Know. Like. Trust.

“We have been home like never before.”

Not true.

We, this generation – most probably will answer “yes”. Watch one episode of any TV Western-themed TV series of the 1960’s or 1970’s, and you can see that we are not the first set of humans on the planet to go through a time where travel was restricted (man-made or the lack thereof), food supplies were questionable, fear of contracting illness and the absence of steady work were all issues that other generations have grappled with. For some, this period of time has stirred up anxiety while for others it has brought apathy, a “not gonna happen to me” attitude. The later being the most troubling as the actions of some could have devastating impact on the many, if not all.

Leadership has been put into question at this time – as in all times of crisis.  But in a time when information is ignored, beaten down, or completely dismissed, we need leaders to unify the masses and talk to us in ways that are simple to understand, separating the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff.  Confidence that we all need to get through economic, health and educational uncertainty is so sorely needed.

In business, trusted leaders are key to the revitalization of each business and to the economy on the whole.  Open communication during and after the crisis and clear plans to be interactive with lines of communication are important for employees, customers, vendors and more.  Confidence in the “5 W’s” – the when, where, what, why and how questions on the manner in which and IF a business will reopen – beginning “Business as Unusual” can create a larger following, a broader audience and a more understanding base to reopen to.

Trust in business is built largely on a leader’s level of competency and on the moral and ethical nature he or she possesses and brings to the proverbial business “table”.  A company built on a strong foundation will operate as its own community – concern for self, others, the greater good and (if present) a benevolent leader.  Every person in that company community needs to posses some level of understanding of “the common goal” that the entire group is working towards.  The ability to plan, assess progress and promote the company goal will culminate in a measurable performance evaluated by industry standards.  This builds trust – from the ground up, which hopefully radiates out to everyone the company comes in contact with.

The key to achieving that “Know, Like and Trust” of a leader that is so important for business growth is communication.   In a time where so many feel that they do not know what shoe will drop next, communication helps to focus a company message.  When a leader has a clear command over the vision and mission of the business, that leader has the information that employees, clients and vendors need to hear.  Second guessing among staff regarding rules or guidelines, clients not knowing about Plan B operational changes, and vendors fretting over when they will receive payments for goods delivered are all things that can threaten the credibility of a small business. 

Leaders who effectively communicate:

1. Explain why’s and how’s – what the decision is and how you arrived at that decision and why others were rejected.  So you’ve heard this thing, “We’re all in this together”?  Nothing could be more true for small businesses.  All businesses are the sum of their parts but small businesses feel that over and above – no shareholders investing millions; growth rests on everyone working and meeting goals.  Cite experts in your field, credible resources that you, as a leader, have consulted with.

2. Be positive! Negative talk brings down any form of communication.  There’s a saying: “It’s not the water around the ship that sinks it, it is the water that gets inside.”  Negative talk can get inside your teams heads and run rampant – nothing spreads more quickly than bad news.

3. Talk about the future results and what happens when they are met.  Acknowledge the problem but don’t make it a catastrophe – the sun came up so you have another day to make things better.  This shows your team that you know how to solve not only the problem at hand but any that may crop up. They have something and someone they can rely on because they have been told the mission, the vision, the problems and the solutions – this can replace overwhelming anxiety.

4. Integrity.  Trust is forever tied to performing ethically, in a moral code – doing what is right.  Accountability begins with self.  When speaking to your teams, say “I” and tell them why you have taken the position you have; include you the leader as part of the team – not someone overseeing or above what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis. 

5. Don’t play the Blame Game.  Accept errors as a part of the team, create a plan to fix the situation and design process and operational changes to ensure that the same errors have a significant chance of not occurring again. 

Authenticity always speaks to a leader’s ethics and integrity.  Snake-Oil Salesman may have worked in the time when instant communication meant a week or two of research on the product he was selling.  In today’s world, fact-checkers and nay-sayers need to look only at arm’s length to find all the information they need in their phones.   Presenting what you know, how you know it and why you have decided to take action in a certain way is the clearest way to engage your audience and convey the level of authenticity you are willing to work at.  This will also allow them to engage with you and measure their level of commitment towards your common goal.

Building trust with your team begins with authentic communication.  Trust is maintained with decisive action backed by clear and concise reasoning and continued communication.  Sharing information helps to strengthen the foundation on which you started your business; responsible problem solving shows leadership and connection with others.  In a time when there is so much that remains unclear or uncertain, rise up and be a leader that sets an example and inspires growth of self and your team.