I won’t work with someone I don’t trust. And neither will you.

A few years ago, I broke a trust. I was facing a difficult decision that I knew was going to affect our office. One of our business partners was pushing for one outcome, and I knew that our managers were not in favor of that option. One manager in particular was going to bear the responsibility for implementing my decision, but I was afraid that she would be unreasonable and not understand the accommodation I needed to make. I consulted a few other senior people, but I left her out of the loop. As soon as the decision was made, she was in my office asking, “Why didn’t you trust me with this.” When I saw her hurt and frustrated expression, I knew I had blown it.

As a leader in your business, you simply cannot afford to break the trust of your people and leave it hanging. Without trust, everything else will begin to grind down. Hear are three ways you can start to repair the breach.

  • Acknowledge the break.

There’s a voice in your head saying, “It’s not that big of a deal. Everyone flubs from time to time. My people love me and will understand.” Tell that voice to shut up—it’s lying to you. It is a big deal, and you need to deal with it. Ironically, when you acknowledge your mistake, the rest of what that voice said becomes true; people recognize that even leaders make mistakes, and they will understand and forgive you. But that only happens when you ‘fess up and acknowledge your mistake for what it was—a breach of trust. Go ahead. Say it outloud: “I did [fill in the blank], and in doing so I broke your trust.” Now say it to them.

  • Listen to the full complaint.

Trust is built on vulnerability. Hiney-covering behavior shows that you value your own protection and right-ness more than the feelings and perspectives of your people. Listening to complaints is a way to reverse that. After you have acknowledged the breach, keep your mouth shut and listen while the other person complains for a minute. Don’t interrupt them or defend yourself. If they sense that you are sincerely concerned about the situation, they may go on to tell you how your actions impacted them and how they feel about it. Warning: they may not use the right words or maintain good emotional control. As the leader, demonstrate the leadership skills of non-judgmental listening, emotional self-regulation, and empathy. These very actions will go a long way toward rebuilding the trust you just broke.

  • Don’t do it again.

Your success in the first two steps (acknowledging your mistake and listening to the complaint) probably surprised your people. They are re-considering their earlier judgment about your motives and intentions when you flubbed up. But now they are watching to see what happens. The next time a similar situation comes up, you really need to get it right. Invite feedback. Ask for input (and pause long enough to hear it). Make sure that the next time around you double-check to confirm that people are on board before you act. When you do, you will have earned their trust again.

Building and re-building trust is one of the hardest tasks of leadership. How are you doing as a leader in your organization? How would your people say that you are doing? Although it is rarely the first stated reason that I am called in, I have yet to find an organization that has no issues with trust in the leaders. Million dollar athletes need coaches to perform at their peak ability. Million dollar leaders can benefit from coaching, too. Coaches help us [make us?] do the hard things that we might not tackle on our own. If you’d like to talk about what it would look like to re-build trust in your organization, give me a call (817-726-2000) or shoot me an email to get a fast, personal, and confidential response.

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Dr. Shero believes that leadership can be learned and that the best organizations intentionally develop leadership at every level. Leaders have the privilege of influencing other human lives for the better. That's why Phillip cares so much about learning to lead well and helping others do the same.

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