Trust is an open door. Every new commander or senior leader of mine in the Air Force always shared their ‘open door’ policy with me within moments of our first sit down. It was so predictable that I struggled to not laugh when that was brought up during the meeting. As a young non-commissioned officer, it was humorous because I never saw anyone actually take advantage of this and as a senior non-commissioned officer, it took on a whole other dimension of trust.
And then I entered the civilian world and learned this is something that is truly everywhere.
I will admit that I have also said this same statement as I became more senior as it was almost taboo to not say it. However, I would always follow it up with a discussion on trust. It went like this: “My door is open to you and everyone else if you have anything you would like to discuss. We have a chain of command, but if you feel you need to bounce something off of me, are having issues with your chain, or simply want to clarify a policy of mine, please feel free. In fact, my supervisor is ‘so-and-so’ and I encourage you to contact her if you feel you need to. I understand that you don’t know me yet and I haven’t earned your trust, but I will work to do that so that you never walk out of this building with an issue I could have helped with.”
My number one priority was to create and maintain a culture of trust.
This topic always makes me think about the Margaret Thatcher quote that says, “Power is like being a lady … if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Saying you have an open door is like saying you “trust me” but not truly earning it. We all know trust doesn’t work that way. If you are truly trusted, people will bring their issues to you even if your door is closed. So how do you earn their trust?
The most effective way I have discovered is to do these three things. Be visible, be interested and be involved. Every leader whom I have trusted has exemplified this and every time trust has worked to my favour, I was doing this as well.
Be visible: When you are the leader, everyone knows when you are there or not. In organisations where trust is lacking, people tend to point out the fact the boss is never around. Make it a point to get to where your team is. If they are on a different shift, alter your schedule for a few days and learn what their life is like. Actually, show up where they are working and learn what their work environment is like.
Trust is an open door
Be interested: When you show up and have made yourself visible, you also have to show you care. Ask questions about what they are doing or how they do things. Pay attention to their struggles. If you spend enough time with your team, you are bound to learn about something that makes their job more difficult. It could be a policy, a lack of resources or even a lack of training. Most of the time, you can help with this impediment or at least provide the big picture as to why it has to be done.
Be involved: Ironically, by leaving my desk and getting involved in the daily routine of my teams has saved me a lot of time in the long run. I was able to stomp out many of the small fires that sparked right then and there. These would be the same types of issues that were brought to my attention much later when they had become full-fledged blazes and much harder to handle. Getting involved helped me to see the impacts of my decisions down at the lowest levels. We tend to think our “simple” request for a deliverable is no big deal, but it adds busy work to those who are overworked or otherwise should be doing the important work of the organisation.
Being visible, interested and involved is a strategy that leaders should be briefing to their team in lieu of how open their door is. If your door is so open, walk through it and go see what your team is doing. That is how trust is earned.