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Here’s How to Build Trust When You’re the New Boss

Jan 04, 2017

The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How do you build trust with employees when you're the new boss?” is written by Cheri Lytle, head of advisor strategy and development at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

Over the span of my career, I’ve found there are very few things that can be more intimidating than becoming the new boss. Whether entering from an outside company or moving up the ranks to begin managing your peers, leading a new group of people requires awareness and confidence in yourself as a leader.

Does the team trust my leadership? Do they feel comfortable sharing their concerns with me? These are questions I’ve grappled with since transitioning into my new role as head of advisor strategy and development at Merrill Lynch, but I’ve discovered a few invaluable tactics that have helped me build trust among my team members. If you treat each moment as a learning opportunity, share the spotlight with others, and build an inclusive atmosphere to tackle issues in an open forum, you’ll establish a strong sense of trust and appreciation among the employees you lead.

Empower others by bringing them into the spotlight
Sometimes the most effective thing you can do as the new boss is to step back and take yourself out of the spotlight. Look to existing team members for advice, include employees on every opportunity to discuss their great work, and consider letting someone else announce good news to the team. Showing your confidence and appreciation in your new employees is a great way to build trust quickly and sincerely, and it will likely empower others to come together and work harder.

Create opportunities to minimize hierarchies and increase involvement. If a meeting is relevant to someone’s job, invite them to join, whether it’s a sit-down with a high-level executive or a new training. Don’t rely on titles and salary levels to dictate how you lead people. And in the event there are situations where you might disagree with an employee, think about the bigger implications, and if appropriate, let them make the final call. Building trust means creating room for debate and respect for each other’s opinions.

Put the elephant in the room
When things get awkward, don’t avoid them. Instead, address the issue(s) head-on and be transparent about what’s bothering the team. Try starting your next meeting in a provocative way. Tackle an issue by opening with, “I know this is annoying. No one likes this policy. It’s irritating. So let’s get our feelings out right now.” In essence, I think it’s critical to put all issues on the table right away.

Avoiding challenges or beating around the bush will certainly instill frustration among your employees, but facing adversities together will create a strong sense of unity and support for each other. Be honest about the challenges you are facing, what you do and don’t like, and what’s top of mind for you. Context is key. Share your perspective and how you are planning to tackle a matter, and create an environment where team members feel they have a voice and valued perspective.

Lead (and learn) as a team
From day one as the new boss, commit to tackling challenges as a team. Solve problems together by asking a lot of questions and creating an open dialogue that sparks discussion and ultimately a better strategy. Instead of asking what went wrong, try asking, “How can I help us get through this?”

Be vulnerable in times of frustration and always leave an open door for employees to come speak with you. Give them the chance to express concerns and empathize with them when you can. Convey that each day is a learning experience for you, too, and emphasize that all mistakes are great lessons. By making others feel comfortable and supported, they will continue to learn and believe in you.

Our Team Financial Advisor Program at Merrill Lynch, for example, has been a great way to empower trainees to join a practice team and get hands-on experience with the tools and resources they need to grow in their careers. By contributing to overall team efforts, trainees can build strong relationships with their team leaders, and ultimately, earn the chance to shine.

Trust is unique in that it’s something you can’t build overnight. However, if you start to incorporate small tactics into your leadership style, your employees will soon recognize that you have their best interests in mind. Learn from them, empower them, and work together with them. Your employees will give you trust and their highest quality of work when you open up to them.

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