How to build trust with direct reports as a new manager

Here’s how new managers can get a grip.


Let’s be honest – being a new manager is an exciting yet daunting task. The most valuable piece of information that you can have as a new manager is the understanding that you don’t know everything. Even the most gifted people who run businesses and teams, from start-ups to Fortune 500s, know that they don’t have all the answers. This idea is the key to unlocking perspective as a new manager.

Perspective allows you to understand your gaps so that you’re able to effectively support your team. It also enables you to understand how your direct reports work and what the best way is to support them in the pursuit of their goals.

What can new managers do to build trust with direct reports from day one?

Embrace the mindset of a servant leader

At Cognizant Softvision, we embrace the Agile Scrum methodology to deliver for our client partners. In Scrum, the concept of the servant leader is central to the way the team operates. The servant leader focuses on building a foundation of trust that empowers direct reports to make decisions and become leaders on their project teams. In his essay “The Servant as Leader”, Robert K. Greenleaf wrote:

“Servant leadership is characterized by leaders who put the needs of a group over their own. These leaders foster trust among employees by holding themselves accountable, helping others develop, showing appreciation, sharing power, and listening without judging. While serving and leading seem like conflicting activities, these leaders are effective initiators of action.”

This type of leadership requires empathy and directness that takes time to build, just like you see in any high-performing team. By embracing this mindset, new managers can start their management journey with a framework centered around serving the team and its needs. A critical input to this would be starting with developing relationships with their team members.

Establish and begin to develop a quality relationship with each team member

A strong manager is one who is continually cultivating relationships with his or her direct reports. Strong managers understand that the manager-individual contributor relationship is like any other relationship they have. It needs to continually grow. Once you become a manager, it is important to have individual conversations with each team member. Understanding each person’s motivation and career aspirations influences how you can help them reach their goals.

It’s natural that not all team members will be open from the very first day of working together. The most important thing is to persevere and to have a sincere desire to understand what drives the individual. Therefore, listening must be a priority. As a new manager, you’re not there to determine their career trajectory, but rather – to support and help them on their journey. This requires listening and understanding how they like to be communicated with in your one-on-ones.

It’s also important to convey how you, as a manager, like to work and be approached. This is an opportunity to share your management philosophy, your expectations, and how you’d like them to contribute to the team at large.

Discussing goals and outcomes

Goals and aspirations don’t come out in a single meeting. This is a culmination of several conversations driven by those your direct reports. As a new manager, it is your responsibility to give your team a venue for sharing and collaborating on their career goals. Not only is this an opportunity to hear what motivates your team – it’s also a chance to gather information about how you can enable those goals through things like team planning and funding for training.

If goals are set, it’s important to keep tabs on progress. When are your team members expected to deliver results? What KPIs will be most important to track? These are areas that you can help develop with your direct reports. It’s important to note that goals can change over time. This is why having a constant cadence of communication is important to build with your team.

Develop a culture of feedback

As you develop trust with your team, an output of that will be giving and receiving feedback. As a new manager, one of the first things you should take on is fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable, heard, and motivated. Once you’ve started to create trust within your team, feedback is welcomed rather than feared or rejected. The team knows feedback is there to help them grow as individuals and push along the initiatives that they are part of.

Find a mentor

In any organization structure, your support system starts with your manager. Just like the role you’re playing with your direct reports, your manager should be enabling your growth and providing support in your decision making.

As a new manager who has never been in a management position, you’re going to come across things that you’ve never experienced before. These might be issues with team dynamics or general personnel management. As previously mentioned, it’s natural not to know everything. One strategy that is often overlooked is finding a mentor. This is typically someone further down the path of management – either within your organization or externally – who you can talk to. When you have access to someone’s experience in a mentorship capacity, you can bounce ideas off of them and talk through the situations that you’re dealing with. Your mentor can help you explore areas that you haven’t examined and develop strategies that may work with your team.

What are some common mistakes that often cause new managers to lose trust with their direct reports?

At some point in your career, you’ve probably been a part of miscommunication. You understand that it can fracture trust and lead to undesired outcomes. As a new manager, embracing tough situations and conversations is part of your new responsibility. Being transparent and having honest conversations with your team is a way of realigning where communication may have failed in order to start rebuilding trust. This is no easy task, and one that most new managers want to avoid. By embracing transparency early on in your journey as a manager, you can build a framework in your relationships to avoid potential miscommunication.

As a new manager, you have an exciting and challenging path ahead of you. Putting a premium on developing relationships with your team members will take you far in establishing trust and helping them reach their professional goals.