Great leaders go out of their way to make sure employees feel valued for the skills they bring to an organization. Research shows that when employees feel valued, an organization has more productivity, increased loyalty, lower turnover, decreased absenteeism, and greater communication. An environment where they don’t? It isn’t a place they want to work for long. Without them, our organization (and us) would be worse off.

Fortunately, making our employees feel valued isn’t difficult. How can we make our employees feel valued, especially if we don’t have the resources of a top executive?  Here are a few simple things that go a long way.

Understand what drives them

As leaders, we often select people to work for us because they seem a lot like us. Their skills may be different, but they seem to have our same interests. Just because something motivates us, however, does not mean it motivates them. According to Richard Scherberger, CEO of Executive Leadership Skills, Inc., an executive consulting firm, “When you believe that others see the world as you do, you’ll be frustrated. You have to start from where they are. You have to speak their language.”

It is well worth our time to understand what makes our employees feel their most productive. For example, let’s say Janice is one of my employees. One of Janice’s values is freedom–that’s the thing she prizes above all others. She has been doing her job a long time, and she’s very good at it. How valued will she feel if I tell her exactly what to do, and how to do it?  It’s our job as leaders to spend some time getting insight into what makes our employees feel appreciated and valued.

Ideas to try:

  • Ask them. The biggest stumbling block to knowing what employees are thinking and feeling is not the generation gap, but the communications gap. What do they like about their job? How do they like interacting with their customers? Where do they see their career going? How do they want to contribute? You will not only understand what motivates them–which helps you lead them better–but they will feel valued because you care.
  • Get to know your team members on a personal level. Often, after-work activities of your employees will completely surprise you, shedding new light on their habits at work. By getting to know your team members on a personal level, you’ll be better equipped to set them up for success.

Challenge them

Employees want to be challenged, use their skills to stretch, and learn new ones. Harvard University professor Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, a researcher and writer, surveyed 669 managers around the world. The study asked managers to rank the importance of five employee motivators.  The multiyear research project by Harvard found that “of all the events that can deeply engage people in their jobs, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.”

Every job comes with repetitive and less-than-glamorous tasks. It’s important to balance these out with assignments that challenge an employee’s skill level. Good leaders push people into trying new things they have the potential for, but may be uncomfortable trying. When employees make mistakes, which they inevitably will, it’s important to frame the situation as a learning process, and get them going again as soon as possible. Employees feel valued when their leader has their back.

Ideas to try:

  • Assign a challenging task or new responsibility. Give your employee clear expectations, and ensure they know they can come back to you for clarification. It’s important to put your trust in him or her to see it through, rather than micromanaging it yourself. It’s a great way to say, “I know you are capable of doing this, and I trust you to do a good job.”
  • Give them responsibilities with more visibility. Have them train new employees; send them on business trips with a more seasoned employee; have them participate in a conference and report back what they learned to their team; send them to training for a new skill.

If you want to keep your employees growing, tell them you want them to take on more responsibility and then provide them the means to succeed.

Include them

Leaders know that innovative and creative ideas are the lifeblood of a business. Every person has good ideas, and they want to be heard. A powerful way of making employees feel valued is by exhibiting trust in their ideas. Consistently encourage brainstorming on new ways of doing things, fresh perspectives, and innovative processes, and take time to listen to them. Even the lowest level employees have good ideas on how to make the workplace more effective or improve customer service. Make it a priority to implement the best ideas, and they will feel appreciated from your effort.

Ideas to try:

  • Have a brainstorming meeting, at least monthly. Remember, in brainstorming no ideas are bad ones. Select the top few, and have employees take the responsibility of selecting one or two each to study in depth. Ask them to report how that idea will benefit all stakeholders, which departments would be involved, and what could be pros and cons of implementation. This gives them the opportunity to think strategically and feel they are part of the team.
  • Get them involved in the decision-making process. Ask them to sit on a job interview panel, and provide input about a candidates’s suitability for a position, including their fit within a team.  Have them participate in the goal-setting process for their team. This will their increase their feeling of ownership and accountability for the results and make them feel valued.

