The Top 10 Ways Leaders Bust Trust

“Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable
Throw in undependable too”
Frank Sinatra ~ Call Me Irresponsible (1963)

Trust Break
Irresponsible, unreliable, and undependable make for great words in a song, but if those adjectives describe your leadership style then chances are your people don’t trust you.

Now, I believe most people strive to be honorable and trustworthy in their leadership roles. There aren’t too many people who wake up in the morning and on their way into the office exclaim to themselves, “I think today is a fabulous day to break someone’s trust!” Most leaders unintentionally erode trust through what I call “trust busting” behaviors. Despite our best intentions, we sometimes get in our own way and bust trust without even realizing it.

I did a little crowd-sourcing with my team and asked them to send me a list of the most common trust-busting behaviors they’ve experienced from leaders in their career. The wisdom of the crowd was amazing! The behaviors on their lists were eerily similar. In classic David Letterman style, here’s the list of the Top 10 Ways Leaders Bust Trust:

10. Spinning the truth – Leaders erode trust when they try to shape or color the truth to their liking rather than being transparent and authentic in their communication. Spinning the truth is manipulation, just in a more socially acceptable manner, but it’s manipulation nonetheless. Save spin for the gym, not the workplace.

9. Not being available – If your schedule has you constantly booked in meetings and unavailable to the questions or concerns of your team members, you are sending the message that you don’t care about them. That may not be how you really feel, but it’s the message that’s being sent. Your schedule is a reflection of your values and priorities, so be sure to build in time for regular check-in meetings with your team members or just blocks of time where people can drop in for quick questions.

8. Not soliciting or listening to feedback – Believe it or not, your team members probably have pretty good ideas about how to improve your business if you’ll only ask. And if you do ask, make sure you do something with their feedback. Asking for feedback and then disregarding it erodes trust more than not asking for it at all.

7. Withholding information – Why do leaders withhold information? It’s because information is power and power is control. Most people think distrust is the opposite of trust. It’s not. Control is the opposite of trust. If you’re withholding information it’s likely because you’re trying to control your environment and the people around you. People without information cannot act responsibly, but people with information are compelled to act responsibly.

6. Taking credit for other people’s work – Leaders can easily fall into the habit of taking credit for work of their team members. Because it is work produced by their team, the leader rationalizes that it’s OK to take credit for it personally. Trustworthy leaders do the opposite. They call out the good performance of team members and credit those individuals for doing the work. Taking credit for the work of others is another form of plagiarizing. It sends the message to your team members that you don’t value their work and it’s more important for your ego to get credit than giving it to someone else.

5. Not keeping confidences – Integrity is the hallmark of trustworthy leaders. If someone tells you something in confidence then it should never be shared with someone else. Gossip, hallway conversations, or speaking “manager to manager” about something told to you in confidence should not happen. Above all, you should protect your integrity as a leader. At the end of the day it’s the only thing you have.

4. Playing favorites – Want to erode trust and divide your team from within? Then play favorites and watch your team burn. It’s a recipe for disaster. Now, treating people fairly doesn’t mean you have to treat everyone the same. Most leaders resort to this leadership tactic because it’s the easiest thing to do. In reality, it can be the most unfair thing you do. Aristotle said, “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.” They key to fairness is treating people equitably and ethically given their unique situation.

3. Inconsistency – A key element of being trustworthy is reliability and predictability. Trustworthy leaders behave consistently from setting to setting. They don’t have wild swings of behavior, exhibit temperamental outbursts, or say one thing and do another. Inconsistent leaders keep their team members on edge because they never know who is going to show up. It’s hard to trust someone when you can’t rely on the consistency of their character.

2. Micromanage – As I mentioned in regards to not sharing information (point #7), micromanagement is about control. Micro-managers often rationalize their behavior by saying they’re trying to ensure high quality, or they have the most knowledge and expertise, or they are protecting their team members from failure. That’s BS. Hire smart people, train them properly, and then let them do their jobs. Trust requires risk and leaders need to be the first to take a risk, extend trust to team members, and let them succeed or fail on their own.

And the #1 way leaders erode trust…

1. Not keeping their commitments – I think most leaders have every intention to follow through on their promises, but the problem lies in our eagerness to make the promise without having a clear idea on what it will take to deliver. Leaders tend to be problem-solvers and when a problem presents itself, leaders spring into action to marshal the resources, develop an action plan, and get the problem solved. It’s important to carefully chose your language when you make commitments with other people because although you may not use the word “promise,” others may interpret your agreement to take the next action step as a promise to accomplish the goal. Be clear in your communications and set the proper expectations for what you are and aren’t committing to do.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for a little crooning, here’s a link to Michael Buble’s great cover of Call Me Irresponsible.

P.P.S. I published the post last Thursday on and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

Posted in Leadership, Relationships, Trust, Trust Busters | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What’s Your Leadership Promise?

promiseI recently stopped at Starbucks to get my morning jolt of caffeine on the way into the office. As I was sitting at my desk waiting for my computer to finish booting up (and wait, and wait, and wait….hey, I.T., I need a new computer!), I noticed a printed message on the side of the coffee cup. It read:

Our Barista Promise

Love your beverage or let us know. We’ll always make it right.

Now, I’m not sure how long Starbucks has been printing that message on their coffee cups. Frankly, I don’t often take the time to remove the heat shield (or whatever that protective sleeve is called that keeps us from getting 3rd degree burns on our hands) to read what’s on the cup. But for some reason on this particular day the message struck me.

The “P” word: Promise. That’s a heavy-duty word. And it shouldn’t be used lightly.

I learned a long time ago, first in parenting and then in leadership, to use the “P” word sparingly and only if I knew I could truly fulfill the commitment. Anyone who is a parent has probably encountered a time where you made a somewhat casual or flippant “promise”—“Sure, Johnny, I promise we’ll go to the beach next weekend”—only for it to not happen. What is the first thing the child says when you don’t deliver? “But you promised!”

As far as Starbucks goes, in my experience they keep their promise. If you don’t like your drink then they’ll remake it or make you a different one. My son’s girlfriend works at Starbucks and I hear the horror stories of how difficult some customers can be when they are holding the company to their promise.

So, what does this have to do with leadership? Well, it’s pretty simple: What is your leadership promise? What is it your people can expect from you or count on you to do no matter what?

Here are some possibilities I think would be good starting points:

My leadership promise to you…

  • I will always listen to your viewpoint with an open mind.
  • I will strive to be equitable and ethical in all of my decisions.
  • I will never belittle or demean you.
  • I will not hold you back from other job, promotion, or growth opportunities.
  • I will be trustworthy.
  • I will be honest.
  • I will care about you as a person, beyond just an employee showing up to do a job.
  • I will give you the direction and support you need to do good work.
  • I will make time to talk with you on a regular basis.

Those examples may or may not ring true for you. The point is, you need to be clear on your leadership promise(s), because even if you aren’t, your team members have ascribed them to you based on your past behavior. You are setting yourself up to break trust with your followers if their perception of your leadership promise doesn’t align with your own.

When developing your leadership promise, consider the following:

  • What are your non-negotiables as a leader? What values, responsibilities, or priorities will you never compromise?
  • In what realms of your leadership are you willing to have people call you out if you don’t deliver?
  • What is your comfort level in setting public expectations that you’ll need to live up to?
  • What are your core values and how do those influence the way you show up as a leader?

So what is your leadership promise? There’s no right or wrong answer. We are all unique individuals with our own talents, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, and our leadership promise is unique to each one of us as well.

What your leadership promise says is less important than actually identifying it, and once you know what it is, there is only one thing that remains—deliver on it.

Please leave a comment and let us know if you’ve ever considered your leadership promise. If so, what is it? How did you develop it? What advice would you give to others?

Posted in Dependability, Integrity, Leadership, Responsibility, Trust | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

The Trouble with Trust – 3 Things to Consider Before You Give It

trouble-signToday’s blog article is pretty straightforward and to the point.

There is trouble with trust.

Now, trust is pretty cool and amazing. It is an essential ingredient for any healthy relationship or organization, and I write a lot about how to build it and the benefits of having it.

But it also comes with some trouble. This trouble affects you and me on a very personal level and we should be aware of it before we decide to trust someone or something.

Here are three things you should consider before giving your trust:

1. It opens you to risk – Without risk there is no need for trust. People often think distrust is the opposite of trust, but it’s not. The opposite of trust is control. We don’t trust because we don’t want to lose control. If you want to experience the benefits of trust, then you have to accept some risk. Yes, you may get burned once in a while. That’s the risk of playing the game of life. But most of the time you end up winning, and winning big! Trust is worth the risk.

2. It requires investment from you – Trust is built through reciprocity. I give some to you, you give some back to me by demonstrating your trustworthiness, and I in turn give more to you. It’s a virtuous cycle that feeds upon itself. The gift that never stops giving. Giving…that’s the key word. Trust requires you to give. You give in to risk…you give up control…you give by being trustworthy…you give by experiencing pain and turmoil when someone breaks your trust. It can cost you time, money, and emotional energy, but you give because it’s worth it. So before you give away your trust, pause to consider the other ways you will need to give to nurture it or even rebuild it.

3. It can (and will) get messy – Trusting others is not always a smooth road. Any time people are involved it’s bound to get messy and that’s definitely the case with trust. Sometimes people will abuse your trust and you’ll feel like you’re on the losing side. Other times your efforts in building trust with others will take longer than expected and you’ll feel like giving up. Regardless of the situation, you’ll eventually hit some pot holes on the road to building trust. That’s normal and you’re not alone. Push through the messiness because the outcome is worth it.

Feel free to add a comment and share your thoughts about other costs people should count before giving their trust.

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5 Freedom-Fostering Ways to Develop High Performing Teams

FreedomLast week I shared four ways to tell if you inspire freedom or fear in your team members. You can tell you’ve created a culture of freedom in your team if you see your people taking appropriate risks, speaking truth to power, readily admitting their mistakes, and sharing their heart with you.

What if your team doesn’t display those signs? Does that mean you’ve done something wrong? Not necessarily. In fact, you probably haven’t done anything wrong. The more likely scenario is you just haven’t devoted intentional effort to building the culture of your team. Now that you have an idea that things could be better, here’s a way to get started fostering freedom within your team to enable them to perform at their best.

1. Be trustworthy – The bedrock of any successful leader or team is trust. As Warren Bennis said, it’s the lubrication that makes organizations work. It’s the oil that keeps your team’s engine humming at its best, and without it, your team’s production will grind to a halt. A primary component of your leadership role is to model trustworthy behavior. It sets the tone for how you expect team members to treat each other. Building trust is a never-ending quest. It’s a journey, not a destination. For a primer on being a trustworthy leader, see The ABCDs of Leading with Trust.

2. Be open – To infuse your team atmosphere with a sense of freedom, it’s imperative that you lead with a philosophy of openness. You demonstrate openness by sharing information freely because you know people need information if they are going to act responsibly in their roles. Openness also means being forthright and genuine when you share information or interact with team members. You don’t spin the truth to manipulate the way team members interpret information, but you share the truth candidly and appropriately. Openness means your team members know there are no hidden agendas with you. What they see is what they get (you’re authentic).

3. Establish clear expectations – Fostering freedom within your team doesn’t mean “anything goes.” Freedom doesn’t mean a lack of responsibility or accountability. In fact, it means just the opposite. It means everyone is clear on the expectations for their role. It means they clearly understand what’s in their lane and what’s not. Freedom results because within the boundaries that have been established, team members have the full reign to operate according to their best judgment. If boundaries and expectations aren’t clear, it leads to people being hesitant to act, duplication of efforts, or even worse, someone dropping the ball because they assume the other person is supposed to be responsible. Clear expectations through the use of job descriptions, establishing key responsibility areas for positions, and setting SMART goals are all ways to clarify expectations.

4. Be receptive to others – You cultivate freedom in your team by actively seeking the input of others, truly listening to their ideas, and incorporating their feedback into your decisions and action plans for the team. This isn’t the same as being open, as I mentioned above. Think of openness as what you communicate out to the team, and think of receptivity as what you take in from the team. Team members want to be invested and display a sense of ownership if only leaders will give them the opportunity. Availability is a key aspect to being receptive, because you can’t be receptive if you’re in meetings eight hours a day and never available to connect with your team members. When they do bring ideas or input to you, listen non-judgmentally. Don’t instinctively look for all the holes in their ideas, but explore ways to make their ideas (or parts of them) work.

5. Don’t micromanage – You can excel at being the most trustworthy and open leader, set clear expectations and be receptive to the input of others, but if you micromanage your team to death, freedom will never gain a foothold. Micromanagement creates discouragement and resignation on the part of team members. It beats down the spirits of your people to the point where they “quit and stay” on the job. They’re physically present but not engaged in their work. They eventually develop the attitude of just doing the minimum amount of work acceptable and nothing more. If that’s the kind of team you want, then be my guest. Micromanage away! If it’s not the type of team you want, then avoid the temptation to over control. Your team will thank you for it.

