My husband tells people that one of the reasons he married me is because I’m the most honest person he has ever met. He first saw me at an open-mic blues jam where I sang. Later that night, he witnessed me kindly tell an interested party, “I’m old enough to be your mother,” and then pull out my license to prove it. My husband thought, “Now this is a woman I can trust!”

In my professional life, I have capitalized on this strength. As an Executive Coach, I am paid to tell the truth. Human resources professionals and sponsoring managers call me to build trust with their leaders, provide honest feedback, and develop leadership skills. Their leaders grant me this privilege in part because I am external and not immersed in their daily lives. In contrast, many managers feel they don’t have this luxury. They have to build and maintain employee trust and truth day after day, year after year.

This point was illustrated during a conversation I had last year with a sponsoring manager for one of my coaching engagements. When I asked this executive about the change he wanted to see in his middle manager, he clearly described the behavior he didn’t want to see. Upon further probing, he did outline the specific desired outcomes. When asked if he had shared this information with his direct report, he admitted communicating some of the constructive feedback and general behavioral expectations, but not the specifics. He had been concerned that the trust in their relationship wasn’t strong enough, and that the whole truth, if not delivered and/or received correctly, could possibly back-fire and blow up, causing irreparable damage and costing him his employee.

This sponsoring manager is not alone. Over the course of my coaching career, I have worked with several managers with the same concerns. Not only do they want to improve their leaders’ skills, but they also need to build stronger relationships with them to maintain development progress and keep communication open long after our coaching engagement is over. So how can managers build trust with their direct reports, and communicate the truth about expectations and performance in a way that keeps the relationship positive and productive? Here are “Five Cs to Increase Leadership Trust and Truth,” which in turn, improve employee relationships and results.

Five Cs to Increase Leadership Trust and Truth

1.   Caring:

  • Learn your employee’s values, perspectives, strengths/weaknesses, motivators/demotivators, career goals, manager/employee relationship preferences, and “hot buttons” to avoid.
  • Genuinely communicate caring for, confidence in, and commitment to your employee. Capitalize on his/her strengths, and be positive during interactions.

2.   Clarity:

  • Communicate business and skill development goals/expectations in job-specific, behavioral terms. Specify what you want to see him/her do and not do. Revisit, revise, and repeat!
  • Take time to verify his/her understanding of expectations, and determine the training, tools, and support he/she needs to meet and exceed expectations.

3.   Courage:

  • Let go and trust your employee to perform. It takes trust to build trust!
  • Commit and make a plan to observe and provide honest, specific feedback on a regular basis. Share all key feedback. Reveal blind spots. Don’t leave important “stones” unturned, words unspoken, and lessons unlearned.

4.   Compassion:

  • Deliver feedback with kindness and respect. Avoid “hot buttons.” Ensure your employee feels comfortable discussing issues without fear of retribution or rejection.
  • Engage in two-way dialogue by asking open-ended questions. Listen to how the employee feels about the feedback, and how he/she struggles to meet expectations. Empathize by communicating your understanding of the employee’s feelings and the reasons behind them.

5.   Connection:

  • Encourage and initiate frequent conversation. Check in weekly with your employee, especially after providing constructive feedback. Recognize and reward success, and communicate faith in continued growth. Leverage employee strengths to close performance gaps, and offer ways to deal with obstacles and constant change.
  • Share your own stories of leadership development. Communicate how you are learning from and growing with your employees. Be a role-model for continuous learning and improvement.

I have seen managers improve employee relationships and results by committing to these “5 Cs to Increase Leadership Trust and Truth.” These leaders share caring, clarity, courage, compassion, and connection with their direct reports on a daily basis. They trust that “the truth will set their employees free” to discuss and learn from their mistakes, and own and deliver desired outcomes. They create honest, trusting partnerships with their employees, who in turn, feel more secure, develop more skills, deliver more results, and build more trust and truth with their own direct reports. And so…the positive cycle continues.

Meanwhile, my husband and I are still happily married. In contrast to my role as an external executive coach, in this relationship, I am “internal” – on site day in and day out. Like internal managers, I am presented with the opportunity and choice every day to build and preserve trust, and tell and receive the truth within a sometimes stressful, chaotic, and emotionally-charged environment. So far, my commitment to trust and truth has paid off. We’re 13 years and not counting!