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 Trust

I find it amazing how many people in Leadership Positions are not trusted. I find it amazing because building and maintaining trust just isn’t that hard. All you need to do is be honest. Do what you said you would do. Do it exactly when you said you would do it. Do those things every day of your life and presto… you have now created trust. 

Notice in that first sentence I said people in Leadership Positions…I didn’t say Leaders. That’s because true leaders, Authentic Leaders, people who actually lead, are trusted. They are trusted because they do what they say they will do. They do it when they say they will. They do not say yes when what they mean to say is no. 

They may occasionally fail at honoring a commitment but not because of a lack of effort. Their people reward that effort with their trust. 

The actions of the most trusted leaders always match their words. Special emphasis on the “always” part of that last sentence. Trusted leaders know that we all have what I would call a “credibility bank” that determines how trustworthy we are.

The greater the balance in your credibility bank the more people will trust you. When your words always match your actions you’ll have a very large balance in your credibility bank. Do what you say you will and you receive a very small deposit into that account. Do it when you say you will and you’ll receive another small deposit. Say exactly what you mean and follow through on what you said and yep, another small deposit. 

But mess up and fail to follow through and you’ll be making a gigantic withdrawal from your account. Say one thing and do another and bingo, another massive withdrawal. As if that’s not damaging enough, after a couple of those large withdrawals the deposits you receive for doing what you say you will get even smaller. So small in fact that the balance in your credibility bank may never return to what it once was. 

Make absolutely no mistake about this leadership fact; if your people can’t trust you then your people can’t follow you. If you’re seen as lacking integrity then you’re seen as lacking the most basic quality of Authentic Leadership. 

You may be able to force the compliance of the people you are supposed to be leading but you’ll never earn the commitment you need to truly lead. Protect the balance in your credibility bank as if it were gold because in a world short on Authentic Leadership it’s far more valuable than that. 

Weak Leaders – Part Four

Weak Leaders lack humility. They mistakenly believe that their title or position makes them a leader. They all too often also believe it makes them a better person than someone without that title or position. 

That causes all kind of behaviors that negatively impact their ability to lead. It makes it very challenging for them to share credit or provide recognition to their people. They take credit for the good work of their people. That’s bad enough but as we talked about in an earlier post, they also heap blame upon their people when something goes wrong. That combination is an absolute morale killer. 

Weak Leaders believe a leadership position provides them with certain privileges that others are not entitled to. Scheduling flexibility, work attire, special parking places, more lenient policies, and a host of other perks. 

What weak leaders don’t understand is that those “privileges” build a wall between themselves and their people. That wall makes it very difficult to develop the relationships required to truly lead. It causes a lack of trust and even open hostility. It’s creates an “us vs them” culture which hamstrings every initiative the leader may attempt, whether it’s a worthwhile initiative or not.

One of the biggest challenges to bringing down those walls is that they are seldom seen from the weak leaders side of the wall. But on the followers side they are noticeable for miles. 

Strong Authentic Leaders don’t have to concern themselves with bringing down walls because they don’t allow them to be erected in the first place. They work tirelessly to connect, often one-on-one with as many members of their team as possible. They don’t see leadership as providing them with privileges, they see leading others as a privilege to be earned.

Strong Authentic Leaders not only give recognition to their people they thank them for their efforts. They realize something weak leaders often don’t…that thanking people doesn’t make you look weak, it helps make you an Authentic Leader. 

Weak Leaders have little or no communication with the majority of their followers. Most of the information they receive about what’s happening in their organization is heavily filtered by those closest to the top of the organization. This further separates them from the people they lead.  It results in an even more detrimental culture within the organization. 

Strong Authentic Leaders communicate with all levels of the organization on a near daily basis. They connect with people directly to show their interest in them. They let them know that their role in the organization matters. They know it’s not possible to over communicate or care to much. 

If you believe your leadership position provides you with privileges that others don’t deserve you may want to think again. The privileges you’re so fond of are limiting your opportunities to be an Authentic Leader.  They are also strengthening that wall between you and your people. Walls are good for many things, building the relationships required for leading is not one of them. 

