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The Trouble with Trust

In my last post I started out writing about trust and it sort of morphed into something else. Let’s see if I can stay on track this time…

Trust! It’s vital to any positive relationship. While I suppose we can have some sort of relationship without trust it seems to me that it wouldn’t be a relationship that we would truly value.

The trouble with trust is that it is fragile. Very, very fragile.

If you’re actually going to lead people then trust is even more vital. I don’t know a leader, any type of leader, who would intentionally destroy the trust of their people and yet, destroy it they do!

Whether by accident, by mistake or by simple thoughtlessness, trust is damaged by leaders every day. Once the damage is done it can take years and tremendous effort to repair it.

So what are the “accidental” destroyers of trust? Well here are just a few “accidents” that leaders sometimes make without even thinking.

Broken Promises
Your leadership is only as good as your word. This one seems obvious but it depends on the definition someone applies to the word “promise.” What you as a leader might think is a kind of throw-away noncommittal answer your people may take as a promise. Make your communications clear, concise and definite to avoid this issue.

Changing the “Rules”
There are two challenges here, one is actually changing the rules in the middle of the game and the other one is applying the rules differently to different people. It has taken me a long time to understand how “gray” life really is, black and white rules, orderly processes and zero “exceptions” would be a easy way to live. It’s also an unrealistic way to lead. Your ability to apply “the rules” equally will determine your effectiveness as a leader. So if I were you, I’d be perusing your organization’s policy manual to get rid of unnecessary rules and regulations. The more unneeded “rules” you have the more likely you are to put yourself in a tough spot when it comes to applying then equally.

Shirking Your Responsibilities
Your people won’t do more than they see you doing. You can ask your people to move mountains and they will, IF they see you pushing with them. If they get to the mountain only to see you in your LazyBoy then don’t expect great things from them. While you’re relaxing your credibility is going down the drain and the trust of your people is going with it.

Public Criticism
I get the fact that sometimes your emotions “win” and you just let loose with a barrage of criticism in front of the team. That causes lots of problems but here is the big one: not only did you destroy the trust of the person you criticized, you destroyed the trust of the rest of the team too. They are just waiting for their “turn” to be flogged in front of their colleagues. The likely result is that they don’t trust you enough to be honest with you. Their efforts begin to center around protecting themselves… from you.

Avoided Conflict
This is a hard one because it is kind of counterintuitive. On the surface, conflict would seem to erode trust but the opposite is actually true. If you’re an Authentic Servant Leader then you care enough to confront with compassion. That builds trust because your people always know where they stand and they know what is expected of them. If you are a conflict avoider then you are NOT helping anyone. You’re simply allowing the conflict to fester and grow. Whether you realize it or not unresolved conflict negatively affects your relationships with the people around you. No one knows what you really think, they don’t know where they stand with you and as a result, their trust level goes down.

Running from or ignoring conflict is no way to lead. Do yourself a favor and stop considering conflict to be about fighting and start considering it to be about resolution, relationship and trust building. If you can’t build trust you’ll find it very difficult to lead, some might even say impossible to lead.

I could go on and on about situations that harm trust. It is just so darn easy to damage and so darn hard to repair. So I’ll leave you with a bit of advice from Dale Carnegie: when you’re wrong admit it quickly and empathically.

If you’re leading people you’re going to make mistakes. Some of those mistakes will make it harder for your people to trust you. Failing to acknowledge your mistake harms your credibility even more. 

You’re people actually DO want to trust you, make it as easy for them as you possibly can.

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