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. 

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. 

How to Make People Trust You

If you were to take the title of this post literally it would be my shortest post ever. That’s because you cannot MAKE someone, anyone, trust you. That’s not within your control.

But what is within your control is making yourself trustworthy. You have control over doing things that people will feel makes you a safe bet in the trust area. You also have control, complete control, over not doing things that would cause people to lose trust in you.

If you want to be seen as trustworthy then you must honor your commitments. You must do what you say you will do and you must do it when you said you would. Every time you fail in this area you cast doubt on the next commitment you make. It doesn’t take long before your commitments are worthless. Remember that…it doesn’t take long.

Be honest. Obviously not lying requires you to tell the truth. Being honest is more than not lying. Being honest requires that you tell the entire truth. Hiding details that matter is lying. Very often being completely honest is very difficult. If you have a dictionary handy check out the definition of difficult. Then look up the definition of impossible. You’ll see that “difficult” is not the same as impossible. So be honest if you want to be trustworthy.

Be timely. Said another way, show up when you said you would. Always! Punctuality matters and calling ahead from your cell phone to say “you’re running late” is a poor substitute to honoring another person’s time by being on time yourself. If people can’t trust you with something as basic as being on time they will doubt everything else about you as well. They really will.

Only tell your secrets. Most people love it when someone tells them a secret. They love it so much that they can’t wait to tell the secret to someone else. Don’t be a quidnunc. If someone trusts you enough to share their secret with you then keep it a secret. There probably isn’t a faster way to destroy the trust of someone than to share something they told you in confidence.

Remember, the people you gossip with today are the same people who will gossip about you tomorrow. A quidnunc is a person who loves to gossip. Are you one of those? Nobody likes to admit to gossiping but most everybody gossips. Want to destroy trust? Gossip. It’s like a nuclear bomb to trust.

Admit when you’re wrong. It’s almost funny when someone who is clearly wrong refuses to admit it. Almost funny. If you don’t have the confidence in yourself required to admit you’re wrong then how can anyone else have confidence in you? Dale Carnegie said, “when you’re wrong admit it quickly and emphatically.” Admitting to a mistake or admitting to being wrong about something you said is a trust builder. People won’t have to double check you because they know you’re double checking yourself.

Trust is the basis for all successful relationships. But even the strongest trust is fragile. It needs constant attention and effort. You can’t make someone trust you but you can make it easy for them not to.

The good news is you can also make it easier for them to see you as someone they should trust. It takes effort, it takes time, it takes consistency, and it takes intentionality.

You have what it takes to be trustworthy. The question is, will you do what it takes?

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.

Trust Goes Both Ways

Years ago, many years ago actually, I was calling on a candy manufacturer in the Eastern United States. They generously offered me a tour of their building and since there were bowls of my favorite candy all over the place I quickly accepted their offer. 

 

The tour somehow felt a little weird from the start but I couldn’t figure out why. As the tour continued it dawned on me that none of the offices or conference rooms had doors. There were door frames and you could see that at one time there were doors but they had all been removed. 

 

That struck me as very odd so I asked what happened to the doors. One of the founders of the company was giving me the tour and his answer was confusing too. He simply said that “they” didn’t like rumors. 

 

He went on to say that information is the enemy of rumor so they share as much information as they possibly can. He also made a point to say that nearly all information is shareable. He felt that most companies needlessly withhold information from their employees and that is how rumors begin. 

 

When I asked about information such as recipes and other intellectual knowledge he said they share as much of that as possible too. I mentioned something about needing a lot of trust to do that and his instantaneous response was that they didn’t hire people they couldn’t trust. 

 

Considering that trust is a necessary ingredient for leadership that statement has stuck with me for all these years. I think everyone would agree that a leader needs to have the trust of the people they hope to lead. 

 

But what about the other direction? Does a leader need to trust their people in order to truly lead them? 

 

Before you answer that question think about this…do you find it easier or harder to trust someone who doesn’t trust you? If you’re like most people you find it harder, much harder. Maybe even impossible. 

 

That would mean that a leader who doesn’t trust their people is a leader who isn’t trusted by their people. That means that they aren’t a leader at all. 

 

I go back to my conversation with the candy maker who wouldn’t hire people that he couldn’t trust. I’d bet one of the reasons the company has flourished since 1941 is that incredible level of two-way trust.

 

So what about you. Are you hiring people who you can’t trust? I’ve asked that question to leaders face-to-face and they always tell me “of course not.” But they share very little information with them. They allow them to take minimal if any risks. They are not allowed to deviate even a little from long established processes and procedures. These leaders claim to “empower” their people but they don’t trust them enough to let them make a single change.

 

They are trusted in word only. Every decision and action indicates that they are not trusted in practice. But the organization’s leadership expects the trust of their people. 

 

It doesn’t work that way. 

 

Trust is a two-way street. Either start hiring people you can trust or start trusting the people you’ve already hired. 

 

The fastest way to make someone trustworthy is to trust them. If you’re waiting for them to trust you first then perhaps you’ve forgotten that YOU’RE the leader…you go first. Show that you trust your people because if you don’t it’s unlikely that they will ever trust you. 


Trust goes both ways or it doesn’t go at all! 

Do You Have the Trust of Your People?

Emerson said, “Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single person. An individual’s character determines the character of the organization.” Is your’s the shadow that Emerson was talking about? 

 

If you’re in any leadership position you should know that you cast a large shadow on those who follow you. Your shadow can either shade them from difficulties or make their work environment a very dark place. 

 

It all depends on the level of trust YOU create with your people.

 

Only 45% of 400 managers in a Carnegie-Mellon survey trusted their top management. A third distrusted their immediate bosses. I truly hope your people trust you but you can’t lead by merely hoping you’re trusted. You must work intentionally, every day, to earn the trust and respect of the people you lead.

 

That trust can only come from a consistent display of integrity. Your integrity comes from your actions, not your image and not the statements you make. Your people will do what they see you doing far faster than they will do what you ask them to do.

 

When what you say doesn’t match what you do then you can be certain they will do what you did and not what you said to do.

 

When thinking about the quality of your own integrity consider these questions.

  • Are you the same person no matter who you are with?  
  • Do you make decisions that are best for others when another choice would benefit you?  
  • Do recognize others for their efforts and contributions to your success? (In writing?) 

Image is what people think you are, integrity is what you really are.  Asking yourself these three questions can help keep you on track and ensure that your image matches your level of integrity. 

 

Here is one reason integrity is so important for a leader: Integrity has huge influence value. If you have the ability to influence others then your ability to lead is unlimited. Integrity helps a leader be credible, not just clever.

 

Integrity is a hard-won achievement; it takes a long time to establish it with your team and you never fully complete the task. You must work on your integrity every day because while it’s a long process to earn it, you can lose it overnight.

 

It’s also a good idea to seek input from others about your integrity. You won’t always see yourself the same way that others may see you. So ask someone who knows you well, in what areas of your life they see you as consistent. (you do what you say) In what areas they see as inconsistent (you say but don’t always live.) 


If you don’t like their answers remember, you can change. You can become the leader you want to be, but also remember, you will only become what you are becoming right now.