“I strive very hard to build relationships with staff,” a client told me recently. “I take lunch breaks with them, we talk, we play cards, we joke around. Then I come to find out that because of that, they say they can no longer trust me as a leader and manager! So when there’s a problem, they think they can’t bring it to me, for fear I’ll be biased.”

I could tell he was frustrated. Makes sense. It’s easy to take something like that personally…and he was taking it personally. He builds relationships because he wants to be trusted, and it feels like a real slap in the face to have people tell him he might be compromised. They go a different avenue, rather than bringing the problem to him.

The important thing, however, even when you’re frustrated, is to ask yourself: how do you fix it?

He was interpreting this all as bad news, but my immediate thought was, “That’s awesome news!” 

Needless to say, this confused him a bit. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” I said, “why is it personal?”

“Because it’s me.

“Wait…is it YOU, or is it YOUR POSITION? Are they saying YOU aren’t trustworthy? Or are they saying that when a manager behaves this way, it’s hard to trust a manager? If you’re in this position, can you be in this position and play both parts?”

He pause and thought about it. Then: “I think you’re right. I don’t feel animosity about me personally.” Okay! So we need to change the way we perceive things. The perception that its personal is valid, but it’s just one possible perception. The fact that it’s not personal, but positional, is also a valid perception. Part of our role as leaders is to ask: which perspective is going to serve us best? It must be legitimate and accurate. But when there are multiple options, why do we have to take the negative one?

If it WAS positional, not personal, what might he do differently?

The fact that they’re coming to the manager and TELLING him they went a different route — that’s communication. One could even say that’s trust. That means its an opportunity for connection and influence. As long as they’re talking to you, you can engage. You can build trust. You can exercise influence.

It’s when they’re not talking to you, and simply doing things behind your back, that you have to worry.

Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash