4 Trust-Building Strategies Senior Leaders Need to Apply Right Away


You already set the standard. Now you need to keep reaching it.

At the beginning of the pandemic, employees reported feeling relieved and confident because leaders were making fast and impactful decisions, staying connected to employees, and demonstrating a genuine concern for the well-being of the workforce. Engagement scores across the globe increased by an average of 6 percent during that time.

Employees want that relationship back.

Major shifts in employees’ expectations for their relationship with leaders have been in motion for decades, but the pandemic forced an acceleration that led us here – to a new era where employees expect to be informed, included, and respected.

Using input from thousands of employees across multiple industries, job types, and regions, my research revealed four essential trust-building behaviors for successful executives in today’s environment.

1 – Prioritize high-quality interactions with your people

Make face-to-face communication a priority – even if it’s via video calls. Rounding to department or team meetings, eating lunch with employees in the cafeteria, site visits, and all-company meetings are effective.

Use the time to foster a sense of community, and make sure you’re communicating often about the company’s future plans along with the strategy to achieve them.

And don’t skimp on the Q&A.

That part of the interaction is your prime opportunity to build trust, so stay later to keep answering questions if employees are still asking.

2 – Clarify the organization’s future plans

Employee engagement levels are 6.5 times higher at organizations where leaders provide a clear direction for the future, so Establish clear a clear vision for the future and a solid plan to achieve it. This reassures employees that you can guide the organization toward a successful future.

Along with increased trust, you’ll also see a boost in productivity across multiple dimensions of the business. When you’re challenged by a breakdown of collaboration among teams, a lack of accountability, or sluggish decision-making, the main contributor is often connected to a lack of clear business priorities.

3 – Plan communication carefully

Work with your communications team to make sure your messages are straight-forward, timed properly, and delivered in the proper and most effective format.

Be sure the content of your messages is complete and honest. Today’s workforce is especially adept at detecting the slightest attempt at deception – a regrettable misstep for any leader looking to build trust.

In situations where you’re unable to disclose important details, be up front about it. Tell them why you can’t share more and when you’ll be able to provide additional information.

When communicating about topics that could be seen as a risk to employees’ reputations or job stability – like culture transformation or M&A activity – always choose a format that allows employees to interact with you and ask questions. This brings a sense of safety, control, and reassurance that you’ll be looking out for their best interests.

And always share important news with employees before they find out from others. Notifying them early is a sign of respect and care.

4 – Gather input directly from employees

Trust is built when it flows both ways, so trusting employees to help you solve tough challenges is a perfect opportunity to strengthen the relationship while collecting the insight you need to make impactful business decisions.

Use existing touchpoints to ask employees to share their thoughts on a topic that can advance company priorities or a decision you need to make that will impact them directly. Be sure to express gratitude and follow through on what you learn from them. This helps them feel heard, included, and respected.

If there are engagement surveys or other forms of research being conducted with your people, insist on hearing the presentation of results and recommendations firsthand. One layer of interpretation is one layer too many, and it often leads to senior leaders misunderstanding the situation, taking misguided action, or taking no action at all.

Be patient with yourself as you make adjustments

You’re not going to get it right every time. There will be times you wished you had handled things differently.

That’s natural and it’s OK.

Enlist the help of an executive coach and try to consistently integrate one or two trust-building behaviors into each interaction. Even a few small changes will improve your relationship with employees and help to create an emotionally healthy work environment.

The key is to be mindful of the status of the relationship. As soon as it begins to feel adversarial, recalibrate your leadership approach right away. Once trust starts to slip, it’s difficult to recover.

Stay the course. It will pay off. Outdated leadership styles characterized by dominance, distance, and isolated decision-making will continue forcing top talent to disengage or look elsewhere.

But leaders who make employees feel respected, included, and informed will be the clear winners in today’s new era.

Jessica Walter MS, APR, is an author and advisor who uses behavioral science to help leaders solve their most complex challenges by teaching them an energizing and emotionally healthy style of leadership.

Photo by Amparo Aledo


Published by Jessica Walter, MS, APR

Speaker, Consultant, and Certified Leadership Coach

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