Are you a scary boss? Chances are that if you are, you don’t mean to be. I hope. The problem is that if your team does somehow fear you they likely also don’t trust you. Fear is the enemy of trust and it is trust that underlies your ability to fully engage your teams’ talent. Even if you’re not that stereotypical monster boss from hell, your positional authority alone is enough to stoke the flames of anxiety and stress in your people. Even the nicest of bosses can trigger a fear response in some of the people they lead. Here’s what you can do to counteract this effect, lessen the fear, and build trust in the relationships of the people you lead.
How to Build Trust
Know that there may be many reasons why an employee may fear you, not the least of which is their prior experiences from less than stellar bosses. Here’s some ideas on how to bolster any relationship to truly tap the depth of talent that is there:
- Your Impact May Surprise You – A safe rule of thumb is to expect that the dynamic of positional authority is at play more than you think. Simply because you are in the boss role means that those you lead are likely to have some measure of fear towards you.
- Be Civil – A dash of kindness goes a long way in building trust. From simple greetings to saying little things like “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”, these are the raw materials for creating a foundation of trust and a positive work culture.
- Seek & Use Feedback From Others – as Randy Conley of the Blanchard Group points out, leaders who rule by fear generally don’t bother to seek feedback or input from others when making decisions. It’s the boss’ way or the highway. Conley argues that trusted leaders seek input from others and look for ways to incorporate their ideas into the decisions that are made.
- Be Consistent – Unpredictability breeds fear. Conley cites that if your team can’t reasonably predict how you’ll react in a given situation, they’ll be afraid to take risks. They’ll always feel like they’re walking on eggshells not knowing which boss is going to show up at the office, the ‘good boss’ that will support their efforts and have their back if they make a mistake or the ‘evil boss’ who might fly off the handle and make them feel badly for any mistakes.
- Show Self Control – Unfortunately even if you are a trustworthy person, your employees might not regard you that way if you show a consistent lack of self control. Motivational Psychologist Heidi G. Halvorson points to research that shows that engaging in behaviors that show low self control – overeating, impulsive spending, smoking, being excessively emotional or having a quick temper – diminishes your level of perceived trustworthiness.
- Be Transparent – Be sure to share the “why” behind the questions you ask or the decisions that have been made. Remember that a vacuum of information will eventually be filled and false assumptions can readily fill the void. Sidestep this by explaining your thinking to your team. By doing so you also have the potential to create more buy-in. Failure to share can fan the flames of doubt and fear and create some nasty optics.
- Know That Mistakes are Learning Opportunities – You may have heard this message ad nauseum, but it bears repetition. Failure begets success. Cultures that have high degrees of trust have employees who aren’t afraid to stick their necks out and take the risks necessary to fuel innovation. So rather than punish your employees when they make a ‘mistake’, use the opportunity to coach them as to how they could have done things differently to get an improved result next time.