With so much uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time for courageous and inspired leadership. Engaged employees are critical for organizations to survive and thrive in this environment. As such, leaders need to step out of their comfort zones to instill trust up and down the organization. When trust is present, productivity accelerates, morale is boosted, and work becomes a more positive place, even in the midst of chaos. Trust enables every person in your organization to rise to the challenges ahead.
What can leaders start doing today to create a culture of trust?
Treat each person as an individual.
Leaders must meet individuals where they are, based on their circumstances. Short-term goals may need to change. Meetings may need to be skipped. Each employee is facing a different set of challenges and leaders need to be flexible. Make sure each employee has what they need to be successful.
Practice open communication and transparency.
Information must be shared as appropriate to create connection and give each individual the right information to do their job effectively. This is not the time to withhold information for the sake of control or power. Each person needs to ask themselves, “What do I know that others need to know?” Sharing information helps with clarity and certainty, reducing the anxiety and stress everyone is feeling.
Resist the urge to micromanage.
In times of stress and uncertainty, many of us try to gain a sense of control by managing everything we can in our environment. This leads to micromanagement, negatively impacting both trust and engagement. Rather than becoming a “task master,” ask yourself, “Am I stepping in to make decisions because I don’t believe my employee can accomplish the task at hand? Is there a lack of trust?”
Trust is built through connection, empathy, vulnerability, and authenticity. Now is not the time for command-and-control or ego-centered leadership. Practice kindness and understand each person is handling the situation differently.
Be an active listener.
Digital-only communication makes it easier for misunderstanding and makes it harder to stay focused and listen. Use active listening techniques, such as:
- Maintain eye contact
- Resist multitasking
- Listen to understand, not to respond
- Listen without judgment
- Don’t interrupt, and don’t impose your own “solutions”
- Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions
- Ask questions only to ensure understanding
- Pay attention to nonverbal cues
When you actively listen, people feel heard, trust is strengthened, and engagement increases.
Forget the hierarchy.
Leaders must get out of their “virtual” offices and communicate, communicate, communicate. This is the only way to ensure employees are heard, valued, and appreciated for the work they are doing in this time of chaos.
Focus on the positive and generate hope.
Although much is uncertain, express recognition and gratitude for all the good things happening. Design short-term goals that are meaningful, motivating, and appropriate for the current situation. Empower employees by allowing them to choose how they will achieve those goals. This will help build a positive mindset that each person has the agility, creativity, and flexibility to adapt as events change.
Be a realistic optimist.
While leaders must plan for the worst-case scenario, this mindset can become paralyzing for employees. Spend time with your team exploring upside opportunities for a better future that can emerge from this crisis. By being positive, hopeful, and optimistic, employees will trust that you are doing the right thing for them and the organization.
To create trust, a leader should get comfortable letting their guard down to express their personal concern for what is happening. Being a vulnerable leader in times like this builds connection and inspires teams.
Employees need to hear from leaders, especially as economic fears worsen. Keep the lines of communication open, honest, and broad. Send emails or post videos about your reasoning, intentions, and expectations. Make it easy for everyone to know your thoughts and contribute their own. It is times like this where the true leaders will emerge – leaders who build trust, inspire their employees, and create human-centered work environments where innovation flourishes.