Develop Trust and Devote Quality Time: Two Ingrediants of Great Leadership

I’ve recently conducted several 360 degree surveys for my Redpoint clients. A 360 degree survey provides feedback to a business owner in the form of an anonymous performance assessment by all the people (subordinates, colleagues, managers, clients, suppliers) who surround that person (hence “360 degree”).

In the case of my clients, the owners and CEOs typically want to receive feedback on their leadership skills from their staff. During the process, we define the criteria they want to use for the assessment, and then I draft a questionnaire, survey the staff, and compile and present the results.

Now, if you think this is an intimidating exercise, you are not alone! Because of the anonymous nature of the exercise, staff members are often brutally honest and are not reluctant to reveal their views. In each case, my clients have taken on the challenge bravely, knowing that this candid assessment is a critical first step towards their own improvement.

Back comes great feedback about their performances as “the boss.” They are perceived as exceptional at interacting with clients, great at getting business results and strong communicators. The two critical areas of improvement I continually observe are:

  • Lack of quality time spent with staff; and
  • Lack of trust

Critical area #1: You need to spend more quality time with your staff

Lots of owners of growing companies experience this: heavy workloads prevent you from spending time with the very people you rely on to get the job done, and who look to you for direction, mentorship and reward. Your busy schedule therefore leads to ‘seagull’ management: you stop in quickly and drop a ton of information, directions and sometimes criticism on your staff before you quickly take off again.

It came back loud and clear from my clients’ feedback: you need to take the time to talk to people substantively, ask them how things are really going, and really listen to their answers. It is not necessarily the quantity, but quality of time and interaction that counts.

Staff members who have been heard and feel that their feedback and suggestions have been taken on board are always more engaged workers. And engaged workers are almost always better performers.

Ask yourself: Over the last week, how many people in my business have I asked how things are going? How many people have I thanked for a job well done? Remember: praise in public, criticize in private. And, of course: when you are wrong (and you are and will be :-), apologize.

Critical area #2: Lack of trust: “We sometimes feel you do not trust us. It always has to go your way”

I am sure this sounds at least somewhat familiar to most business owners. After all, this is your baby, you have grown it and you know best what it needs. Trusting someone else to take over and perform tasks you have owned for so long is incredibly difficult.

In fact, the reason why people start businesses in the first place is that they believe they can perform a particular task better than anyone else (or at least better than their current or past employer). This strong belief in one’s abilities is one of the great strengths of the entrepreneur. Yet we know this strength can also become your biggest liability: the reality is that if you want to build a company, you have to trust people to help run it for you.

Trust sounds like a challenging concept to actively develop, but Carl Robinson, a Seattle based psychologist and executive coach, offers some helpful insights in his discussion of trust that appeared in an article in the Journal of Managerial Psychology (2004):

Motive-Based Trust is what most people think about when they think of trust. It is based on the belief that another’s values, goals and beliefs are closely aligned with yours.

Competency-Based Trust is based on your belief that your employees have the capabilities to get the job done.

So how then can we learn to develop these forms of trust?

How To Develop Competency-Based Trust

  • Assess Your Hiring: Do you have the right people in place to get the job done? Do they either have the necessary capabilities or are they willing and able to learn them? If yes, read on. If no, you need to consider making some staff replacements.
  • Take time to observe your people in action. Give them goals and let them come up with their own methodologies. Resist the huge temptation to jump in with solutions and advice-giving. If, after a while, you do not like what you see, go back to assessing your hiring practices or start providing more training.
  • Look for outside support. Hire a coach or consultant and/or establish a board you can lean on to help assess candidates. For more info on the benefits and how-to’s of establishing a board see: http://www.redpointcoaching.com/resources/documents/Oct03.pdf .

How to Develop Motive-Based Trust

While developing competency-based trust is relatively straightforward, motive-based trust tends to develop only once competency-based trust is established; motive-based trust is, therefore, harder to assess. Because this is a more intangible area, lots of entrepreneurs rely on their instincts. Remember, though, that you have great tools to align motives:

Remunerate staff based on their performance (e.g. a commission pay structure for your sales staff or a profit sharing pay scheme).

  • Provide key staff members with equity in your business. Carl Robinson argues that in an imperfect world where trusting relationships sometimes have to develop quickly, distributing equity is a great way to establish tentative trust.

My experience with 360 degree surveys has shown me that spending quality time with your staff and developing competency- and motive-based trust makes all the difference between mediocre and great business owners.

Contact me if you would like more information on conducting a 360 degree in your organization.