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How a leader can gain their employees’ trust

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Can leaders motivate employees? Yes, but it depends on the leader's ability to influence employees by creating a presence that they want to follow. But to be in a position to motivate employees, leaders must be trusted first.

To gauge their effectiveness, leaders need to take an honest look at themselves to evaluate what they are doing that is both positively and negatively influencing their employees. A leader who often talks down to employees or rarely communicates with them will have little opportunity to positively influence staff who look to them for leadership.

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Leaders are more successful with their teams when they pay attention to how their actions effect their team members.

So here's a short questionnaire to rate yourself (on a scale of 1, low, to 5, high) as to how positively you are influencing your employees' confidence and trust.

1. I am an effective listener.

2. Regardless of the situation, I stay optimistic.

3. I have trusted relationship bonds with all my team members.

4. I often inform my team members how grateful I am for their work.

5. I act in a way that I expect from all my team members.

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6. I work well and collaboratively with all team members.

The closer your score is to 30, the higher your confidence in your ability to positively influence employees. What leaders do (positively influence) and not do (avoid behaviours that negatively influence) defines how effective they are at motivating employees.

What can leaders do to be better at positively influencing their employees? Here are four ways.

1. Discover the top three things your employees say management does that negatively influences them. Be open and not defensive; you may be surprised by what you learn.

2. Discover the top three things that management does that positively influences employees.

When seeking input for both top three lists, lay out simple definitions to reduce misunderstanding.

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3. Discover your leadership blind spots. Seek out three to five trusted advisers and ask them to give you honest and direct feedback on your leadership profile against the top three lists. Don't respond or challenge the feedback; just listen and let it soak in. Thank the advisers and let their advice settle in your mind for 48 hours before you make any commitment to action.

Why 48 hours? If after 48 hours you're no longer sensitive or trying to rationalize honest critical feedback you are probably ready to accept it and pick two key ideas you can take action on.

4. Write out a simple action plan and track your progress daily. There are no shortcuts; it takes time to gain trust. Once you gain your employees' trust you will be more able to influence them to help you achieve your company's operational objectives.

Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is president of Howatt Consulting in Kentville, N.S.

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