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Five Ways You Destroy Trust As A Leader

Posted 10/29/2017

Research continually shows us that the main reason people leave organizations is because of the relationships they have with their managers.

As a manager yourself, you show up everyday to be the best leader you can be. And yet, you could be destroying trust with the people you work with, without even realizing it.

What exactly is trust and why is it so easy to destroy?

In the New York Times bestselling book ‘The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything’, Stephen M R Covey describes trust as “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something”.

He explains that, “Trust is equal parts character and competence... You can look at any leadership failure, and it's always a failure of one or the other.” 

He goes on to suggest that simply put, trust means confidence. And trust is interdependent in nature – it flows from the inside out, from within you as the leader to the other person, and then back to you. As the leader, it is your job to be trustworthy, and trusting, first.

The book describes how trust is created through a combination of both character and competence, built on four core elements: integrity, intent, capabilities, and results.

None of us like to think that we lack integrity, or that our intent is ever anything less than positive. And we all endeavor to expand our capabilities and deliver the results asked of us.

And yet there are subtle ways that we can seriously undermine the trust that we have built with the people we lead. If people do not feel confident in our integrity or intent, or in our capabilities and ability to achieve results as a leader, there is a cost to that that can have wide-ranging implications.

At a minimum they will struggle to fully commit to the relationship, and the true connection and full potential of the collaboration will be lost. The greater danger is that they adapt their own behaviour to compensate for the lack of trust they feel. A lack of trust in you as a leader could result in members of your team working around you rather than through you, fearing to speak up, resigning themselves to under-performance either individually or as a team, losing belief in their own talents and potential, giving less of themselves and no longer going above and beyond, and eventually looking for another job.

So what can you do to create an environment of high-trust in your team?

Let’s take a look at the five key ways you may be destroying trust in your team without realizing it, and some quick trust builders that will get you quickly restoring any trust you may have inadvertently lost.

Trust Buster #1: Nothing’s ever quite good enough

You are a perfectionist and have very high standards that you hold yourself to … and by implication, hold others to. 

Measuring people by your own standards means that your unconscious bias will be at play and only people with similar ‘standards’ will rate highly in your eyes. Those who see the world differently from you, or who have different talents and qualities from you will not feel valued or understood by you, will be frustrated by your assessments of them, and won’t trust that you believe in them.

Trust Buster #2: You avoid the difficult conversations

You tend to avoid the difficult conversations because you think they will be demotivating and won’t have the desired effect of improving performance.

The challenge with not dealing with poor behaviour or underperformance is that it causes resentment amongst other members of the team who are having to put up with the impact of negative actions or carry the slack. They don’t trust that you are enabling the team to be truly high performing, rather protecting the interests of the ones who are impacting that performance. Also you don’t give feedback in a clear, direct way to protect the person’s feelings. The impact for you is that you are known as a nice person, but not a strong leader.

Trust Buster #3: You sacrifice quality for velocity

You are a ‘get ‘er done’ kind of leader, always on the go, rallying the troops, setting the pace! You know that time is precious and there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done. You, yourself are a dynamo, and power through your own tasks, and so you expect that others can do the same. You are concerned about how quickly things happen or are done, and when there’s a delay of any kind you get impatient. You’re not interested in excuses, you just want the job done.

The flipside of your ability to act speedily, and expecting the same from others is that your impatience sometimes means you ignore the needs of others or don’t listen to warning signals. Others won’t trust that you will take the time to consider their needs or think things through properly. Everybody is different; not everyone has your sense of urgency. There may be people on your team who need time to process decisions or think carefully about a task before they start it. They are not being slow, they are bringing an intelligent perspective to how things need to be done. 

Trust Buster #4: You hide your true feelings

Somewhere along the way you learned that feelings are unhelpful. So you ignore them, no longer recognize them, or push them down; you believe you are very much in control of your emotions. You much prefer to stay rational and objective, and come across as someone who doesn’t get flustered easily; you appear to be very resilient and able to handle stress well. You are bemused by the emotional types, and uncomfortable when people get emotional with you – you see this as immature and unnecessary.

Because you do not show any emotional vulnerability, you avoid looking bad or imperfect, and struggle to ask for or accept help from others. It will appear to others that you do not need them (and at a surface level that may be true). Trust is built through shared vulnerability. If you are not open, and don’t need others or their help, the people in your team won’t be able to trust that they bring any deeper value to you.

