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Six Trusted Leader Moments of Truth

Have you ever had a conversation with a boss and their reaction or language changed how you felt about them in that moment?

In marketing, a moment of truth is any opportunity a customer (or potential customer) has to form an impression about a company, brand, product or service. Marketers use moments of truth to create positive, customer-centric outcomes.

But it's not just when customers interact with our brand - moments of truth also occur when employees interact with their leaders.

During my qualitative research within organisations, I have come across six stand-out moments of truth, when a leader is seen as someone employees can trust.  These are pivotal moments that effectively bring out employees who might be hiding in their shell to step forward and bring their full commitment to their work. It's the moment when a boss literally took their breath away (but in a good, non-romantic kind of way) signalling that they are a person of high character.

These positive interactions indicate to employees that their leader supports them and will be there for them.

I believe that leaders need to authentically create these critical moments to foster healthy and productive team cultures - an environment where employees are trusted to thrive.

The six moments of truth for leadership interactions are:

1. When your employees make a mistake

One of the defining moments in a working relationship is the first time a leader reacts to an employee's mistake.  If there is cynicism, anger, frustration or even a hint of a dirty look, it sets up the foundations for a rocky working relationship.

Leaders who regard problems as an opportunity to learn, empower their direct reports to continue to share their mistakes, but to also be open to learning from them.  Being able to do this consistently is no easy feat - but it will go a long to building strong relationships with your direct reports.

2. When you visit an employee at their place of work

Visibility is key to building trust and ensuring accountability and safety. People believe what they can see. Employees need to observe that they are in a safe place – where there are no secrets, their boss is supportive and people aren’t going behind their backs. And that leadership cares about employees.
One way employees measure the visibility of their boss is when they make the effort to come out and see them working.
This is critical because employees want their leaders to see them hard at work and to better understand their challenges, expectations and constraints that they face daily.

Making an effort to see employees working (particularly, frontline employees) and praising them for little things means a big deal. It shows that you are willing to better understand their work experience, in order to create processes that work with them, not against them.
3. When you remember their partner's or kid's names
One of the highest acknowledgements a leader can make to any employee is a reference to something important to them outside of work.  This could be remembering their favourite football team (low value) right through to remembering their pet's name, partner's name or for even extra brownie points their children's names.
Not everyone has a good memory to ensure this level of recognition with lots of employees, but when you first do it (and repeat it), your employee will respect you pretty much forever. In fact, the more employees you oversee, the more weight being able to do this carries.
4. When you write a personal thank-you letter
If there is one thing employees will treasure (for life) is a handwritten, heartfelt note from their boss.  I've come across employees who keep them in a special place and refer to them annually or when they're feeling blue. Interestingly, they never throw them out.  
Of course, this is difficult to do if you have more than 30 people to oversee.  One leader told me it would take her two full days to write out the letters.  She would even keep little notes throughout the year, so she could reference those anecdotes in every single letter.
5. When you defend someone
A couple of years ago, I clearly remember interviewing a man in his mid-forties who was getting quite teary. It was because his boss took the side of another team leader that he wasn't doing a good job.
At no stage had his actual boss questioned him or talked to him about the issue. He automatically jumped to conclusions and sided with an aggressive leader who was known to complain about everyone. The man I was interviewing had been in the organisation for 20 years. He was loyal, quietly spoken and a hard worker. Literally, he was heart-broken that the head of his department had presumed he had done the wrong thing.
If you are in a toxic workplace culture, where other leaders openly criticise employees, the moment you defend your employee, is the moment you elevate your working relationship. Standing up to bullies and protecting your employees will be a moment they never forget.  And you will earn their respect and loyalty instantly.
6. When you publicly praise someone for the first time
While it may be true that not everyone likes to receive praise publicly, in my experience the majority of people do.
When an employee is unexpectedly acknowledged publicly, it helps them to feel more valued by their leader.
We spend so much of our waking hours at workplaces.  Leaders who take the time to have high-value interactions with their employee build trust and strong relationships. Not only that, they create unforgettable experiences that ensure their employees will value their leadership for decades to come.
As humans being we all want to be seen, heard and appreciated.  Those times when you do that for your employees in a thoughtful, caring manner can be extremely memorable and positive for your people.

If you want more tips on how to build strong connections with your employees, pick up a copy of my latest book Trusted to Thrive: How leaders create connected and accountable teams.
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