk. Get deep into the work they do so that you understand it better. Know what struggles they face and what rewards they find within the work. Then use your knowledge to help stretch folks within their roles, and push them to unlock their next stage of development in a way that's meaningful for them.

Don't be a company shill Yes, there are going to be things that you need to sell to your folks that you (or they) may not agree with. But that doesn't mean taking the company line and selling a false bill of goods. If a new policy or process is going to suck a little for your folks, own it. Don't sugar-coat it; people will read through that, and your stock will fall. Be honest about the change, and how it may not seem like the best thing from their perspective. But also be honest about the reasons behind it, and what it'll unlock going forward. And, above all, ask how you can help them work through the change.

Be steadfast in your principles, and flexible in your beliefs. State your core principles right off the bat, then stick to them. Do this in their onboarding through a HOWTO manual, and make sure that you follow those principles in any situation where they might be tested. Hold beliefs about the work you and your folks are doing, and be open to conversational debate about them. Listen to your folks, and adapt your beliefs when they have compelling, fact-based arguments that challenge them.

Be a compassionate human being. Your folks don't stop existing between the hours of 5pm and 9am, and the things that happen in their personal lives are going to follow them into the office. Likewise, the events of their work day are going to have follow-on effects to their lives at home. You are managing humans, and humans are complicated beasts that don't seamlessly switch from one mental state to another. When the inevitable happens, and their personal lives start affecting their work, be a stable and objective ear for them. Let your folks know that they can be human, and that you understand what they're going through. Don't be their therapist, but do strongly encourage them to reach out for one if they need it. Encourage and reward them for being vulnerable and open; don't sell them out upstream.

Be vulnerable. Own your mistakes. Publicly. Fail in front of your folks, then get up, dust yourself off, and make a second attempt. There's schools of thought out there that feel a leader should be infallible. History repeatedly shows this to not be the case: Steve Jobs was fired from Apple; Gandhi didn't see the failures of the human condition; Napoleon – well, Russia. Yet all of these leaders are still celebrated for their successes and inspired huge movements. Learn from your mistakes, and help others learn from them, too.

Ask how you can be better. Always. And especially when you feel like you may have already fucked up, because by then you already need that feedback. Be specific about the feedback. Awhile back, I went through a really rough process change, which left a bit of a mark on my folks. When I learned about how this had affected them, I asked them directly how I could have supported them better through the change, and what I could do the next time a similar change was in the works. I got great feedback from my folks, which gave me a much better sense of how to approach future change with each of them.

Actually care. Get to know as much about your folks as they'll let you. Kim Scott, of Radical Candor fame, gives a really good guide for this. Figure out where your folks come from, and where they want to go. Then make it your mission to help them get there.

Of course, none of this is easy. All of the above takes time, effort, and repetition to build up trust with your folks. But being steadfast in these core principles will build an amazingly strong sense of trust with your folks.

This article is my 5th oldest. It is 926 words long

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