My Executive Coach Asked:  "Do You Trust Your Boss?"
July 21, 2014

My Executive Coach Asked: "Do You Trust Your Boss?"

by Brian de Haaff

Not all that long ago, I was privileged (or cursed, depending on your point of view) to be assigned an executive coach. Ever year a few leaders in the organization were identified as candidates for professionally assisted advancement with the help of an outside leadership consultant. It was my lucky year.

I was told that I was a “star” but needed to learn how to better fit into the culture of the place. That’s why the company was making a sizable investment in a coach. I was open to the idea as I thought I would learn from it (and honestly I felt a bit special having my own go-to adviser).

We agreed to get together in San Francisco for our first meeting. After a few pleasantries and some context setting, my newly appointed executive coach slowly put her elbows on the conference room table and leaned in.

She calmly stared right into my eyes and asked, “Do you trust your boss?”

I took a few seconds to let the question settle in. A number of thoughts went through my mind, but this is the one that I kept coming back to:

If you were “my coach” that would not be the first question you would ask.

I took a deep breath and leaned back across the table after her surprise-query and told her the truth. In retrospect, it is not the answer that mattered but how I came to my conclusion. And that trust framework is what I want to share with you.

Ask yourself whether you trust your boss and consider the following guidelines for reaching your own conclusion. While trust takes time to build and can be broken quickly, I suggest that it is more black and white than gray. Either you do or you do not.

It is likely that if you trust your boss she scores highly in the following areas. This assumes that she has integrity that is aligned with your moral compass. If that is broken, forget about the rest.

Explains purpose
I have seen too many managers get caught up in the what rather than the why. That is often because it’s hard to see the bigger picture, but sometimes it’s an easy way to hoard perceived power. The boss stays strong if he is the only one who knows why something is being done and simply has to shout out what should be done or how to do it. The most amazing team performances happen when everyone understands the higher purpose of a hard effort and the most trusted bosses understand this.

Generates space
All of us want autonomy to do the best job we can in our own way. This is the space we need to solve a problem or “work through it.” Autonomy helps us pursue an objective in a way that suits our intellectual and creative sensibilities. The best bosses give us the room we require to be our best. And when we have a problem or need assistance — they do not judge us but are there to do what they can to help us be great.

Provides assistance
Leadership is defined by helping people achieve more than what they thought was possible. And if a manager explains the higher purpose, sets stretch goals, and gives you the space to achieve them — there will be times when you need help. That’s how it is supposed to work and why you have a manager in the first place.

Throws credit
Great leaders deflect praise and give credit to others. They do this because they know that great efforts are almost always achieved by the team and that deflecting praise builds confidence and is the greatest reward for success. Sage managers are always looking out and are thinking about what is next and how to work in the interests of the team. And when you and the team deliver, everyone shines. The most admired bosses absorb blame and hand out praise.

Trust between a boss and an employee is based on history — the history of mutually beneficial interactions.

As a manager, focus on the areas above to improve your teams’ trust in you. And if you are like most working humans today and do have a boss, use the framework above to answer the question, “do you trust your boss?”

What has a boss done to build or destroy your trust? I would love to hear your story and what other guidelines you would add.

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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