Praise and reward them

When employees believe they are important to an organization and get recognized for it, they feel valued. Everyone loves to be told “thank you,” especially when they have just solved a problem, or finished an important project. That appreciation is even more important when it comes from the leader. As the leader, you feel good when you praise them. It also makes them want to experience that feeling again, so they want to continue the good work.

Praise and rewards aren’t difficult. They can be as simple as a “thank you” to a formal awards ceremony, complete with bonus, and anything in between. The key is to make it sincere. Just as we can, employees can spot manipulation every time. They aren’t fooled if you never say “thank you” and suddenly say it before asking them to work overtime. Look for opportunities to praise and thank someone: for innovative ideas, professionalism, dedication, great attitude, and ability to solve customers’ problems. As leaders, remember a famous quote by Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics: “There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”

Ideas to try:

  • When possible, praise an employee in front of others, using their name. Tell them what they did that was impressive, such as doing a great job on a project.
  • Send them a personal handwritten note; select them to work on a special project that will give them visibility; or recognize them in a public meeting and give them a round of applause in front of their peers and other leaders.
  • Look at rewards from an emotional perspective. Remember, you are dealing with people who have real feelings and needs. Cash is good, but so are other rewards: take them to lunch; throw them a small party in the conference room for their accomplishment; send out a mass email to the company detailing their great work; or give them a more flexible schedule or time off.

People who feel valued and respected for their work are more motivated to work harder and perform better. Making them feel valued will inspire them to be great followers.

“The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel. And if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.” – Sybil F. Stershic, Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most: A Guide to Employee-Customer Care


Susan C. Foster is an Executive Coach, former NASA and Army executive, and a recovering 24/7 workaholic who believes everyone can learn to be a great leader. She is the author of the book, It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring, and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best. You can reach her at www.susancfoster.com.


Making good decisions is an important part of being a leader. We want to make the right decisions, and it’s stressful when we aren’t sure. We often think we should have complete data to prove we are right. One thing for sure: we will seldom, if ever, have all the information we need to be sure our decision is the correct one.  Here is a guide to improve our confidence when we must make an important one:

Is it time to make this decision?

As female leaders, we often feel we must make a quick decision or appear weak. Making a quick decision that is wrong, however, can damage our reputation and cost time and money. How can we know when it’s time to make a decision?

One question I like to ask is: “Has this cooked enough?” This means I’ve have researched the relevant data (qualitative and quantitative), coordinated with the affected people, and weighed as many risks as I can think of. This gives me confidence that I have as much information as I am likely to get, and that it will be supported by the leaders above me.

Does it make sense?

In the book, Rules & Tools for Leaders, MG Perry M. Smith (Retired) makes a good analogy when talking about a decision-making challenge when he says, “Have we created a thoroughbred race horse, a plodding but sturdy farm horse, or a camel with ten humps? The farm horse may be the best you can get, and you may have to be satisfied with that, but don’t accept the camel.”

The point is we will likely never get the perfect solution to our challenge, but our decision should move us forward. If the result of the decision won’t move us closer to solving our problem, doesn’t improve the situation, or causes other problems, we should put it off and study it longer.

Is it ethical?

A decision should enhance our reputation as an organization. It must be one we can be proud of in terms of integrity, while still moving forward with company goals. A company code of ethics is helpful, but without that, we must weigh decisions against our own ethical standards and values.

As a minimum, we must know it’s legal, follows company policies and regulations, does not violate contracts or have a conflict of interest, and that it won’t be perceived as dishonest by our customers. We must be able to rationally and honestly defend any decision we make.

What else/who else will it affect?

Decisions usually affect more than one team in an organization. Sometimes it may be good for our part of the organization in the short term; however, we also must weigh its effect on the long-term, and on other systems and the rest of the organization. It is important to coordinate with other leaders responsible for those systems ahead of time, before we make a decision.