Five ways to foster freedom in your team: be trustworthy, open, establish clear expectations, be receptive to others, and don’t micromanage. By no means an exhaustive list but a good start nonetheless. Practice these big five and you’ll be on your way to developing a high performing team.

Posted in ABCD Trust Model, Culture, Engagement, Goal Setting, Integrity, Leadership, Management, Morale, Sharing Information, Success, Teamwork, Transparency, Trust | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Does Your Leadership Inspire Freedom or Fear? 4 Ways to Tell

American FlagIndependence Day was yesterday and it had me thinking about freedom. As we all know, the desire to be free from the rule of the British Empire was the driving force for the fledgling United States to declare their independence. Such bravery and courage it took for our Founding Fathers to make that stand! It gives great meaning to the last line of the Declaration of Independence: “…we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

But I was thinking of freedom in the context of leadership and a question occurred to me: Does my leadership inspire freedom in my people? It’s an interesting question to consider.

I believe leadership should inspire people to be the best versions of themselves. It should encourage others to manifest the full expression of their intelligence and creativity, and in order to do that, people need to be free. They need leaders who foster an environment of freedom and liberty rather than fear or oppression.

I think it’s fairly easy to know if your leadership inspires freedom or fear. All you have to do is look at your people and see how they act. Here are four telltale signs you’ve inspired freedom in your people:

1. They take appropriate risks – Call it what you will…using their best judgment, not asking your permission, showing a sense of ownership, or acting like they own the place…they’re all ways of describing employees who know they have the freedom to do their jobs the best way possible. They know that if they use their best judgment and take a risk that the boss will support them regardless of the outcome. Freedom inspires ownership and engagement on the part of employees. Fear-based leaders develop employees who only do the minimum amount of work required. They wait for the boss to tell them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Leaders who inspire freedom in others have team members who know they are trusted to do their jobs the right way and they act responsibly because they value and appreciate the trust and confidence from their leaders.

2. They aren’t afraid to speak truth to power – Freedom-inspiring leaders foster an environment where people know they can give honest feedback without fear of recrimination. These kinds of leaders model what it means to give and receive feedback in healthy ways and their people follow suit. People who are afraid of their leaders never speak up. Their feedback is delivered in the form of gossip or venting with coworkers which leads to poor team morale and loss of productivity. They’ve learned from experience that speaking truth to power only leads to discipline, harsh treatment on the job, or outright termination. Are your people afraid to give you feedback, or have you fostered a sense of trust, freedom, and openness with your people that allow them to approach you with feedback they know you may not enjoy? When’s the last time a team member approached you to express disagreement with a decision you made? If it’s been awhile, don’t automatically assume it’s because everyone agrees with your decisions. They might just be afraid to tell you the truth.

3. They readily admit their mistakes – People who work in an environment of fear hide their mistakes and hope that no one finds out. They’ve learned the hard way that if they make a mistake there is going to be hell to pay. So they brush it under the rug, try to fix it as best as they can, and hope and pray the boss doesn’t find out. On the other hand, people who work in an environment of freedom will bring their mistakes to the boss’ attention, most likely after they’ve already resolved the problem (because they aren’t afraid to take initiative to fix their own mistakes). Freedom inspires looking at mistakes as learning opportunities instead of occasions for discipline or punishment. How are mistakes handled in your team? Do team members have the freedom to openly address them or is it taboo to admit they goofed up?

4. They share their heart with you – If you have employees share their fears, hopes, and dreams with you, then you know you’ve inspired freedom. That means they’ve let down their guard, they trust you, and they’re willing to be vulnerable because they know you won’t judge them or take advantage of them. That doesn’t happen with leaders who inspire fear. Actually, not much of anything positive happens with leaders who lead by fear. People bring their whole selves to work. It’s just not possible to separate the personal and professional when you walk through the office doors, even though many leaders expect their people to do so, as if it’s as easy as flipping a light switch. Leaders in the 21st century have to know they are required to manage and lead the whole person, not just a warm body who shows up to do a job. If you’re people aren’t afraid to open up to you, then you’re doing a good job fostering freedom. If that’s not the case, then alarm bells should be going off in your mind because you’ve got a problem.

Those are four pretty clear signs a leader is fostering an environment of freedom. But how do leaders actually create that sort of vibe within their teams? How do they lead in freedom-inspiring ways? I’ll explore that in a future post. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Are their other signs you would add that show a leader inspires freedom? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Posted in Leadership, Management, Relationships, Trust | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments