Developing Your Talent

Senior Leaders Take Note: Sharing Builds Trust

By JC Heinen on November 26, 2012

A recent LHH survey revealed that nearly three-quarters of employees say they are very much to moderately inclined to trust co-workers –  significantly more than the percentage of employees who report they trust their bosses.  Recent research found that barely one-quarter of workers say they trust their bosses.  It’s not surprising given that specific behaviors that help to establish and maintain trust in peer-to-peer relationships — like frequent communication and meaningful connections — occur much more frequently among co-workers than with leaders.

In her Harvard Business Review article, “Building Trust Through Skillful Self-Disclosure,” Lynn Offermann and Lisa Rosh assert that “leaders who disclose their authentic selves to followers can build not only trust, but generate greater cooperation and teamwork as well.” And studies indicate that senior leaders who reveal a little about their lives outside the office do so without undermining their authority. Still, it’s a fine line leaders must walk in developing trust through self-disclosure with their employees.

If you want to develop a trusting relationship with your team, here are three tips to help you apply a balanced approach of “skillful self-disclosure” with your teams:

  • Open up. During the course of your workday, squeeze in an occasional impromptu conversation with a subordinate about interests other than work such as children’s activities, restaurants, sports, movies, etc. Share a glimpse into your personal life while taking time to listen.
  • Empathize. Offer brief, personal acknowledgments of significant events in employees’ lives such as additions to family, marriage, family death and serious illness. Share how a similar event impacted your own life without overshadowing the employee’s circumstance.
  • Remain professional. Share information that enhances the work relationship yet doesn’t harm your reputation. Remember, exercise discretion and avoid oversharing.

As Offermann and Rosh explain, “There is considerable evidence that leaders who disclose their authentic selves to followers can build not only trust, but generate greater cooperation and teamwork as well.”   With greater trust, employers are able to reap tangible business benefits in the form of higher productivity, performance and engagement.

One Response to “Senior Leaders Take Note: Sharing Builds Trust”

  1. Stephanie

    I totally agree with this article. The very first boss I had was excellent at doing all of the things noted in the article. Unfortunately, our fast-paced working world isn’t using these tips much. I think morale in th workplace would be much higher if leaders took these to heart.


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