Lesson #30

The Golden Rule of Trust and Respect: You've Got to Give to Get

Earning your employees' trust and respect is neither easy nor automatic; it doesn't happen just because you're the boss or a benevolent dictator. It requires true effort, it must be genuine, and most important, it must be based on your actions—not just your words.

One way to engender trust is to encourage your employees to talk behind your back. Although that may sound like you're proactively fostering the beginnings of a coup d'état, behind- the-back venting can be both constructive and therapeutic if framed correctly.

There are some simple and effective methods to encouraging “employee back-talk time.” I discovered when I was CEO of OfficeMax that I could control this process by structuring a protocol by which all my direct reports could have an open forum to take their best shots at me. I created early on something I called an operating committee. This was composed of my direct reports and other key corporate managers and executives who had to carry out company mandates and run the place day in and day out.

I attended only one operating committee meeting, during which I made a statement that took less than a minute. I simply said that this would be my first and last appearance at “your” weekly meetings, and that the group would set its own agenda going forward. I emphasized, however, that there should be back-talk time on every agenda during which participants could vent their frustrations and talk about ...

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