Employee engagement is a matter of trust.  It also is a top talent issue facing organizations today.  The big issue that many organizations face is the narrow understanding of the concept,  especially the role that the direct supervisors play in the engagement of their direct reports. It also happens that Trust is a measurable “thing” that has real effects on how an organization performs.  

Building a team that is rooted on engaging employees,  in an environment that is fulfilling and meaningful, is not only good for employees but also drives productivity, efficiency, higher levels of customer satisfaction.  Finally, it makes the supervisor more effective being able to do more with the help of his Direct Reports. 

Google has done quite a bit research on this front.  In fact, they have turned engineering geniuses who know how to write code to great leaders, people that know how to manage and lead others.  They have done extensive research into what makes a great leader and came up with 8 behaviors, described in this HBR article

You can’t be a good leader without Trust

Employee engagement starts with trust

My experience as an executive coach and extensive research has proven that one thing is a precursor of improvement of any kind.  That is trust, it is the one thing that is key to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization — one thing which, if taken away, will put a dent on the most successful business,  friendship, and relationships.  If people can trust you, you are armed with the capital to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension, including the manager-direct report relationship.  Trust comes in two forms, we need to be trustful and we also need to extend trust.  We have to have both in order to make a relationship better. 

Why some direct supervisors have a hard time trusting

There are many reasons why a Direct Manager is not willing to extend trust, but in most cases, they have the same source, Fear.  He is afraid, and his fear (perhaps unknown to him) might be the self-defeating blind spot that is not allowing him to trust.   Fear can come in many different flavors, for example:

  • Fear of becoming invisible
  • Fear  of Surrendering authority
  • Fear that people aren’t good enough
  • Fear that he isn’t capable enough
  • Fear of competition
  • Fear of not having all the answers
  • Fear of not being good enough

The fear, whatever the flavor, many times is a self-inflicting wound that eventually will be detrimental to his/her career and or the effectiveness of his/her team.  Trust is one of the most powerful forms of motivation and inspiration. People want to be trusted, and as they gain trust, they set the foundation for effective communication and employee engagement.  The Google behaviors are meaningless if there is not trust.

People don’t leave companies they leave bad managers

Data published in the book “The 7 hidden reasons employees leave” by Leigh Branham analyzed over 20,000 exit interviews asking them, why they left their last job?.   The data suggests that it is the relationship with the manager the number one reason why people leave.   

For many rising stars, great individual contributors,  their main goal is in climbing the corporate latter; the first step: becoming a manager. The teller wants to become a branch manager; the software engineer dreams of becoming technology chief, the section violinist hopes and dreams are of one day be leading the orchestra.  Research has shown, however, that few managers have the talent to achieve excellence.  According to a survey report by Gallup, only one in 10 people possesses the natural ability to manage.

Unfortunately, the criteria companies use for deciding a promotion for a management role often has more to do with how well that employee is doing the work itself and less to do with how he might manage others.  In fact, some of the greatest potential managers may not even be considered or make it into management positions because companies pass them over by promoting their best individual contributors,  and perhaps that individual contributor might not be interested in becoming a manager or not adept to learn the needed soft skills.   

How trust improves employee engagement

How to gain trust and improve employee engagement is a bit more complex and starts with the direct supervisor.   Coaching is a no-brainer that helps leaders to understand how the lack of trust will negatively affect his career, his team, his effectiveness.   The hot button to push is making him see and realize that his inability to extend trust will eventually be an obstacle for himself and his organization. Once he is aware of it and the consequences, he then can move forward with to extend trust and be trustful and then leverage this capital to become a better leader for his team and his organization. 

Leaders can inspire trust by starting with themselves and strengthen their credibility, and then consistently behave in trust-building ways with Direct Reports. 

Some questions to self-reflect,  are you a trusting leader

  •     Do you try to hide or downplay your mistakes?
  •     Do you attempt to mask your workplace fears? How?
  •     Do you ever confide in others about your fears?
  •     Do others confide in you?
Luis Velasquez is an executive coach with many years of professional experience in the field. He is a research scientist, international business consultant and entrepreneur.
Luis is an avid endurance athlete. Having completed many marathons and ultra marathons some at the 100 mile range, several ironman triathlons and cycling events, he is able to share valuable lessons with his clients i.e. work ethic, preparation, focus, determination, commitment, success and failure for their benefit
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