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How to connect to your employees as a new leader

The first priority for any new leader should be establishing trust with their employees. Communicate your vision, be transparent, have open and honest conversations.

30 Jan 2023 | 4 min read

The first priority for any new leader should be establishing trust with their employees. Communicating their vision, being transparent, having open and honest conversations, and building a sense of community can all help new leaders build trust and connections with their people from day one. “Those [CEOs] who build deeper connections and free lines of communication with employees will thrive, and those that don’t, will be left behind,” says Nicole Alvino, CEO, Firstup. “C-level executives must build trust through sincerity and authenticity.”


Share your vision early and often

Do your employees understand what your vision as a new leader is for the business? “CEOs we work with are often surprised to learn that many employees are unaware of the company’s vision,” says Elizabeth Baskin, CEO and Executive Creative Director at Tribe, Inc. “These leaders feel like they’re talking about the vision constantly, and they probably are, though mostly in meetings with other members of the executive team. The further employees are from the C-suite, the less likely they are to understand your vision or even know you have one.” It’s therefore crucial that new leaders prioritise effectively communicating their vision for the company’s growth and success with their employees “not just once, but on an ongoing basis,” says Baskin.


Build a culture of transparency

“Whether you are taking over a small department, an entire division, a company, or even a Boy Scout troop, the first thing you must get is the trust of the members of that entity,” says Jim Dougherty, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management. One way new leaders can do this is by committing to building a culture of transparency. “Deliver honest and straightforward information in real time, while encouraging employee input and feedback to help evolve processes and continue innovating,” says Alvino. “Actively listen and communicate with sincerity to your employees. Reflect on your progress and note opportunities to improve. Employees will recognise signs of insincerity, and will lose trust immediately.”


Engage in a two-way dialogue 

“Too many new leaders believe they’re expected to know the answer without input or guidance. Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Dougherty, who emphasises the importance of engaging employees in a two-way conversation from the get-go. He suggests that leaders ask employees questions like “If you were put into my role tomorrow, what would be the first three things you’d do and why?” or “What are the three biggest barriers to our success, and what are our three biggest opportunities we have?” “New leaders must remember that many of the best insights on how to fix a company lie with employees further down the org chart,” says Dougherty. “Creating a trusting, honest dialogue with these key personnel should be every new leader’s top priority.” Look for appropriate tools that enable you to have these conversations, too. Be aware that ‘ask me anything’ sessions and town halls are one way to communicate, but often only highlight opinions of those confident enough to speak up and may give you certain perspectives. Ideally you want an always-on forum which surfaces a wider range of voices, and that allows you to engage in a 2-way conversation, not just top down broadcasts.


Let your people get to know you

One of the best ways to get to know your employees? Let them get to know you, too. “We trust people we know, and one of the best ways for employees to feel like they know you is to share some personal details about your life. Let them know about your interests outside work, your family, your dog,” says Baskin. “These sorts of glimpses into who leaders are as people are a powerful way to create human connections.” Lewis adds that leaders shouldn’t be afraid to be vulnerable, noting that leaders who reveal their challenges and mistakes are seen as more approachable. “The ability to understand and relate to your employees and other managers can help you not only connect with them but also put your people in the best position to succeed,” says Manning. “In my experience, showing empathy can also enable you to more easily identify employees' true strengths and in what scenarios you can trust them to execute an idea.”


Connect and create community at scale

“A great employee experience can make or break an employee’s decision to stay or go [in the wake of change],” says Alvino, who stresses the importance of adopting technology that allows leaders to build a community in a dispersed workforce.. “[Create] a sense of belonging in virtual spaces, so that employees can receive and access information, as well as have a place to go for engaging with colleagues, managers and the company,” she says. “Go beyond the corporate intranet or email blasts and instead deploy tools that make it easy to broadcast information in real-time, on multiple channels and devices. CEOs must shift from simply disseminating information to starting meaningful conversations that will inspire employees to take action.” The trick is getting to know your employees in a way that feels authentic, at scale. Leaders need to understand the nuances of different peoples’ lived experiences to build genuine empathy, but also get an accurate bigger picture of the wider trends within their organisation. Rungway, for example, is an always-on and open forum meaning conversations are visible to all within the organisation. Leaders can see discussions taking place, or choose to interact directly with their people on a variety of topics, which helps make leaders more visible.

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