Trust is the key to leadership in the new normal

The year 2020 has seen a huge reset- across our personal and professional lives, as well as across businesses and leadership. The year has been about a lot of changes, with no time to plan for them. Months of lockdown across countries has ensured that businesses change the ways they conduct their daily operations. A number of businesses have had no other option but to pivot to new products, operating models as well as delivery channels, to be relevant and stay afloat in these unpredictable times.

The new way of working has emerged, led by technology. While ‘work from home’ was an item on the HR checklist across organisations for years and offered as an added benefit to employees (and not availed very regularly), it has now become the norm. The back-to-back meetings and reviews have either reduced or moved to a crisper online format. The Monday morning huddles have given way to Zoom/video calls as meetings have moved online. There are no breakout conversations or water cooler discussions that were an inherent part of an employee’s daily routine. Corporate dressing has given way to comfortable dressing, as majority of people are working from their homes. These changes have been sudden and have also given way to a large number of challenges. One of the key challenge is ensuring effective performance management and accountability, across the team or organisation at large.

Leaders have had to reinvent themselves and rejig their priorities to be in tune with the times. More and more leaders are trying to be flexible and empathetic in these times, to be able to connect better with the team members. Leaders across the globe have also been forced to rehash their strategies to drive engagement and productivity, even though the team members might be working from remote locations. Interestingly, one of the key focus areas for leaders across companies, irrespective of their size or industry, has been to reaffirm the employee trust. 

Why trust

The pandemic has impacted businesses adversely. Many of them have a long drawn path to recovery. In such testing times, leaders have their task cut out when it comes to inspiring their teams to put in their best foot forward and at times, stretch themselves to help the organisation rebuild itself. Trust has taken precedence as the world fights coronavirus, as it can act as a catalyst for better productivity.

Employees are not confident if their job will stay for long. With businesses trying to restart their offices, employees are not sure if they can trust their employer to follow all the safety procedures.  The organisations and leadership need to go out of their way to listen to and address the fears of their employees and live up to their trust.

Trust can act as a catalyst

Trust is important, as recovery without trust will be on a shaky ground. Researches have proved that communities with a sense of trust are better equipped to respond to crisis. Trust can help drive better growth, increase innovation, enhance stability and sustainability in businesses, as well as ensure better outcomes. In pandemic times, it is paramount for organisations to focus on rebuilding trust, as it can help enhance confidence amongst employees, drive transparency, and do away with negativity.

In case of individual teams, trust can help drive higher accountability, better productivity and ensure a more positive work environment, even when the team members are working remotely. It also gives the team the ability to tackle high pressure and crisis situations in a more efficient manner.

In order to rebuild trust, leaders need to focus on its multiple dimensions- physical, emotional, financial and digital. It is imperative for organisational leaders, irrespective of their level in the organisation, to make an impact across all these dimensions. Take the example of physical trust. Leaders need to focus on ensuring that the employees feel safe in their office spaces, and don’t have to worry about sanitisation and social distancing. This becomes even more critical in case of industries where physical contact is necessary like dining, hospitality, manufacturing units. Leaders need to be flexible and let employees work from home in case they have challenges like ailing parents, no personal conveyance etc. 

Covid19’s speed, unpredictability and magnitude of change has impacted us emotionally. There are many of us who are facing higher levels of anxiety and insecurity. There is a need for leaders to build emotional trust by assuring employees that they can speak up and ask questions, and make them feel empowered to do their job.

Building trust

At a time when the internal culture across organisation is under the spotlight, it is important for leaders to rise to the occasion and focus on building trust. They need to find a fine balance between drive, determination and charisma, and humility and human connect. 

Here are some tips that can help build trust during in the new normal:

Walk the talk

Leaders need to walk the talk in times of crisis. This will help build trust and gain confidence of the team members. For example, in case there is a salary cut needed due to the uncertainty in business, the leadership should take the lead and voluntarily opt for a salary cut. Also, leaders should try to align to a social cause to do their bit to help their country fight coronavirus. These steps will help instill higher trust and confidence amongst the team members. 

Ego and trust don’t go together

In case you want to be an impactful leader, you should never stop learning. Instead, you should always be open to feedback and newer ideas. A leader who keeps tom-toming about his/ her decades of experience to show that he/she knows it best is seen as one who is too self-centered and egoistic. This kind of leader cannot take feedback or criticism. He/she doesn’t accept his/her mistakes and tends to put the blame on one of the team member. This leader is low on trust and ends up building a team culture that repels innovation and collaboration. 

Keep your promises

In times of pandemic when everything is going haywire, the least a team member expects from his leader is that he honors the promises made. While it is understandable that promises around a pay hike done in the pre-Covid times cannot be honored in the current scenario, there are a number of others that are not dependent on the success of the business. Leaders who keep their promises are considered to be more genuine and hence, trustworthy.

Inspire, not intimidate

Leadership is about inspiring your team to put in its best. A leader who trusts his team understands their strengths and weaknesses and inspires them to play by their strengths.  On the other hand, a leader who rules with an iron fist is the one who makes his team members uncomfortable. Hence, the team would never share their challenges with their leader or speak up on mistakes. This can in turn, snowball to a bigger problem and can have a detrimental impact on the organisation’s business or reputation.

Be the savior

Trustworthy leaders are the ones the team can depend on. They stand up for their teams and bail them out in case they are in a problem. They are the ones who will support their team member in front of other departments, and not pass all the blame on him.

Be graceful

A leader with a calm head on his shoulders can be trusted. As a leader, you should keep your moods in check and not resort to public outrage or humiliation of your team members. In case a feedback needs to be given, you should do that within the confines of a room and ensure that this does not become the hot conversation topic for the team.

In case there is a bad fight or a personal challenge that is flaring your temper, it is advisable to take some time to calm your senses and then connect with the team, rather than losing your cool and regretting it later.

Do not micromanage

If you want to be a leader who can be trusted, you will have to let go off control. In times of pandemic, when people are working remotely, this makes more logical sense. You cannot micromanage your team. Hence, it is advisable to align your team to the bigger goal and empower them to make an impact. It is good to give productive feedback but a leader who believes in his/her team should not make the mistake of mistrusting the team members on the delivery of an assigned task.

To conclude, it is not easy to build trust. Leaders need to invest time and effort to gain trust of the team members, and continue to work on it to ensure that the trust is intact and/or grows with time. Leaders need to remember that trust can be their most powerful weapon in times of the most critical situations. Hence, they should use the pandemic as an opportunity to work on building/ rebuilding trust and build a team that can deliver the best results, under any circumstance.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Akanksha Jain
Akanksha heads PR and Communication at BharatPe. She has over 15 years of experience in working across global/digital public relations, corporate and brand communications, crisis communications, brand and market communications domains.

In the past, Akanksha has successfully planned and executed public relations/brands campaigns across India and over 30 other countries. She is a start-up specialist and has extensive experience of working with emerging brands. She has been associated with brands like Pine Labs, MobiKwik, VLCC and Power2SME and spearheaded their PR/brand/communication campaigns.

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