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How to KILL Employee Trust

As companies must be fast, adaptable, agile, and courageous to compete, one of the most

important elements is the ability to trust.

Trust is more important than ever before because without trust, “you will never create the

deep engagement and sense of safety people need to take risks, disagree, and innovate.”

Employees must be able to trust leaders and vice versa as well as each other. Trust

must permeate the entire culture. And because trust begins with leaders, it's important to

make sure we're not inadvertently doing things to squelch its presence.

Not Asking For Help

When things go wrong, your impulse may be to keep information to yourself, hoping the

problem will go away. This not only damages trust, it vastly reduces the chances that the

problem will be resolved quickly, since problems swept under the rug tend to get worse, not

better. Better to tell it like it is. Just say, "I've got some bad news to share." (You may

actually feel a surge of relief just to have said the words.) Then explain what the problem is

and suggest two or more alternative actions that might be taken to address it.

Not Doing What You Say You Were Going to Do

This is basic, yet many leaders break their promises as a matter of course.

This can have a devastating effect on trust. Trust builds slowly over time, and it takes only

one broken promise to lose all the ground you've gained

"If you promise an employee you'll provide the resources she needs to get a project done,

and then you leave her in the lurch, why should she work hard for you in the future?". "She

won't. Employees trust us when we act predictably and consistently with what we promise.

Think carefully before you make a promise, because it's crucial that you fulfill it, or at least

communicate why you are no longer able to do so.


In times of uncertainty, it's especially important to communicate. Don't leave people

hanging. Where there is a communication void, people will fill it with the worst possible

scenario. It's just human nature. It's always better to tell the truth even when it's bad

news than to be evasive or silent. (And the news almost certainly isn't as bad as what

they're imagining.

Focusing on Compliance,

rather than Achieving Shared Goals Earlier this year United Airlines aggressively removed a

passenger from an aircraft, causing a publicity and legal disaster , partly because United employees have been taught to follow the rules to the letter. Emphasis on rigid rule following can be dangerous. Better to make the end goal crystal clear to

everyone and then trust employees to do the right thing.

Keeping Your Weakness a Secret

It's tempting (and human) to try to cover up or at least minimize our own shortcomings and

mistakes. Yet we should be doing the exact opposite. The best leaders are those who

realize and are willing to admit that they don't know it all and aren't "the best" at

everything. Plus, people appreciate vulnerability. Not only does revealing our weaknesses

make people like and trust you more, it lets them know upfront what to expect, so they can

act accordingly

Thinking Trust Will Occur on its Own

Consider this example: An office furniture company was experiencing sales declines, and

each team leader blamed the other functions for the problem. So the leader had the group

spend a morning conducting some simple trust building exercises. Each team member

shared a challenge from their childhood, and others took turns sharing what they

appreciated about each other, and what behaviors were getting in the way of success

Believing Lack of Trust Results from a Character Flaw

Because we all want people to trust us, we feel threatened and ashamed when there is

evidence that they don't. As a result, we avoid discussing the subject altogether. We

certainly don't explore what we can do to build trust. The lack of trust is not an indictment

on your character but rather a simple fact. If we can learn to see the problem objectively,

we can take steps to remedy it

Avoiding Conflict

In all areas of life, conflict happens. In any organization, people are going to disagree on

the best way to do things. Tough decisions must be made, which, inevitably, will make

some people happy and others unhappy. From time to time "bad apples" will crop up that

need to be dealt with. If you're a leader who avoids conflict at all costs, transparent

communication can't occur, productivity falters as decisions take forever to be made, high

performers get fed up and leave, and in general you're seen as weak or wishy washy.


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