Do we understand the effects on primary stakeholders, customers, and employees? When a decision has strategic implications for the future, we must also consult the leaders above us. For example, will we need to change the strategic plan, goals, or priorities of the organization, and is that within our authority? It may be the right thing to do, but we must consider how it affects the organization.

Will it pass the media test?

Consider how this decision will look if it were reported to a major newspaper, or national/international media outlet. In today’s environment, anything we decide may be scrutinized by outsiders who didn’t understand the background. Social media has only increased this scrutiny; many companies have experienced negative publicity when decisions were misunderstood or communicated poorly.

Will it help or hurt?

Decisions must be weighed in light of how it affects the safety, health, or well-being of employees, stakeholders and customers.  One thing I like to ask is, “How will I feel about this decision 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now, and 10 years from now?”

Will it help or hurt morale? If it hurts, then reconsider. Sometimes strategic company decisions will cause organizational changes that hurt morale. In these cases, how we communicate them, both to the individuals effected and the other employees, makes a huge difference. Telling the truth that the impact reflects economic or business circumstances, and not the employee’s performance, goes a long way toward easing the blow.

Is this decision consistent with others I’ve made?

When we make a decision that is inconsistent with others we have made, or with our policies, that doesn’t make it wrong. It does mean we will have to explain our decision as a change in direction. Thinking through this ahead of time helps us be prepared, so that we have the support of both employees and the managers above us.

Will this decision get the result I want?

Isaac Newton is famous for his saying, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In business, as in the rest of life, most every action we take has the potential for consequences we didn’t anticipate. Some of those consequences may be positive, like the “accidental” invention of the Post-It® Note by the guy at 3M Company who brewed up a batch of sticky-but-not-too-sticky adhesive.

Others may be negative, such as implementing a profit-based bonus system that inadvertently motivates managers to reduce spending on maintenance and safety, causing unanticipated accidents or equipment problems. Consider the possible outcomes of any decision, including second and third order effects it may cause. Then decide whether this decision will accomplish your goal.

How and in what way will I communicate the decision?

Thinking through how we will communicate a decision, and to who, helps us prepare for questions and objections ahead of time. Does it need to be announced, or is it better conveyed privately to those affected? This helps us be confident we have sound, logical answers to questions that may come up.

Every question won’t apply to every decision, but getting used to asking them will help us make better ones. We can also explain the ones we make in a way that will convince our leaders and our followers that they are well thought out. You won’t always get it right, but we always get better when we practice.


Susan C. Foster is an Executive Coach, former NASA and Army executive, and a recovering 24/7 workaholic who believes everyone can learn to be a great leader. She is the author of the book, It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring, and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best. You can reach her at www.susancfoster.com.


“Being a great place to work is the difference between being a good company and a great company.”

  –Brian Kristofek, President and CEO, Upshot

A toxic workplace is often given as the reason companies make the news for unethical business practices, poor customer service, or scandals. The leader is always blamed. Where abuses are common, you can bet that the company culture itself has been ignored, or behaviors were rewarded, that let the issues fester.

Most leaders want to know when their workplaces are becoming toxic in time to do something about it before an unfortunate event happens and it becomes public knowledge. There are signs that help identify a toxic workplace early, so you can do something about it.

1.  The leadership team doesn’t work well together

Your leadership team is the best indicator of how your employees are doing. A dysfunctional leadership team will cause your entire culture to suffer. A poor team is easy to spot: lack of collaboration, lots of complaining, missed meetings, and generally a bad attitude. Employees often take their attitude from their leader. A healthy workplace culture begins with the leadership.

What you can do: If these leaders work for you, know that it won’t get better by itself. Set clear expectations on attitude and behavior, and take steps to remeasure it within a short period of time. Before you replace a leader, you may want to try coaching, or probation. That person will likely get better or move on.

