Win the Boss's Trust from Day One

The boss is the enemy. She may try to show how warm and caring she is but deep down she’s just trying to squeeze the most work out of you for the least pay. What’s good for her is bad for you.

Sadly, that’s the view many otherwise intelligent people hold, too many.

Having been a boss for almost two decades, I can tell you it’s nonsense. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career but the one mistake I was never stupid enough to make was believing that I could advance my interests at my employee’s expense. And I’m quite sure there aren’t many bosses out there that stupid. They wouldn’t last long.

The truth is that building trust between my employees and me was always my first priority. It was in the nature of my position. I always knew that unless I could get my employees to trust me to be fair and honest, I couldn’t trust them to be fair and honest with me. My performance depended on the performance of my department and that depended on the performance of my people. And in the long run their performance always depended on how well I earned their trust. I can’t guarantee that you aren’t one of the hapless few saddled with a bad boss, but I’d be willing to lay heavy odds that your boss assigns top priority to earning your trust.

How do I know that? Frankly, if you’re in a professional position, you aren’t very valuable unless you’ve been at your job for at least a year or two and you aren’t going to stick around too long unless you trust your boss. A manager would have to be a fool not to work hard to earn your trust.

But I won’t kid you by claiming that you hold all the cards. Obviously your boss’s willingness to invest the time and effort of grooming you for more responsibility (read more interesting work, higher pay and greater opportunities) is proportionate to the level of trust she feels has been established between you and her. So as a smart, ambitious professional, your priority should be to do everything in your power to promote trust between you and her.

In writing this I called to mind the best people who worked under me over the years. Invariably, they were the ones who inspired deep trust in me from their earliest days on the job. I then tried to pinpoint what it was about them that inspired that trust. What follows are the five traits shared by most of my star employees.

1. Be Punctual.

The people who stand out most in my memory were fastidious about punctuality. I recognized it as consideration for the value of other people’s time which, in turn, showed that they placed high value on their own time. People who keep others waiting are also the ones who place the least value on their own time. I will readily confess to a strong bias in favor of punctual people.

2. Don’t Speak Ill of Others.

Yes, there are times when I have had good people come to me with bad things to say about co-workers, but they were always situations in which they were acting out of real concern for the safety and welfare of others or of the company (i.e. sexual harassment, embezzlement, heavy drug use, etc). Other than that, the least committed and reliable people were generally the ones who offered up the most negative comments about co-workers. And what they said was usually more revealing of their own flaws than of their intended victims.

3. Insist on Your Just Due.

Crises and deadlines have a way of cutting into a manager’s schedule. Often what suffers is the time set aside for personnel performance reviews, one of the most important of our tasks but one which rarely carries the red tag of “urgency”. On not a few occasions over the years I have been guilty of temporary delays in recognizing exceptional performance and, consequently, have had the opportunity to note another trait of my best people — an unflagging sense of self worth and insistence on fair recognition.

The movies portray stellar employee as too selfless to seek reward for their efforts, but the movies are wrong. In real life top employees insist firmly, albeit graciously, on being properly rewarded. In a perfect world they should never have to ask, but since we’re in the real world don’t let your performance and contributions get lost in the hurlyburly. Proper reward for top people is as good for the company as for the deserving employee. Don’t make a nuisance of yourself and, by all means, show patience and understanding for the plight of a harried boss, but do be firm in asking for proper recognition and reward. The kind of person who doesn’t slight her duty to the company also doesn’t overlook her duty to herself.

4. Show Interest in the Boss’s Experiences.

The interest was typically expressed through questions that would naturally occur to an intelligent person with a sincere interest in the company. “When did you start using the new system?”, for instance, or “Did you ever try a different approach?” or “Why did you choose to work in this department?”

Some may see it as brown-nosing, and maybe there was a bit of that in a few cases, but I honestly believe that the interest is a natural extension of a healthy interest in their own careers at the company. After all, what better way of understanding my concerns and of what they could expect as they progressed toward more responsibility. I must admit that when it came time for promotions, I was biased in favor or those who had shown that extra degree of interest.

5. Watch the Company’s Money.

Maybe turning out the lights in the office as you go home for the night saves only a few bucks a year but it does show that you are invested enough in the company to care about saving it money. Most of my best people showed this caring in countless little ways — using the back side of old memoes for scratch paper, stripping paper clips off documents before tossing them in the trash, avoiding long personal calls from the office. I’ve learned over the years that the smallest, most spontaneous actions are the most revealing. Anyone can make a show of doing the big things right, but only the really good people have the character to get the little things right. And character is what it’s all about.