The Best Way for New Leaders to Build Trust

By: Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading is “The Best Way for New Leaders to Build Trust” by Jim Dougherty which appeared first on the HBR Blog Network in December 2013.  Dougherty, a veteran software CEO and entrepreneur, is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.  

On Dougherty’s first day at Intralinks (as CEO), a startup providing secure web-based "deal rooms," he spent four hours listening to client support calls at the call center.  He wanted to know what customers were saying, AND he wanted to make an internal statement.  Dougherty, when taking over Intralinks, knew that there had to be some radical changes to behaviors, expectations, and attitudes.  He said, “I needed to show I was different, that things were going to be different, and I needed to establish trust as quickly as possible.”

Dougherty believes that when you step into a new leadership role, your highest priority is establishing trust.  “Without trust, it is very unlikely you will learn the truth on what is really going on in that organization and in that marketplace.  Without trust employees won’t level with you.”

You begin to build trust by taking time and meeting with as many individual contributors as soon as you can.  Meetings can be one-on-one or in small groups.  Take a pad and take notes.  Listen carefully.  Questions you might ask include ”If you were put in my role tomorrow, what would be the first three things you’d do and why?“  Or, ”What are the three biggest barriers to success, and what are the three biggest opportunities?“  You take the ideas and filter from them your priorities.        

After a few weeks of meetings, asking questions, and listening, Dougherty had enough information to come to his management team with what he thought should be done.  He then talked with the team one-on-one about his plan and how each person’s feedback had helped guide his thinking.  These conversations created significant buy in.

After ten weeks  on the job, the plan was rolled out very successfully.  Dougherty says that without building trust it wouldn’t have happened.      

Given Dougherty’s experience and advice to us, when you step into a new leadership role, you need to establish a trust network in your new context and  environment.  To do this, you must spend time with the players, both one-on-one and in groups, asking questions, listening, in dialogue.  Out of these interactions can come trust and new ideas for going forward.

Why don’t you put this in your toolkit and give it a try the next time you have a major change in responsibilities?  Or, if you've never done this, maybe it would be worthwhile to do it now.  Who knows what you would learn!

Have a great week.  .  .  .     jim

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