2.  Employee competition is all internal

In the movie, The Paper Chase, a famous line was “Look to your left, look to your right: one of you won’t be here next year,” which was the greeting for incoming students at Harvard Law School. Healthy competition is good, but when leaders set up internal competition that keeps them from pulling together, it will do more damage than good and discourage a strong team. This kind of competition is sure to lead to a toxic workplace.

What you can do: Reframe the competition to your real competitors external to the organization. Ensure the team knows their  common purpose, are clear on what you want to achieve, and what the external forces are working against your goal (other companies, developing technology, etc.).  Talk in “we/us” terms and redirect their energy to unify around the common goal.

3. Managers don’t handle bad behavior and performance

One result of a high-pressure environment and too much to do can be ignoring bad behavior (cheating, harassment, stealing, etc.) or poor performance (missed deadlines, poor work, rudeness to customers, etc.). When employees think it’s an acceptable part of the work culture, the behavior spreads. This is how organizations end up in the news alleging unethical business practices and loss of customers.

What you can do: As the leader, realize that bad behavior won’t get better, but it will poison the reputation of the entire team. Set expectations on integrity and ethics, and communicate them clearly. No matter how busy you are, conduct regular meetings with your team to keep up with their challenges, and model integrity openly. When employees know your expectations, they will try to meet them.

4. Managers don’t promote based on merit

It is a normal human trait to promote people you like to be around, and difficult not to have your favorite employees. When managers only promote those employees they like, and good performers are ignored, however, you eventually lose your best employees. What remains are those loyal only to that manager–and a toxic workplace.

What you can do: As the leader, ensure you and your managers communicate to employees how to work their way up the ranks.  An objective system should be in place to measure an employee’s performance against standards that are clear to all employees. Managers should be able to justify promotions on that objective system.

5. People are excluded from input on decisions

People want to come to work and contribute in an open and trusting environment where they are asked for ideas. employees In organizations where some employees are included and others are not, resentment and bitterness will develop, and lead to a toxic workplace. Excluded employees disengage from providing the best ideas for the good of the company, and waste valuable resources.

What you can do. Are some employees excluded from important decisions, when other employees’ ideas are solicited? Are workers who work remotely given a fair opportunity to be included in team discussions? If not, set up a process to ensure this happens. Not only will your employees be happier and more productive, but you will get better ideas than if only a few employees provided input.

6. A toxic workplace has unhappy customers

Customer service has always been an important part of developing brand loyalty, but in today’s internet and social media environment, disgruntled customers can spread the message much quicker than ever. By the time a company realizes they have a lot of unhappy customers, they can bet their culture is already toxic.

What you can do: As the leader, do you have a process that gives honest feedback on what your customers think about your company? If not, develop one that gives you this valuable feedback, so you can take action. Bad news doesn’t get better with age, so addressing customer issues early will keep them from getting worse.

7. Turnover rate among employees is high.

Current estimates are that it costs companies about 20 percent of annual salary to replace a mid-level employee. When companies have a high turnover rate, it adversely affects their bottom line. Although many factors contribute to a high employee turnover, poor management and a toxic workplace top the list. According to a study by Gallup, there is a strong correlation between a competent manager and employee engagement.

What you can do: As the leader, know your turnover rate and the reasons why employees are leaving. Are you keeping your best employees? Are they generally happy and productive? Knowing these answers can help you evaluate what changes should be made.

As an employee, if you are working for a company with these signs, consider it a warning. Great companies rarely have great dysfunction. While changing positions is not always an option, decide what you want to gain from this job, learn what you can, and prepare a backup plan. Working in an environment with a dysfunctional environment is a sure way to stunt your professional development.

 

Susan C. Foster is an Executive Coach, former NASA and Army executive, and a recovering 24/7 workaholic who believes everyone can learn to be a great leader. She is the author of the book, It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring, and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best. You can reach her at www.susancfoster.com.


“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” – Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady

Women are successful leaders in every industry, from government to business, entertainment, and sports. They all have leadership skills in common that make them stand out. Although these are not all-inclusive, here are seven leadership skills we can develop to make us more successful.

