Leadership and the impact of not doing what you say

Trust and respect are at the core of all truly great leaders. A team that trusts and respects their leader will follow them into any battle and will fight until the bitter end without question or hesitation… When a leader loses the trust and respect of their team, the structure of the team falls apart and failure is all but eminent. This concept seems to be lost with many leaders in government and business today, and as a result, trust in government is at an all-time low, and employees are no longer sticking around organizations for decades at a time with the average tenure of employees 25 to 34 years old is only 2.8 years. There are many factors that lead to lack of trust within leadership, however one of the fastest ways to guarantee a loss of trust is speaking without action.

Whether it is a politician running for office, a corporate executive speaking at an annual kick-off conference, or a one-on-one meeting with a direct manager, we’ve all had the pleasure of being a part of these meetings and listening to pontifications about a bright future and actions “they” plan to take. It all sounds great, right? Well, not so much. Fast forward a few weeks or months later where absolutely nothing has happened, and you’ll notice that no one wants a talking head for their leader; nothing is more frustrating than following the conviction and direction of a leader, only to be left disappointed due to their inability to take action. This happens day in and day out across the scope of leadership of all levels, and it is no wonder why confidence in leadership is at an all-time low. This is even truer in business today. Let us share a scenario…. You’re in a direct manager’s office during a one-on-one meeting, and they begin to tell you about their plan for you: more responsibility, higher pay, and fixing operational roadblocks. You leave the meeting invigorated and ready to put forth 110% effort into your job. Only a few weeks or months later, absolutely nothing has happened with the exception of more promises of a bright future. Over time, your trust in that manager’s ability to produce actual results diminishes, and that 110% effort turns into 90%, 80%, and then 50%… However, it can go even deeper than a manager’s pontification about a bright future. Sometimes it breaks down to the simplest request, such as fixing an HR issue like payroll.

As an example, say an employee asks their manager to fix a small payroll issue. As managers, we have so many items on our plates, and that request simply gets forgotten. At the end of the day, it is only a small payroll issue and there are so many other bigger fires to put out. No big deal, right? Well, what if that very same employee was having personal financial hardships at home and that “small” issue for them actually meant the difference in their ability to seek medical care, take a vacation, pay for college, or any other number of unknown issues to you? Well, your inability to take action around their “small” payroll issue just diminished their perspective of you as a leader. You can guarantee that they will not be putting forward 110% effort for “you” anymore. Heck, they might even start thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and begin looking for employment elsewhere, where the money and leadership structure looks better. Whether it is big or small items, it is up to you, leadership, to do all that is humanly possible to take action on promises made to your team or face them losing confidence in you.

At the end of the day, most leaders truly do have the best intentions in mind, and with so many items on their plates, they may not even realize that they had promised items but failed to take action. Trust me, I’ve known some great people that have had a tendency to do this without knowing; however, going unchecked has the consequences of losing the confidence of your team. Therein lies the challenge of leadership, whether you knowingly did not take action on an item or simply just forgot, your employees will never tell you when you’ve wronged them and lost their confidence. All is not lost—there a few things to keep an eye out for that may be signs that you are losing the confidence of your team:

  • Average tenure has declined – Five years ago, the average tenure of your team was five to ten years. However, recently, people have been only sticking around for two or three years. This could be a major red flag, as we all know people typically do not leave jobs they are happy with. Sure, there are many items that can contribute to this drop in tenure; however, at the core is their ability to trust in leadership’s ability to affect change for the better.
  • Glassdoor ratings have dropped – Glassdoor has become a game changer for taking a deep look inside the soul of a business. Current and former employees use Glassdoor to provide their own approval rating of leadership, reviews of their experiences, and even recommendations for leadership. Nothing will provide more insight to how you are performing as a leader than spending time reviewing Glassdoor for your business. One word of caution: people can be brutally honest in these reviews and they can be hard to read. However, this is the way people truly think about your company and how you lead. Use these reviews to find ways to improve yourself.
  • Internal NPS polling or 360 reviews are negative – When looking at Glassdoor, we do find that the majority of reviews tend to be from employees after they’ve left the organization. For them and many, it is too late to fix the issue. Another successful approach is around creating an internal NPS polling or 360 review system that is anonymous and allows employees to provide feedback in real-time. Again, this could be something that is hard to digest, as some can and will be fairly harsh. BUT again, this is valuable information to understand how you can change to be a better leader.
  • Frequent faces are no longer frequent – Human nature is to avoid what is uncomfortable. When your team no longer seeks you out for council or even just friendly discussions, they could be actively avoiding you. This is a sign that something may be amiss.
  • You receive more than one email per issue – Refer back to the payroll example used above. Did that person ask you once and wait for your response, or did they message you multiple times on the same items? Trusting people will trust in your ability to get something done and leave you to the task. However, untrusting people tend to want frequent updates to ensure you are moving forward with the various items.
  • Employees have become 9 – 5 – I’ve personally seen this flip happen almost overnight. Some employees tend to work all hours of the day; they are first in the office and last to leave, responding to emails at all hours of the night. Then all of a sudden, they are out the door the minute the clock hits five and almost never respond to emails during off hours. This could be a sign that something is amiss with their attitude towards the business.

Again, we completely agree that leadership inaction could be one of many items that could lead to tarnished employee confidence. However, as leaders, it is up to us to always find ways to improve ourselves, ensuring that our team members do not lose that confidence. The hard part is that they will never tell us to our faces when we’ve done them wrong. We have to read all the signs and piece the puzzle together ourselves. Unfortunately, inaction is one of the fastest ways to lose the trust and respect of our team, and it is something we always need to be conscious of…

I’ll share one example of executive leadership doing this right: HubSpot… HubSpot as an organization has done a lot of things right; they have a great model, great team, great vision, and great culture, and anyone can learn a thing or two from them. This stems from their leadership team of Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah… They have been known to talk about their corporate culture and have stated on multiple occasions that it was not planned and more of a mistake, which turned into something great. It simply was their ability to say what they are going to do and do what they said they would do… and if for any reason they could not do something, they would publically share why, not hide it. This is how the two of them ran the company! It incited a culture within HubSpot where employees were known as HubSpotters, and they would move mountains for the organization if it meant getting something done… They always knew from the top down that HubSpot as an organization had their back and would never leave them stranded. The end result was a team always giving it 110% making HubSpot a unicorn company of legends… Again, they did many things from creating a strong business model, product, and methodology, but it was the corporate culture that got their team moving forward as one cohesive unit, knowing that leadership always had their backs.

It is up to leadership to ensure we always do right with your teams. A team that trusts and respects their leader will follow them into any battle and will fight until the bitter end without question or hesitation.


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