A Strong Team Is One That Trusts Its Leader

I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a planning meeting at a major corporation.  They were rolling out a new training program and were already encountering big problems with the system.  The team leader outlined the issues, asked for suggestions, received very few and the meeting ended with no resolutions.  Later  in the day I heard almost everyone who attended that meeting talking about the problems with the system and many had great ideas.  I wondered why no one had voiced their ideas in the meeting so I just kept listening.  I kept hearing more great ideas, but I also heard a lot of fear.   There was fear of not being heard, of being shot down, of receiving blame and of insulting the team leader.  It became obvious to me that the root of the problem was lack of trust.

“Trust” is the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone.  In my mind trust means you work for a good person.  Someone who is honest, has no hidden agenda, respects his reports and has their back in hard times.  An environment of trust encourages the expression of opinions, feelings, and doubts.  Trust allows for the sharing of important information and ideas and fosters enthusiasm.  Trust builds strength.

However people don’t automatically trust. A good leader has to earn trust and build confidence. There are a few simple things a leader can do to build trust. The hard part is that you have to live them consistently every day. They have to be so deeply ingrained within you that they are actions as important to your survival as breathing.  I find many leaders are unwilling to commit to the following way of life.

1)     Know Your People: Relationships are the key to most successes.  A good leader knows his people both personally and professionally. That means he knows how many children they have and at the same time knows they can manage a profit and loss statement better than anyone in the building. Knowing them personally proves that you care. Knowing them professionally allows you to assign tasks according to their strengths.  That way everyone on the team is a winner.

2)    Communicate, Communicate, Communicate:  Communication begins with listening. Everyone needs to feel that they are being heard or they stop talking. Listening helps you to understand what motivates people. And when all have been heard then it is your turn to talk. Be explicit and direct, never leave anything to assumption. Let people know where you stand but also let them know why you stand there.  This is their turn to understand what is important to you. Good communication builds a common vision and a clear path to that goal.

3)    Do What You Say You Are Going To Do: Many leaders lie to their people every day and don’t even know it.  I call this “Loose Jaw Syndrome.”  It is so easy in the rapid pace of our day to promise things without even realizing it.  “Sure I can adjust your clock out time for yesterday.”  “I will get that insurance signup information to you this afternoon.”  “I would be happy to call your best friend in for an interview.”  All of these are simple promises but they come out of that “loose jaw” without the mind engaging.  They are low on our priority list but important to our people.  In these simple statements you have made commitments to your people that require immediate action.  If you don’t deliver you lose trust.  Instead you need to listen (there’s that word again) more carefully and only promise what you can deliver in the expected time.  If you can’t deliver explain why.

4)    Give Small Gifts: The greatest gift you can give to your staff is the Sharing of Credit for successes. You never do it all on your own, make sure everyone knows who played a part and what they did.  People are motivated by recognition. Allow them to go home every day proud of what they have accomplished. Credit is an easy gift to give but there are many more.  How about honoring schedule requests, or cutting someone early when you overhear that they need to get out early?  Small gifts may be the easiest part of building trust and could have the largest impact in the smallest amount of time.

5)    Be Seen Working: You have heard it a million times. “Never ask your staff to do anything you wouldn’t do.” I do not believe that statement to be 100% percent true. I ask my people all the time to do things I wouldn’t do because they can do it so much better.  But I will step into the dish pit when it gets backed up and run through some racks or carry trays of food up a flight of stairs to make sure it is delivered to a banquet fast and hot.  Being a worker is just being part of the team.  It gives you insight you can never gain standing on the sidelines and it lets your people know that you can help if they need you.

6)    Admit When You Are Wrong: There is something comforting and refreshing about working for someone who is Human.  We all make mistakes, we all learn from those mistakes.  There is nothing wrong with sharing that with your staff.  They respect you for your honesty and they also learn to avoid that same wrong road.

7)    Don’t Believe Your Own Hype: The worst thing a leader can do is think that he received the position because he knows everything.  It is true you wouldn’t be “the guy” if you weren’t pretty good at what you do, but a little humility goes a long way.  Be seen as confident and in charge, your people need that security.  They need to know that there is a decision maker in the building.  They also need to know those decision are based on sound advice from a knowledgeable source and that source is not always your own head.

If you are really committed to building a team that shares ideas and gets results show them they are important and work every day to earn and maintain their trust.  It is an environment that is contagious.  You will see your staff operating the same way with their peers and their subordinates. Most importantly problems will get solved in daily interactions and solutions will not drift away as they are grumbled into dead air.

Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

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