Trust is Earned

Every person on this earth is unique. There are lots of common characteristics and similarities but no two people, not even identical twins are exactly the same. When it comes to trust all those unique people seem to fall into just two categories. 

They are either in the “I trust people until they show me they can’t be trusted” category or they are in the “I don’t trust anyone until they prove they can be trusted” category. I‘m sure there are also other people like me who bounce back and forth between the two groups based on some undefinable “feeling.” But most stick to one category or the other. 

Authentic Leaders take both groups into consideration when working to build trust. They intentionally undertake trust building actions on a very regular basis. 

They tell the truth, even uncomfortable truths. This one is fundamental. It seems obvious, but it is surprisingly easy to minimize the importance of this when it’s convenient for us. What about when someone asks if you followed up with that email you totally forgot about? You could lie, say yes, and do it that very moment. Or, you could admit that you forgot but will do it now.

You may be seen as somewhat less reliable but your credibility remains intact. 

They admit what they don’t know. Authentic Leaders value the trust of their people more than anything else. They know that “Followership” requires a commitment and without trust there is no commitment. They don’t try to BS their way to impressing people, they impress them with their honesty and authenticity.

They do what they say they will do…every time. They do not cancel meetings at the last minute, fail to show up, or a miss a deadline. The currency most important to an Authentic Leader is their word. Not doing what you’ve said you would do causes people to instantly wonder if you’ll do it again. You’ve planted that seed. If you make a habit of it, then people will learn that this is who you are and they will instinctively not trust you to follow through with commitments.

Authentic Leaders listen. They really really listen. Showing people you are willing to put aside all distractions and completely listen to them builds trust. If you’re messing with your Smartphone or trying to multitask while someone else is talking to you then you’re sending a message that they don’t matter…at least not as much as whatever it is that’s distracting you. Once they know they aren’t that important to you they will find it much harder to trust you. 

Authentic Leaders show they care. Showing you care for someone can take trust to a much higher level. As humans it’s very difficult for us to trust people who we know don’t care about us. The opposite is true as well. When we know someone cares enough about us to invest a part of themselves in our well-being then it’s much easier to trust them. 

Authentic Leaders invest the time to get to know their people so they will know how to care for them. That’s a critical step in building the emotional trust that must exist before one person is willing to commit to another. 

If you’re in a leadership position don’t make the mistake of believing people trust you because of it. There are some people who won’t trust you precisely because of it. You need to understand that trust is built everyday. It is built upon your words and actions. Everything you say and do matters…at least where trust building is involved. 

If you haven’t taken an intentional step today to increase the trust level of your team then you may need to be concerned that the trust level has decreased.

Don’t take that chance, build trust every day…it’s the one absolute prerequisite for Authentic Leadership. 

Earning Trust – Part Two

It’s not only an advantage to have the trust of those you would lead, it is essential. But trust doesn’t happen by itself. Trust is built over time and that time frame can be shortened if you take specific, intentional actions to build it.

I’m about to write about actions you’re already aware of. But awareness is not enough. Most people simply do not invest the time to intentionally build trust. They hope it will happen over time. It might. But hope alone isn’t a good strategy for anything. So while you refresh your memory with these suggestions ask yourself if you’re DOING these things or if they sit comfortably in the back of your mind.

First up is this…honor your commitments. I believe that when people commit to do something they intend to do it. The problem for most people, myself included, is that they hate to say no. So they say yes to more than they can do. That causes you to either not honor the commitment or to honor it in such a way that it’s almost as bad as not doing it at all. If your goal is to build trust then promise less and do more.

It is not an overstatement to say miscommunication has started wars. World War I began in part with a failure to communicate. Effective communication is critical to building trust. Never assume, if you’re not certain what was said or what was meant then ask.

Some communication will de difficult. No one, well almost no one, likes dealing with conflicts. But the most trustworthy people won’t dodge a conflict and the challenging communication that often results. They have the conversation that needs to happen and they have it in a caring compassionate way. They choose their words carefully and when they have to choose between telling the truth and offending someone they choose the truth.

Another way to build trust is to be helpful. Extend kindness to everyone you meet. The concept of “helpful kindness” means that you’ll be helpful to others with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

Some people may question the motives for your kindness but in time they will come to see that you’re doing what you’re doing only because it’s the right thing to do.