Trust Buster #5: You’ve always got excuses

You procrastinate. You overcommit. You say yes to everything. And then you don’t deliver. You miss deadlines or are always running late for meetings. Or you run into endless setbacks that seem to jinx your ability to get the job done (the printer runs out of toner at the 11th hour).

It’s easy to see how this destroys trust when you constantly over-promise and under-deliver, or appear non-committal by arriving late to meetings. Others can’t trust that you will do what you say you will do, because, well you don’t ...  And this isn’t because you mean to let people down!  However as a leader, you may also put your team’s reputation at risk by agreeing to things that are impossible for the team to achieve. They won’t trust that you’re giving the team the best chance at being successful. 

So what can you do about these?

Download your FREE TrustBuilder Blueprint here!

Your job as a leader is to firm up your team's "belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength" of your leadership so that they can put their trust in you and bring their best selves to their work.

Here are some simple techniques you can use to rebuild any trust you have lost without meaning to on each of the Trust Busters:

Quick Trust Builder for the Perfectionist:

Celebrate success! To show that you value everyone, when reviewing a task or project, focus on what went well and celebrate the good work that was achieved by each person on the team, before you then look at what could have been done differently. Celebrating success and appreciating good work will build the feel-good factor on your team!

Quick Trust Builder for the People Pleaser:

Coach for success. To help people grow rather than protect them, invite them to take accountability and own their destiny on your team. Open up coaching conversations with phrases such as: ‘I’m noticing that you get frustrated with x, tell me about that.’; ‘We both know you are struggling with this aspect of the project, how can I help you?’ ‘Although you were unsuccessful with the promotion, let’s build a development plan that will help you get you to where you want to go.’

Quick Trust Builder for the Tornado:

Check in regularly with each person on the task. To manage the negative impact of your need for speed, stop and ask each team member if they have everything they need, and take the time to truly listen to the reply. They may say ‘yes’ because they don’t want to disappoint you, when they do actually need something from you. Remember, their success is your success.

Quick Trust Builder for the Rock:

Ask for help! To show some emotional vulnerability, ask someone to do something for you, anything, no matter how small – like helping you carry a box or grab you a cup of coffee! It will feel really uncomfortable, but go with it. People naturally want to help – just like you do ….

Quick Trust Builder for the Procrastinator:

Learn to say ‘No’. To set you and your team up for success, learn to say ‘No’, or at least start to negotiate on your deliverables for your team. Ask questions to get the clarity you need to be able to say ‘Yes’ rather than ‘I’ll try’ or ‘We’ll try’.

These may seem simple and obvious trustbusters yet they are outcomes of subconscious patterns that we are each susceptible to. It's important to become really aware of how these trustbusters are showing up in your own leadership.

Start the process now by downloading your FREE TrustBuilder Blueprint here!


Non-judgment of self and others has always been the central message of my work as an Emotional Intelligence thought leader, coach and facilitator. Latterly my work has brought me to the corporate HR arena where I have worked to put dignity and care at the heart of people strategy. This requires a holistic approach to cultural change by aligning transformational leadership competencies, inclusive practices and people development strategies with non-judgmental people systems.

While studying to become a certified professional diversity coach, I mapped out a model for building diverse, inclusive and equitable workplaces, by aligning the principles and language of ED&I with my core messaging around equality, non-judgment, dignity, care and ‘the leadership privilege’.

The principle concepts of this model are that:

1. Workplace cultures that deeply value, respect and leverage how people are different, truly reap the benefits of diversity – the sponsor of this aspect is the Executive team;

2. People strategy and systems built on the principle of dignity lead to fairness and equity – the sponsor of this aspect is HR;

3. Teams that care about each other and that respect each member’s uniqueness, build a sense of belonging which leads to inclusion – the sponsor of this aspect is the team’s leader.

My three-sided model – the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion pyramid – provides a visual of how the three aspects need to be happening concurrently.

For example, a workplace will not be truly equitable and inclusive if leaders are developed so that they build inclusive teams, yet they have to work with judgmental performance and talent management processes that ‘rate’ employees or put them in boxes based on bias.






The Diversity and Equity sides of the three-sided Equity, Diversity & Inclusion pyramid.










 © Amanda Knight 2020










The Inclusion and Diversity sides of the three-sided Equity, Diversity & Inclusion pyramid.









 © Amanda Knight 2020




To discover how to use this model in your organization, please contact Amanda to find out about her Diversity & Inclusion online program, or to discuss a customized approach designed specifically for the needs of your workplace.