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Building trust is difficult. Learning to trust the people you work with and the people on your team can be challenging. But breaking trust is can be a very quick process.
In a coaching engagement, we worked with a seasoned mid-level manager who was great with her people and her bosses respected her. She consistently came in under budget, and always delivered her projects ahead of schedule. She was focused, productive, and energetic.
This manager’s team morale was high, and direct reports responded well to her leadership. Everyone seemed happy. From the outside, it appeared to be a perfect work environment. However, there was a huge problem; this manager did not trust her direct supervisor.
Why? Her vice president had asked her to lie. At first it was just once or twice a month. Then it became once or twice a week.
This manager was an untenable position. She refused to outright lie for her boss, and she eventually found another job. Her vice president continued to lose good direct reports and his engagement scores continued on a downward spiral until he was fired.
Little deceptions can lead to big problems. Trust is a necessary factor in the workplace, and great leaders work hard to earn, and keep, the trust and confidence of their employees.
Why does it matter if employees trust their managers?
When people do not trust their leaders, they are less productive because they are trying to figure out what is really going on in the workplace. They don't believe that their boss is telling them the whole truth. In this scenario, employees are more likely to leave their positions if another option is available to them. If you are in a leadership position and have a high rate of turnover among employees, one of the issues at play may be a lack of trust.
What undermines trust? It is a hard question to ask, and it is even harder to get an honest answer if you are the person in charge. We surveyed both business professionals and military officers and asked them what their leaders do or what they have seen leaders do that cause them to lose trust. Interestingly enough, the most frequent response was lying.
Lying, not telling the whole story or clouding intent, topped the list. Most employees consider leaders lying to their people to be the equivalent of a mortal sin; it is virtually impossible to recover from.
Part of telling the truth means the full truth, and to be fair, sometimes leaders do not have all of the information. Across the board, though, people want whatever information you have and they want it sooner rather than later.
Bad or incomplete information leads to speculation and doubt, which reduces productivity. But providing no information is worse. That gives people the idea that you are deliberately hiding something from them.
Information travels faster now than it ever has, and leaders have to work closely with their information officers and their senior leaders to make sure their people are informed.
More information, more honesty, and more often, builds trust.