Lastly, always do the right thing. If you’re not certain what the right thing to do is then ask someone who you trust. But I’m willing to bet you know the right thing to do. You almost certainly know what’s wrong to do so not doing that increases the odds of doing the right thing immeasurably.

Even if what you do turns out to be the wrong thing when people know that your actions were guided by your values you’ll trusted more than someone who only acts in their own self interests.

You knew about all these trust building actions before you read this post. Now that you’ve been reminded of them the next step is to use them. If you want to build trust you will. If you choose not to use them then one can only assume that you don’t place much value on being trustworthy.

So what’s it going to be?

Earning Trust – Part One

Trust is essential for leadership. Whether you’re attempting to lead people who work for you, or across from you or even above you in your organization you must have their trust in order to lead them.

You earn, or not, the level of trust other people place in you. There are some people who have a default mindset that says to trust everyone until they show themselves to be untrustworthy. But most people are more skeptical and don’t trust someone until they have proven themselves trustworthy.

The contradiction there is that the best way to know whether someone is trustworthy is to trust them.

The trust you need to lead, or even to build a strong relationship requires time to build, sometimes a very long time. But you can lose that trust very quickly and you can lose it in several ways. You can lose it by not following through on your commitments. You can lose it by lying. You can lose it by sharing information that was given to you in confidence.

I’m good with those first two…not always so good with that last one. I can’t honestly recall ever sharing something told to me when I was specifically asked not to. When I’ve been told that something was being shared with me in confidence I’ve closely held that information.

It’s when I wasn’t specifically told that something was being shared in confidence that I’ve gotten myself in trouble. I would love to say that’s okay because I wasn’t told not to tell anyone else but it’s not okay. Unless you’re a complete idiot you know, or you should know, what’s appropriate to share and what’s not. You shouldn’t have to be told. Neither should I.

Failing to protect information shared with you in confidence, whether implied or stated, is one of the fastest ways to lose trust. Even if you only tell one other person you’ve broken the trust of the person who originally shared that information with you. If the person you told tells other people then you’re responsible for all those people knowing too. It’s a pretty big screw up.

Benjamin Franklin said “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” You might want to keep that quote in mind if you’re ever tempted to share something that was told to you in confidence.

The good news is that trust can be rebuilt. It isn’t easy but if you’re interested it is possible. In my next post I’ll share several steps you can take to build trust and rebuild trust if you’ve lost it. There won’t be any secrets there, if fact I’ll bet you’ve heard them all before…the question is, are you doing them?

Does Trust Really Matter?

I heard the Secretary of State for the United States give an interview the other day. He said that “we” don’t always get to choose who the United States negotiates with. He said some of the people the US government talks to are pretty awful people. He also said it doesn’t matter if they are trusted or not, we still have to talk to them. 

 

That makes me glad I’m not in government. I get to choose not to talk to or do business with people I don’t trust. I hope that is true for you as well. 

 

It’s also true of most people you know. If you want to be trusted you’ll need to earn it. There are some people who freely give their trust to anyone until it’s proven a person can’t be trusted. These days however the people who make you earn their trust far outnumber those who give it freely. 

 

How do you earn trust? Well the simplest way is to do what you say you will. Always! Tell the truth. Always! When the truth is hard to tell you must tell the truth anyway. Always!

 

Building trust and credibility takes time. 

 

And sincere effort.

 

The fundamental beginning to developing trust is being genuinely interested in other people. Asking pertinent questions while listening with complete attention demonstrates that they matter to you. It shows their importance in your life. It reflects your interest in developing a real relationship with them. 

 

It really is just that simple.

 

Trust matters. If you’re a leader and your people don’t trust you then they absolutely will not follow you. If you’re in sales and people don’t trust you they will go to great lengths to buy from someone else. 

 

When people in general don’t trust you then you miss out on the deep relationships that make life so meaningful. 


Don’t expect people to trust you because you think you’re trustworthy. Make the effort to build trust every time you interact with another human being. It’s worth the effort because trust matters in everything you do.