8 Ways to Torpedo Trust

Most leaders won’t say they are looking to lose trust with their employees. But we regularly see leaders make mistakes that undermine their staff, boss or peer’s trust.  In some cases, we find their staff loves and trust them, but the leader is so loyal to their staff, they undermine their relationship with their boss or peers.

When high levels of trust are present in organizations we work with, we see increases in retention of the most productive employees, higher levels of engagement, superior cross-departmental communication and teamwork, greater innovation, and all around better organizational results. When trust is undermined, you can say goodbye to all of these benefits. Without a strong bond of trust, employees become suspicious, lose confidence, stop trying, refrain from offering suggestions, and eventually leave.


Our research shows that when we compare the survey results of the Best of the Best organizations to the Overall Benchmark organizations, employees in the Best of the Best organizations rate their senior leaders 22.0 percentage points higher at being committed to building trust with employees. Employees at the Best of the Best organizations also trust the decisions of senior leaders at a higher rate than employees in average organizations.


Have you blown a hole in your team’s trust?  Consider these 8 mistakes leaders make to undermine trust:


  1. Act selfishly – Have you put your needs and goals before others? Do you take credit for successes and project blame when mistakes are made? When managers are motivated by selfish gains and are primarily focused on promoting themselves, employees see right through these behaviors and become distrustful of all of the leader’s actions and intentions.


  1. Lie – Nothing destroys the faith and confidence people have in you faster than finding out you lied to them. Even a little white lie can have a huge impact on an employee’s level of trust in you. They figure if you are willing to lie to them about seemingly inconsequential things, what prevents you from lying to them about matters of real importance?


  1. Lie by omission/withhold information – How often do you wait to share information until it can be verified multiple times. Do you delay information hoping for the “perfect time” to share a difficult decision or challenging problem? In the meantime, lack of information creates uncertainty among team members, diminishes productivity, and feeds mistrust. What you may not realize is that employees have already learned the information through their coworkers, the media, or social media. Employees lose trust in you because it appears that either you do not know what is going on, do not care enough about the employees to get them the needed information in a timely manner, or do not trust employees with the information.


  1. Act or speak disrespectfully – Have you ever raised your voice, rolled your eyes, or discounted a coworker’s idea or decision? Nothing spells (dis) r-e-s-p-e-c-t like a genuine putdown. Even if your disrespect is not overt, if you frequently cancel meetings or show up late, or if you have ever postponed a performance review, you are telling the team member they are not important. Once you leave employees with the impression you don’t believe they or their time is important, they’ll begin to question your integrity.


  1. Steal (money, time, resources, ideas) – Who me? When millennials, in a recent survey, cited stealing as a factor that eroded trust, we were initially dumbfounded. Did they really mean stealing? Were they really referring to taking the company’s money or property and using it for personal use? Apparently, yes! One employee shared with us how she was required to complete her manager’s expense report, which included personal travel expenses that were unrelated to the business. Enough said!


  1. Enforce Rules Unethically – Do your actions sometimes undermine your words? Hypocrisy (do as I say, not as I do) always triggers mistrust in employees. Expecting employees to adhere to all stated values and standards, but failing to adhere to those standards yourself, is guaranteed to decrease trust in both you and the organization.


  1. Gossip – When you partake in gossip, employee trust is undermined for several reasons. First, most people walk away from the conversation wondering, “If you talk like this about others when they’re not present, what are you saying about me when I’m not around?” Second, it communicates that you do not truly care about the people you are speaking negatively about. Employees won’t trust you if they believe you do not care about your people.


  1. Micromanage – Do you require your team members to run all of their actions and decisions by you for approval? Do you withhold assignments because you think you can do it better? Do you focus more on the time employees spend at their desks than on the results they produce? Not only does each of the scenarios diminish trust, but they are also denigrating and demotivating. Remember, when you don’t trust employees, they learn you can’t be trusted either.


If you need to do some damage control on your ability to build trust, we can help.  Learn more about building trust in our book, Why Leaders Fail and the Seven Prescriptions for Success, or contact us for executive coaching. We have helped 100’s of leaders overcome the pitfalls that undermine their leadership.

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