The following is a modified excerpt from Trust Me - Restore Belief & Confidence in an Uncertain World.
Let’s tell the tale of two managers:
Bill was a manager who stopped for a friendly word with his staff as he walked through the office. He knew how many children each of his employees had — in fact he knew their children by name, and it wasn’t unusual to hear something like, “Say Mary, how was Corey’s soccer game? Did they make it to the tournament?”
Although he set high expectations for each of his employees and called them to task if they didn’t achieve them, he set even higher expectations for himself and was always working to be better at everything he did. Anyone who worked for him would tell you without a doubt that they trusted that he had their best interests at heart and would follow him anywhere. People felt Bill cared about them and his department had very little turnover.
The other manager, Ted, always arrived before his staff. They knew that when they walked in the door he would already be sitting at his desk working with his head down and the door closed. At staff meetings he would time everyone’s commentary. “I’ve researched this, and everything that needs to be said can be said in three minutes or less,” he would say before you even began. If you were still going after four minutes he would cut you off.
At one meeting he casually mentioned he would be unable to attend the next week’s meeting because he was going on his honeymoon. Until that point no one had even known whether he was single or married! Someone joked afterwards that they thought he looked happy, but that it’s hard to tell when you’re a robot. Although people agreed he was efficient, there was nothing warm or friendly about him.
Ted was also well known for his critiques. Belinda, a staff member who had taken a demotion to move from Ted’s department to Bill’s, explained why.
“I was putting in long hours on a project and had given up more than one weekend. I was really proud of the work that I had done. When I walked in to Ted’s office, he barely looked up and told me to drop the work on his desk. His feedback was around a few spelling mistakes. When I asked him what he thought of my suggestions, he said they looked good. Wow, weeks of work and all he could muster was that it looked good!”
If you asked anyone on his staff if they trusted him, there was always a long pause followed by a cautious reply, as they looked over their shoulder to see if anyone was listening. One very telling reply I remember was, “We trust Ted to look after Ted.”
Staff turnover for his department was higher than the company average. People had been known to turn down good promotions if it meant going to work for Ted.
The Little Things Matter
It was the early 90s, and as I was doing a keynote and workshop for this organization's annual meeting, I got to know many of the staff. Even though this was many years ago, this story has always stayed with me.
The person I had the most contact with was Donna, the administrative assistant. She told me she had never had a boss she liked and trusted more than her current one. When I asked her why, Donna told me that the day before her birthday, her boss mentioned that he knew an important day was approaching. She was turning 30. She was pleased that he had remembered, but she knew he made a point of knowing important dates of all the staff.
He found lots of small ways to show he cared about his staff. “What do you want for your birthday?” he asked. Donna said she was sure he expected her to mention something like a ring, a trip, flowers and dinner, or a myriad of other traditional gifts that are usually asked for. He wasn’t expecting her to say she wanted a new laundry basket.
Donna laughed as she told me. “I have a young family,” she told him, “and we have a ton of laundry. My old laundry basket has fallen apart. I’ve been looking all over for a hip-hugging laundry basket and haven’t been able to find one.” He laughed and said it wasn’t what he was expecting, and told her to have a great day.
Donna’s desk was on the second floor, overlooking the parking lot. On the day of her birthday, she glanced down and noticed her boss pulling into his regular parking spot. He opened the trunk and pulled out a brand new laundry basket with a big red bow on it. The strange looks he received as he walked across the parking lot didn’t seem to faze him.
Upstairs, he came up to Donna and smiled as he placed the gift on her desk. He told her he didn’t think anyone would take her seriously about wanting the basket and didn’t want her to be disappointed on her birthday.
As she told me the story, a big smile spread across her face. For Donna, there has never been another gift that compares to the gift of the laundry basket from her boss. Not flowers, dinner out or even diamonds. It was the thoughtfulness and the gesture that meant more than any material gift possibly could. Small considerate acts take on huge importance when it comes to building trust.
Lea has presented and spoken internationally in Dubai, Mumbai, Cape Town and Singapore and across North America from New York to Nunavut to Florida and all points in between. She is a 15+ year member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and Past President of the Atlantic Chapter. Lea works with leaders across Asia and North America delivering programs to increase trust in the workplace and trust ability in leaders. After winning awards as a Top Thought Leader in Trust for a number of years, in 2021 she received a lifetime achievement award as a Top Thought Leader in trust from Trust Across America.