'They don't trust you.'
When clients talk to me about struggles that they have with employees, that is what I always say. It gets funny looks, but it is consistently true. The reason your employees (paid or volunteer) are not easy to work with is because they do not trust you.
Trust is the foundation of any healthy working relationship. If you have it, the sky is the limit. If you lose it, everything good and successful about your organization is built on a fault line.
Do your employees trust you? Here are three things you can do to develop - or rebuild - trust:
Stop making every significant decision for your organization. Your insistence on being the gatekeeper for all of the real and meaningful decisions tells the people around you that you do not trust them.
Here is a better way. Hire people (or place volunteers) who are good at the things you are not good at. Make sure they understand the unique vision and mission of the organization. Create a culture where responsibility carries with it the authority to get things done without asking your permission or waiting for your decision.
Stop replacing people every time you see the need or opportunity for an upgrade in leadership. The expectation that your team does its best work is commendable; the conclusion that the people working for you is the reason you're not doing great work is usually flawed. It is just as likely that the underwhelming performance of your team is your fault.
Here is what I mean. Leaders consistently fail to develop the people around them. They do not clearly communicate the direction of the organization and the expectations they have of each team member. As stated above, they do not give their team the authority to make decisions within the area of responsibility. And they do not take the time to help their team develop the competencies needed to do their best work.
You may need to replace someone on your team. Or maybe you can take the next three months and help that person take real steps towards maximizing their capacity. Do not underestimate the cultural and financial costs of constantly replacing people in your organization.
Stop surrounding yourself only with people who see the world the way that you see it. Diversity is not as easy as it looks. It is far easier to lead people who see things your way than to lead someone who is unpersuaded by your perspective.
Write this down somewhere: diverse teams are more successful. If you are clear about where your organization is going, then allowing different kinds of people to speak into how you get there provides numerous benefits.
A diverse team allows you to expand your strategic possibilities. It demands that you reality test your assumptions. It requires you to give time and space to big decisions. And it creates the expectation that you will do the hard work of being prepared if you fail.
Trust Can Be Rebuilt
It took me a long time to get comfortable with the idea that people did not trust me as a leader. After all, I work hard, am responsible and have high ethical standards. I am a trustworthy person.
What I failed to see is that trust can be broken by trustworthy people. People didn't trust me because I was a bad person; they didn't trust me because I was a poor leader. People could trust me but because of my actions, they could not trust my leadership.
That is not easy to hear, but here is some good news. You can rebuild trust with people. It requires both a change in rhetoric and a change in direction. It requires that leaders have honest conversations where they take responsibility for the culture of the organization and the relationships with their team. It demands that leaders walk away from the idea that people exist to serve them and to embrace service to others as the way forward.
As a leader, what needs to be done to maintain or rebuild trust with your team? Focus on one of these areas of leadership - delegation, development, diversity - for the next six months and watch what happens to the culture of your organization!