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The Best Way for New Leaders to Build Trust

The Tuesday Reading for this week is “The Best Way for New Leaders to Build Trust,”  as essay by Jim Dougherty.  Dougherty is a veteran software CEO and entrepreneur and now is a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.  In the essay, he relates some of his experiences as CEO of Intralinks, an internet services company that provides secure web based electronic deal rooms.

On the first day Dougherty was at Interlinks as CEO, he spent half the day at the client support center taking calls.  He wanted to know what the company’s clients were saying.  Since most leaders, and certainly CEOs, never go near a client support center, Doherty was also making an internal statement.  He knew that there had to be some radical changes to behaviors, expectations, and attitudes.  He wanted to show that he was different, and that things were going to be different.  For this to happen, he needed to establish trust as rapidly as possible.

Dougherty believes that establishing trust is the highest priority for any leader, whether its leader of a small work team, a larger work organization, or a Boy or Girl Scout Troop.  You need to gain the trust of the members of the group.  Dougherty believes that most leaders agree with this statement but very few do anything to gain that trust.  What about you?

He goes on to assert that “without trust, it is very unlikely you will learn the truth on what is really going on in that organization and in the market place.  Without trust employees won’t level with you – at best, you’ll learn either non-truths or part truths.”

To build trust, Dougherty believes, you have to take the time and meet as many of the individual contributors as you can as soon as you can.  You need to make meeting your clients and your employees a high priority.  Meetings can be one-on-one or in small groups.  Doherty believes that this is so important that he suggests that in the first weeks of a new job you spend half of your time in these meetings.  A good opening:  “If you were put into my role tomorrow, what would be the first things you do and why?”  Or, “What are the three biggest barriers to our success, and what are the three biggest opportunities we have?”  Listen first.  Filter and prioritize second.  Talk about what you’ve learned third.

Dougherty learned why the clients were unhappy.  And from that, he began to develop a plan.  And, then he began to share elements of the plan with staff and got feedback.  About three months after his arrival, he began to roll out the new plan.  “None of this,” he reports, “could have happened without building the trust of the team”

And, even if you are not new, it’s not too late.  Really consider setting aside time each week for the next month to take a listening tour of your staff and your clients.  Find our what is really going on and build trust.  And, then make it a practice to set aside time each week to listen to a few of your staff and clients.  You’ll be surprised how that will change the work you and your team do.


Have a great week.  .  .  .    jim