Effective Communications

The ability to communicate effectively is arguably the most important skill for a successful leader. Communication isn’t limited to speaking, but includes listening, writing well, and being able to read and use nonverbal language. These skills help us build relationships and influence–not only within but outside our own team. Communication isn’t one way—it’s up to us as leaders to ensure our team understands our vision and goals.

Develop this skill

When you give guidance, ask questions and get feedback. Ask your team: “what do you think I mean, in your own words? What do you think–have I left out anything?” This saves valuable time and resources that can be wasted when we think we are understood, only to find out later the team is headed in the wrong direction.

Strategic Vision

Successful women leaders are able to influence other leaders and effect organizational change. Leaders deal with difficult issues that often have little data, and are influenced by market forces and other external organizations. Successful women leaders have learned to anticipate what’s next, and encourage that kind of thinking from their employees.

Develop this skill

Ask, “What is the issue facing my boss’s boss? What outside forces are affecting our industry?”

Creativity and Innovation

Today’s business environment is all about uncertainty and competition. Planning for the next quarter is a challenge. Even more difficult is committing to decisions that will play out in one to five years. Successful women leaders bring creativity and innovation to the challenges by bringing diversity, different working styles, and viewpoints to their teams.

Develop this skill

Ensure your employees have the tools they need: computers, software, and training. When employees dare to be creative and innovative, risk some failure—it’s part of the creative mindset. Ensure your climate doesn’t penalize those who come up with innovative and creative ideas, even if those ideas aren’t always adopted.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage our own emotions, and those of the people around us. According to Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who helped popularize emotional intelligence with his book, the key elements are self-awareness, motivation, empathy and social skills. The better a leader relates to and works with others, the more successful she will be.

To develop this skill

Find ways to help you manage stressful situations and negative emotions, so they don’t overwhelm and affect your judgement. Some examples are taking a five-minute walk, or closing your door and breathing deeply. This helps women leaders be assertive rather than reactive, and poised rather than frazzled.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Critical thinking to solve problems means asking vital questions around a problem, gathering and assessing relevant information, and coming to a well-reason conclusion. Successful women leaders think open-mindedly about their assumptions and possible consequences.

Develop this skill

Learn to make decisions as fairly and objectively as possible, based on information that is relevant to the issue. Hold your decision against the standard you have set. Understand your own human biases, so you can guard against them.

Confidence

At the end of the day, leadership is about having the confidence to make decisions. If a leader is afraid to make and commit to decisions, all the empowerment in the world won’t make a difference. It’s human nature to want to failure-proof our business by ensuring we have thought of everything, but in an ever-changing environment, that’s not possible. What separates the successful leader who inspires us into the unknown from those who need a mountain of statistical analysis is confidence.

Develop this skill

Gather a reasonable amount of data, involve other people’s ideas, then do what you think is right. Once you decide, commit and go for it, rather than second guessing yourself. If you have to change course, know that you can do so. Accept the fact that you will fail on occasion–that’s human. While the fearful agonize over decisions, the successful woman leader will take action. That is the definition of leadership

Trustworthiness

Successful women leaders are trustworthy, first and foremost. When you establish a climate of trust, your team commits to goals, communications improve, and ideas flow more freely. Perhaps most importantly, your employees are more comfortable with change and are more willing to embrace a new vision.

Develop this skill

Be credible: tell the truth and be willing to hear it from others; honor your commitments, and admit mistakes, with a plan to correct them. Be reliable: share information, give credit to employees, and maintain confidences. Be fair: make decisions on merits and facts, and be consistent from one day to the next.


Successful women leaders have these skills, and every one of the can be developed. They aren’t difficult to learn but they do take practice. The better we become at mastering them, the more we will be noticed as successful in our own organization. You can also find out your leadership strengths by taking the Leaders in Heels Leadership Checklist!

 

Susan C. Foster is an Executive Coach, former NASA and Army executive, and a recovering 24/7 workaholic who believes everyone can learn to be a great leader. She is the author of the book, It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring, and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best. You can reach her at www.susancfoster.com.

