First, Earn the Trust of Your Team

Bob Wiesner | January 9, 2018

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Two team members are getting into the elevator. The doors open and their recently-hired boss steps out, makes little eye contact, grunts a quick “hi,” and hurries down the hall. What happens next?

A. The team members barely notice it, get in the elevator, go about their days.

B. The team members stop dead in their tracks, look at each other, wonder “what’s up with him?”

I’m gonna guess B.

As a manager, you are always under observation. Whenever you’re around a team member, boss, or colleague, every word you say, every nuance of body language, every moment of eye contact (or lack of) may very well be judged.

This is even more the case when the manager is newly promoted or newly hired. People around that manager need to make sense of who that person is and what to expect of them. So judgments are continuous and in some cases instantaneous. Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, would probably say that System One (fast thinking) is in control.

With so many constituencies looking on, and with so much at stake, what’s the new manager to do? No one can “perform” 24/7.

This article in HBR offers some smart thinking. The author says new managers should focus first on helping their teams. Then focus on pleasing their bosses. I agree.

So, what constitutes “help?” For this, I think the Trust Equation from Maister and Green points the way. In The Trusted Advisor, the authors say that your trustworthiness is a function of your credibility plus your reliability plus your intimacy, divided by (or reduced by) your self-orientation. All of this is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not what the new manager does, it’s how that new manager is perceived by team members.

Since you’re always being observed, everything you say or do (or don’t say or don’t do) is used by your teams to judge your trustworthiness. So be hyper-aware of perceptions you might be creating, even unintentionally.

When you think you’ve proven yourself to be trustworthy with your direct reports, it’s time to address the boss more assertively. Same equation. You’ve got the team behind you, you can more confidently turn your attention to effectively managing up.

Doing this the opposite way – boss first then team – could turn off your direct reports to such a degree where repairs are difficult.


Photo: Patty Jenkins, director of “Wonder Woman” – Variety

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