Not every day in a leadership position is going to leave you feeling good. One of the worst problems that many leaders must work through is when an employee is blindsided by what appears to be a betrayal- whether the event was in your control or not. Damaging a trusted relationship is almost inevitable at some point in your career. It could be letting a team member go unexpectedly, reporting an employee to HR for a violation, or it might be that you make a terrible decision that ends up hurting others.
No matter how you got here, it’s up to you to take control of the situation and work to repair those relationships and regain lost trust.
Let the employee or the team know that you are aware of their feelings, and most importantly, that you understand why they feel the way they do. Remember that even if it was orders from above, you are the liaison between your company and your employees, and they will most likely hold you responsible, even if you are just the messenger. If it was your own mistake, own it and admit it.
Even if you were justified, it’s important to express empathy for the employee. “I am sorry that I had to report you to the head of nursing, but patient safety is our number one priority. I hate that you’re having to go through this. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to support you, or if you just want to talk about it.” This kind of approach can let employees know that you hear them, value them, and want to work through the problem with them. If it was a clear issue of your own bad decision making, express regret; not only for the action, but for breaking their trust and for causing them to feel betrayed.
Don’t try to make excuses or cover up your role in the situation. Don’t make promises you don’t know that you will be able to keep. If the company is merging, don’t assure employees that no one will be let go, even if management has said so. If in another month they tell you to fire 3 people, your team will only remember you telling them that wouldn’t happen. Instead, admit that you don’t know what will happen and that you really hope nobody will be fired. If you do make a promise, follow through. Remind your employees that you are dependable and that you don’t want to let them down.
If your actions caused harm, it’s up to you to make it right. We all make mistakes, even good leaders. When you do make a mistake and break your employees trust, make sure that your corrective action is visible, and that the employees understand you’re trying to make amends. If the issue was not caused by you, show your employees that you are taking proactive steps to ensure that it won’t happen again, for the benefit of everyone on your team.
Make sure that you understand the impact of the event from the perspective of the employees. While an action may seem like a clear violation of company policy to you, your employees might have thought otherwise. Have them explain the reasons behind their actions, and you may be able to put that information to use in developing a solution that works for everyone. It will also show those involved that you are trying to make the situation better for them, not just for yourself or the organization.
Trust is a key element in any good working relationship. If something has happened that causes your employees to lose trust in your abilities or your intent, it can be a hard road to earning that trust back. Follow the tips above and you should begin to see improvement in the working dynamic.
Alex Lawson is a team leader, a financial expert, and a blogger at Brighter Finance. Having to work with both customers and team members has taught Alex the value of true and passionate leadership and he is often found online, sharing his thought and ideas on how to achieve it.