 


We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.
– Bill Gates

Learning to give great employee feedback is a skill that leaders can master to increase positive engagement in our employees and improve our organizations.  In a study of over 22,000 employees, the leadership trainers at Zenger-Folkman found that when managers learn to give effective and frequent feedback, employee retention is improved, and employees are far more content. Although some leaders believe it’s difficult to master, it just takes desire and practice.

Here are some ways to ensure your feedback meetings go well, so both you and your employee leave the meeting feeling positive about the relationship and the work.

Plan ahead for employee feedback meetings

Set your intentions about what you want the results of your meeting to be. Is it to learn more about your employee and find out how they are doing? Is it to talk about work issues that need to be corrected? Getting clear on the purpose of the meeting will help you be more comfortable, so that your body language will be open and welcoming, rather than stressed and irritated.

Tailor your feedback to the employee

Every person who works for you is different. Some employees are highly skilled and motivated. All they need is recognition from you that they are doing a good job. In those cases, feedback is a give-and-take discussion about how the work is going, if there is anything they need from you, and how you can support them. Newer, less-trained and less-experienced employees need more feedback so they know what they are doing well, and what they need to improve. There is also every kind of employee in between. Our job as leaders is to know which employee is which.

Give employee feedback regularly

Regularly scheduled meetings are best. Sometimes you will need to do feedback when specific issues come up. No matter how busy you are, employee feedback meetings should be as frequent as they need to be, depending on the employee’s skill, experience, and the complexity of your on-going projects. Above all, no employee should ever be surprised or get unexpected news when it comes time for a formal performance appraisal.

Make employee feedback private, make it specific, make it safe, and make it positive

Most of the feedback where you want to talk about improvements will be in private. An exception may be a small team meeting where you discuss how team goals are being met. Always give feedback around an employee’s stated work goals: what is the work goal, how are they doing toward the goal, what’s next on the work goal, and what actions should be taken to make further progress on the goal. To make sure it’s meaningful and helpful, focus on what you have observed around on-the-job behaviors, results, and teamwork. Be descriptive, not evaluative–things aren’t “good” or “bad”–they are either meeting standards and on track with milestones or they aren’t. One good way to have these is conduct “learning meetings.” When you tell employees you are going to have a “learning meeting,” and they know this means, “We are going to talk about how things are going with your project, and discuss where you need me to support you,” they will be much more communicative.

Get employee feedback

Always get feedback for yourself from your employees. Ask your employee how they believe they are doing, and what else they need from you to improve. Ask them what they believe your expectations are, and ask about theirs. Often, clarifying expectations is all that is needed to ensure employee success. Give them a chance to talk about their own performance, and ask them what they learned. It’s informative to hear their thoughts about how they were successful, or why they got the results they did.

Most employees want to do a great job for you. They want you to notice their efforts and they want to know how to improve so they can advance in their careers. With a regular, positive, and constructive feedback loop, they can do just that.

“Feedback is a gift. Ideas are the currency of our next success. Let people see you value both feedback and ideas.”
– Jim Trinka and Les Wallace

Susan C. Foster is an Executive Coach, former NASA and Army executive, and a recovering 24/7 workaholic who believes everyone can learn to be a great leader. She is the author of the book, It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring, and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best. You can reach her at www.susancfoster.com.


Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices. –Warren Buffet

A trusted leader is one whose employees and peers believe in their integrity, and are glad to follow them. Think about leaders you know or have worked for. When we trust them, we have confidence in them. We believe they “have our back.”

What about leaders we don’t trust? We don’t feel comfortable around them. We are suspicious of their motives and agenda, whether they are being nice to us or not. We don’t want to work for them.

In Stephen M. R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, he says that trust is the most powerful form of motivation and inspiration in organizations, and that it’s the ultimate source of influence. On the other hand, low trust in a leader slows down communication and decision making, and hinders relationships and results. His research found that only 51% of employees have trust and confidence in their senior managers.

