Leading Followers: Building Trust with Staff

Lesson 1: Topic 18 of 19

Staff who have been marginalized are not hard to find. One nationwide survey in 2019 found that fully one third of US employees feel undervalued or unappreciated at work. Lack of trust, lack of upward mobility, and too much conflict at work have all been identified as reasons for disengagement and low morale. Making insincere, token efforts to correct such problems makes them worse. 

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How can you soften hearts hardened through damage done by previous leaders? 

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Obviously much of what is true about customers in the section immediately prior is applicable here. 

One of the best things you can do is maintain an “open door” policy. But beware of thinking that’s a silver bullet: “The worst thing you can do is to just say ‘I have an open-door policy,’” says CollegeWise CEO Kevin McMullin, “because that puts all the onus on the employees. If the manager goes first, most people will walk through that door and share their feedback.” Yes, it’ll lower your efficiency; yes, some of these interruptions will be trivialities and things that could wait until later – but never underestimate the significance of having a reputation of being an empathetic listener available to anyone.

A few other practices to put in place are: 

  • Never think helping is beneath you. At one of Keith’s facilities (remember, he’s one of our authors), the Business Manager he hired got her start in the industry years ago as a CNA, and she kept her certification valid. If they were short handed on the floor, even if she was wearing pearls and pumps, she’d willingly pull on a pair of latex gloves and help an Aide perform a two-person assist, help toilet a resident, or whatever was needed. You think she wasn’t loved by the Aides and admired by the nurses? 
  • No double standards. Many employees see that the ones low on the totem pole will get treated sternly, while an upper-level employee causing the identical failure receives only a slap on the hand. That’s a great way to make people cynical and discouraged! Disciplinary action should be equitable. And the corollary of that is … 
  • Always have their back. Don’t tolerate your staff being harassed, unjustly accused, or mistreated in any way. And be aware of your vital role acting as a buffer between them and higher-ups. You know your staff; the C-suite leadership do not. 
  • Celebrate the wins. Did you meet goals for the quarter or the year? You didn’t do it alone; share that with them in tangible ways. 

Pause and consider: How do you help your team to celebrate? What might you plan to do?