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Igniting Leadership Trust helps Employees “Fall Forward”

by Lisa King

Mistakes happen; we’re all human. Things go wrong in business, and people fall down sometimes. How a leader reacts in those times of stress, though, will determine how employees behave. There is valuable learning if leaders trust and invite employees to be honest about what happened. Leaders can also gain great respect from employees if they take responsibility for their own mistakes. It’s not a sign of weakness; it actually strengthens the organization. Employees see the leader as human, and this builds a relationship of mutual trust.

In a trusting environment, employees are more willing to share failures as well as successes.

One of the great leaders I had the privilege of working with was open and honest with her team about failures. She admitted when one of her ideas or something she was responsible for didn’t go as planned. She used it as an opportunity to brainstorm with her team of executives, and we all grew from each experience. We also grew stronger as a team. We felt confident to propose innovative, risky solutions. This exchange of experiences and ideas drove fresh thinking. It led to effective problem-solving and better cross-functional collaboration.

Without leadership and trust, fear and insecurity creates a culture of people who want to hide their mistakes. They may not be willing to seek innovative solutions or take risks.

One of the least-effective leaders I worked with “bossed” instead of led, and his reaction was to knock employees down when mistakes occurred. He never owned any responsibility for failures, even if it was a result of following his direction. Consequently, many employees cowered and avoided the leader, interacting only when absolutely necessary. In this situation, the leader did not know about all that was happening in the organization. Employees did not respect or trust him. This lack of leadership trust is a dangerous situation for any leader. I witnessed stalled progress and saw employees play it safe. They were generally disengaged.

Being part of a culture that embraces learning, encourages leadership trust, and supports employees, leads to innovation.

Supporting employees through failures or mistakes does not mean that the leader should not hold them accountable to ensure that it does not happen again. It just means the leader understands and is extending trust to the employee. As long as the employee learns from it and doesn’t repeat it, they are making progress and moving forward. We all fall down sometimes. Leaders determine whether employees get knocked backward or fall forward. Encouraging employees to fall forward ignites a culture of trust and innovation.

Digging Deeper

Trusting Your Employees is the Key – Harvard Business Review
As a leader it is even more important to admit your mistakes – Forbes
Great leaders handle their mistakes – inc.com

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