As the leader, we can be a great strategist, a technical whiz, and get lots of accolades, but if we aren’t trusted, we will never be the leader others want to follow. If we are a trusted leader, our employees have better morale, loyalty, and productivity.

You believe you are a trusted leader, but how can you know?  These 10 questions will help you reflect on how the trust is going, and keep it on track.

1. Does every employee—from the newest and least-paid on up—feel a part of the team and know his/her ideas are encouraged?

A trusted leader makes everyone on the team feel valued by asking for input and opinions in front of others. Listening not only signals that you value their contributions, but it demonstrates that everyone has value. An added benefit is getting a diverse set of opinions and ideas.

2. Do I seek ideas and opinions different from my own? Do my employees believe they can give me these different ideas without retribution?

It’s a human trait to have emotional “blind spots” when making decisions. We often don’t see pitfalls because we have unconscious biases in what we choose to focus on in the huge amount of data we get. A trusted leader asks: “Is there anything about this situation I’m not seeing?” Genuinely thank the person who gives you feedback and consider it. When your team knows they can advise you and you listen, they will help you avoid making poor decisions.

3. Do I act and speak consistently? Do my employees and co-workers always know what to expect from me?

A trusted leader sets the standards for an organization and models that standard for their employees.  In other words, what a leader says she wants the employees to do, she also does herself. If your standard is punctuality, then you are punctual. If you say teamwork is important, you collaborate with teams across the organization.

4. Do I always tell the truth as I know it, in a way as to improve the situation?

Trusted leaders keep employees as informed as possible about what is going on with the organization. They always tell the truth–not just what people want to hear. A leader is careful that even when facts are communicated, it is always done while being considerate of employees’ efforts and feelings, even when mistakes are made.

5. Do I expect and accept nothing less than complete integrity from my subordinates, especially my managers?

Leaders who model integrity receive integrity from their employees and peers. Employees know when their leaders are truthful and honest, and follow the tone set by the leader. Insisting the managers you hire are committed to integrity spreads it throughout the organization.

6. Do I confront difficult issues rather than letting them continue?

A trusted leader handles challenges while they are small, rather than letting them build. Letting a difficult situation fester will only poison the entire team, who is wondering why you haven’t addressed it.  A leader faces challenges as an opportunity to continuously improve the organization.

7. Do I do what I commit to doing?

A leader is trusted when they do what they say they will do. If you give your word, keep it.  If you say you will do something, do it. Breaking a commitment can quickly destroy the trust you’ve built, as well as make people less inclined to trust you in the future.

8. Do I keep confidences? Do my employees and peers know I will not divulge what they have told me in confidence?

A trusted leader never reveals a confidence or gossips about employees, peers or other leaders.  You are a trusted leader when employees and peers know that when they talk to you in confidence, it won’t be passed along–ever.

9. Do I admit my mistakes? Do I take the blame for things that don’t go well and deal with them later, in private?

We all make mistakes–employees and leaders alike. When a leader acknowledges mistakes as well as successes, employees see you as credible and follow your lead. A leader can foster accountability by building in feedback as part of the culture. Rather than pointing blame, a trusted leader deals with mistakes in private. Asking an employee the question, “What would you do differently had you had perfect knowledge in the beginning?” helps them learn much more than a reprimand.

10. Do I treat everyone fairly and apply equal standards and privileges to everyone?

A trusted leader is fair to everyone. Since a leader won’t necessarily like everyone the same, this can be a challenge.  Being fair simply means setting the expectation that everyone meets the standards of their job, and enforcing that. A fair leader shares the same information with everyone, assigns work based on aptitude and talent to build the best organization, holds everyone accountable, and gives honest feedback to everyone.


As the leader, asking yourself these 10 questions on a regular basis will help you know that employees trust you. When they do, they will follow you with commitment, not just compliance.

 Susan C. Foster is a coach who believes everyone can learn to be a great leader. She is the author of “It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring, and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best.” She can be found at www.susancfoster.com