Dave Conrad: How to be a fair and trusted manager

October 5, 2018

Dear Dave: Where I work, managers are not trusted and respected. Employees look at their managers as people that would throw them under the bus if they need an excuse for something that happened. There is a “them and us” type of culture and it is very adversarial. Communication is a joke, because workers see the information managers provide as just a way to control them. I am new to management, but I can’t work in such a mistrusting mess. How can the managers gain some trust and be considered fair? — P

Dear P: I understand exactly what you are saying. First of all, you cannot demand respect. It is earned every day. I believe the most respected and trusted managers go to bat for their employees when it is needed and put their employees first. The best managers are loyal to their staff and provide fair, consistent and honorable treatment and decisions.

You can read a thousand management books and realize the same themes seem to ring true about treating employees justly and equitably — managers must stand up for their employees and never throw their people out in the line of fire, just to save their own skin. If employees are doing wrong, they straighten them out. If employees are doing well, they praise and reward them. Over time, employees will realize that the treatment they will receive is a direct result of how they behaved.

The best managers are also emotionally intelligent. Trusted and respected managers do not fall apart in a crisis and they become cool and analytical when everyone else is running around saying, “We are all going to die!” When a daunting challenge is before them, they start to look at the causes and factors, and try to make sense out of things before they respond. This means their employees can have faith — even when facing the most trying of challenges — that their manager will serve as a rational and calm leader who helps them see the big picture to best figure out what needs to be done.

I think it is common for employees to compare their manager with other managers in their company. They want to know that their leader is the best in the management pack and that he or she will balance the need for productivity with a desire to build strong, trusting relationships. Employees that suffer the negative treatment dealt out by exceptionally malicious bosses will hightail it out of the department or company as quickly as possible. Far too often, managers wonder why they are losing good employees when the sad news is that they are the reason. Simply, good employees will not — at least, should not — work for bad managers.

Building trust and fairness

As much as we want our bosses to be stellar examples of world class leadership, I think we need to do a little introspection and dig deep inside to see how we, ourselves, stack up in the fairness and trust department. It is quite difficult for a manager to lead a pack of needy workers that expect everything to be handed to them, and also expect rewards for performing very little quality work. We all know those types of employees that want their manager to hand them the easiest assignments and let them coast through the work week. I respect those employees that just take care of business no matter how hard the tasks may be. It could be that hard-working employees appreciate the fact that, if they want respectability, fairness, and trust from their boss, they need to demonstrate those things, too.

I believe fair and respected managers talk straight, act upright, and show integrity in everything they do. The acid test for their success is determining if they deal with people and things in a quality manner and retain a “sense of humility” as they do their work. They are not brash, boastful, or loud; rather, they are calm and rational people who can be taken at their word. They are authentic and do not make themselves up to be what they are not. There is a lot to be said for managers that practice a form of quiet leadership and do exactly what they said they would do — without seeking fanfare, spotlights, and trophies.

I suggest that you do an inventory of who you are as a manager and what you do exceptionally well — both for people as well as productivity. Then, I would create a checklist of the things you absolutely do not want to be and then look for ways to avoid them. Essentially, you will be determining the “more” that you want and the “less” you do not want. Somewhere in this mental inventory you will discover the you that you want and need to be.

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