Leadership Trust: Who’s Behind the Mask?

Even the most competent managers and leaders will suffer a trust deficit if they fail to communicate well with their people. Misguided communications are a big cause of lack of perceived trustworthiness in bosses.

And in the work I do coaching people in organizations, it doesn’t take much to fuel the flames of mistrust.

Business professors Lynn Offermann and Lisa Rosh urge leaders to do a better job of opening up to people in a June 2012 Harvard Business Review article.

“Studies indicate that senior leaders who reveal something about their lives outside the office do so without undermining their authority,” they write, while cautioning against excessively intimate disclosures.

Offermann and Rosh offer the following tips for a balanced approach to “skillful self-disclosure”:

  • Open up. During the course of your workday, squeeze in an occasional impromptu conversation with a subordinate about interests other than work, such as children’s activities, restaurants, sports, movies and the like. Share a glimpse into your personal life while taking time to listen.
  • Empathize. Offer brief, personal acknowledgments of significant events in employees’ lives, such as additions to family, marriage, family death and serious illness. Share how a similar event impacted your life without overshadowing the employee’s circumstance.
  • Remain professional. Share information that enhances the work relationship, yet doesn’t harm your reputation. Exercise discretion; avoid over sharing.

“There is considerable evidence that leaders who disclose their authentic selves to followers can build not only trust, but generate greater cooperation and teamwork as well,” the professors write.

And this makes sense. If all a leader does is communicate corporate information in one direction to staff, there’s not much of a relationship established. What’s that cliché about people not caring what you say unless you show you care?

Communications are always a two way street, even if only one person is doing all the talking. Your non-verbal expressions matter, and so does your ability to open up, empathize and act like a real human being.

What do you think? Can your leaders do a better job of sharing their human side? Or are they worried about losing their professional masks?

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