“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” – STEPHEN R. COVEY
I think this statement is essential for every leader to really understand and embody in the everyday relationships they have with their employees. As a leader you will need to have difficult conversations with your team from time to time and if a foundation of trust is not in place before hand these conversations will be more difficult and less impactful.
I remember a situation I encountered as a young manager that stands out in my mind even today some thirty years later. I managed a small team of employees in a relatively small company. We worked hard together and often worked late into the night. I counted on this team to respond to customer’s calls at two and three in the morning with a smile on their face and urgency for the task at hand. We worked in the medical industry and our clients and their patients depended on us getting there quickly. Customer satisfaction was a key performance indicator (KPI) I used to measure the impact my team was having in growing the business. Happy customers called more often so it was critical that we kept them happy and calling.
One morning I received a call from a customer about one of my best employees. The complaint was concerning his personal hygiene. Simply put, he had body odor that was offensive to the staff at the hospital and if not corrected he would not be allowed to service the customer. I look back at it now and we all knew this was a problem before the customer called. I hadn’t had the courage to have the difficult conversation necessary to correct an ongoing issue in the workplace.
I went home that night and wrestled with how I would approach this with him in the morning. Needless to say there was no sleep to be had that night. In the morning I called the employee into my office and after much small talk about how important he was to the organization I dropped the bomb. Unexpectedly, he was not upset and in fact he was not even that surprised. He admitted he had struggled with this problem for a good portion of his life. Immediately I jumped in and offered to help with some suggestions on ways he could improve the situation – I won’t go into the details here!
A week or two later I had a visit from his wife who wanted to thank me for being there for her husband and helping them both correct a situation that had been a problem for a long time. I realized then that even though the topic and conversation were of a sensitive nature my team knew that I was coming at it from a place of trust and support. My goal was to improve their lives and enhance their careers. They understood I was not only looking out for the wellbeing of the company.
I later developed a saying that I would repeat again and again to all of the leaders in my company – “Lead from the front”. My meaning was for them to be out there in front of their teams showing them the way by example. Don’t be that manager that sits in the background letting their staff members take all the risks and do all of the heavy lifting. Employees need to know first and foremost that you have their best interest at heart. What you do every day is not for the good of the one but for the good of the many. I have seen too many leaders get tunnel vision, focusing on their careers, forgetting that the people working for them are the fuel powering the career in the first place.
Trust is the foundation of every relationship. Without trust there can be no open and honest communication. My conversation could have gone very differently if my employee thought my goal was to terminate the problem versus resolve it with him as a team.
Feel free to comment below with your stories of how trust made your difficult conversations easier and more impactful!