When Trust is Gone

Of all the things a person needs to be an Authentic Leader none is more important than the trust of the people they lead. They actually cannot lead anyone who doesn’t have a high level of trust in them. 

That’s because a sign that someone is an Authentic Follower is a commitment to the leader. Human beings don’t have the emotional ability to commit to someone they do not trust. 

People follow a leader for what the leader does for them and the organization. When they see a leader who makes decisions solely, or even mostly, for their own benefit then the trust erodes quickly. What many people in leadership positions fail to understand is that they are under a microscope and it’s the people they are trying to lead who are looking at them through that microscope. They need to know if they can trust their leader. 

They listen to what the leader says and look even closer at what they do. When the words and actions don’t align the perceived integrity of the leader takes a dive and trust goes with it. 

Authentic Leaders intentionally work to earn the trust of their people. They also demonstrate that they trust their people. 

What many people in leadership positions forget is that trust is a two-way street. While they want and often even expect their people to trust them they are less than willing to return that trust to their people. 

Most of the time people won’t explicitly tell someone they are trusted. So people generally go with their feelings. We can “just kinda tell” whether someone trusts us or not. We look for “signs” that indicate we are trusted. Things like being allowed to make decisions, call an audible on a decision that had already been made, or perhaps even work from home on occasion. 

When people are not allowed to make the most basic decision without running it past their manager (notice I didn’t say leader because leaders don’t operate this way) they feel as if they are not trusted. People who are micro-managed don’t feel trusted. People who must document every minute of their day don’t feel trusted. 

When people feel as if their manager or leader does not trust them then they will not trust their leader. It’s almost impossible to trust someone who doesn’t trust you. Absent that trust there can be no commitment. Absent that commitment there can be no Authentic Followership. Absent that followership there is no Authentic Leadership. 

You may call yourself a leader, you may hold a leadership position, you may have a big important title but if no one is following then you aren’t leading. 

If you cannot trust your people then you should have no expectation that they will trust you. If you cannot trust your people then maybe you’ve hired the wrong people. It‘s also possible that you’ve not yet earned the right to lead. 

Either way, when trust is gone so is the basic element required for a committed relationship between a leader and their people. Building trust requires effort. It requires time. It requires consistently doing what you say you will when you say you will do it. 

If you’re not willing to put in the time and make the effort then you will always struggle as a leader and your people will always struggle to follow you. 

Leadership Slippage

I recently received a call from a very effective sales leader. He was frustrated with the recent performance of his sales team and wanted to talk about a couple of his people in particular. I asked how many of his people he thought were underperforming and he said that actually all of them were but some were doing worse than others. 

I asked him what he thought was going on and he said he wasn’t sure. That’s what he wanted to talk to me about. He was surprised when I said that while I didn’t know exactly where the team went off the rails I was pretty sure I knew the source of the problem. 

I’m thinking he wasn’t too happy when I told him that he was the likely source. 

As with most sales leaders he has always accepted part of the credit for his team’s success. But it must worth both ways. If you’re a sales leader the first place you should look if all or most of your team is underperforming is in the mirror. 

Think if it this way. There is only one thing all your salespeople definitely have in common. Your salespeople are all unique individuals. Depending on the structure of the sales organization they may even sell different products to different markets.

The sales leader is the one thing they definitely have in common. That’s why when an entire sales team is slipping I look at the leader. 

I asked him what HE was doing differently. He said he was doing what he always had. He hadn’t changed and neither had the level of leadership he provided to his team. So we started talking back and forth and I eventually asked about his conversations with his team. He said he had asked several members of his team where they were struggling. He asked about specific customers and where in the sales process they were with particular prospects. 

He said that only added to his frustration because they didn’t seem to know. 

I stopped him cold when I asked him, “when did YOU start accepting ‘I don’t know’ as an acceptable answer?” I pushed my point by asking him when he had stopped holding his team accountable for knowing every detail about their territory and their customers. 

He said he didn’t realize that he had. 

That is an incredibly common mistake among all leaders. Leaders have the same ability to slip into bad habits as the people they lead. Authentic Leaders encourage their people to analyze their own performance from time to time but forget that they must do the same. 

When was the last time you paused to ask yourself the following questions? What’s working for you? What’s not working? What good habit have you let slip away? Have you replaced it with a bad habit? What circumstances have changed that you have not adjusted to? How have you positively impacted the people you lead in the last 30 days? 

It’s human nature for some slippage in performance to happen from time to time. That’s where having a coach or a mentor can really come in handy. They can help you identify the slippage before it becomes a problem. If you’re not willing to ask yourself those questions a caring mentor will. 

What many people in Leadership positions don’t realize is that slippage can happen to them as well as their people. That’s why leaders need mentors too. I’ve never met anyone, regardless of age, experience, or level of success who didn’t benefit from having a coach or a mentor. 

Has your level of leadership slipped lately? Slipping into occasional bad habits doesn’t make you a weak leader, it makes you a human being. Being human is a pretty darn good thing to be, especially when you’re trying to lead other humans.