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5 Leadership Behaviors that Destroy Trust

Posted by Louellen Essex on February 3, 2015 in Managing Difficult Situations, Team Development

Trust is essential to a productive relationship between leaders and their staff members. Without it, the work environment becomes filled with fear and uncertainty. Trust is built through a pattern of trustworthy behavior that occurs consistently over a period of time. It can, however, be destroyed in a matter of minutes. Be aware of and avoid these trust-busting behaviors.

Not following through on commitments
When leaders don’t do what they say they are going to do, others learn their word is meaningless. Promises that aren’t kept make staff feel the leader is insensitive and even disrespectful. Events occur, of course, that may prevent a leader from doing what was intended. Leaders who let people know what got in the way of keeping a commitment, then find a way to make up for any difficulty they may have caused, restore lost trust.

Starting and stopping
A pattern of beginning initiatives, then ending them without a convincing rationale, creates a climate of distrust in the leader’s intent. Consequently, staff members hold back when asked to participate, assuming their efforts will be futile. The leader’s lack of stable direction makes it difficult for employees to make a commitment because they fear the course will change. The leader may face silence in meetings when asking for input or sluggish implementation of plans.

Lack of transparency
When leaders keep too much information close to their vest, a climate of secrecy is created. Suspicions arise about what might be the real intentions and trust is eroded. The informal communication network will fill-in the blanks with information based on assumptions, most of which will be inaccurate. Openness, to the extent possible, about what is happening in the organization, who is involved in decision-making, and what changes are in store, allows people to trust that they will not be caught by surprise.

Lack of confidentiality
Leaders, particularly those in Human Resource departments, have many conversations which must remain private. Performance issues and personal concerns have potentially devastating effects when they leak out to other staff members, impacting an individual’s reputation and career path. When leaders are promoted from within while maintaining friendships with former co-workers, they must set clear boundaries, carefully managing what they chose to share in personal conversations. When leaders breach confidentiality, they soon find they are cut off from important communication with their staff members who won’t risk being exposed.

Weak conflict resolution capability
Leaders who are unable to bridge differences among staff members, while requiring a respectful communication climate, create a work environment that is psychologically unsafe. This pattern shuts down the expression of differences because the leader cannot be trusted to create a secure, open environment. Conflict will fester and potentially erode teamwork, productivity, and innovation ¬ – all of which are essential to productivity.

Trust is essential to any relationship. Make sure you are consistent, predictable, open, confidential, and respectful. Adhere to these traits in yourself and develop them in your staff.

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In these times of rapid change, leaders can never stop learning.”

Dr. Louellen Essex