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?" says Setili. "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 Setili says 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. Setili says that 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.
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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