Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders

As we discussed in last week’s post, trust is a crucial element in the success of any team, anywhere.

In big organizations, it’s vital that senior leaders create a culture of trust and integrity that is communicated to all employees and felt by them.

The consulting firm Watson-Wyatt has found that companies with high trust levels outperform companies with low trust levels by 186% (qtd. in Branham 179).

Without trust, things quickly fall apart.

Here’s what the employees surveyed by the Saratoga Institute said was the most troubling about the senior leaders in their organizations (Branham 180-182):

  • Basic Lack of Trust and Integrity
  • Isolated and Out of Touch with Day-to-Day Reality
  • Greed and Self-Interest
  • Lack of Concern and Appreciation for Workers
  • Lack of Trust and Respect for Workers
  • Isolated and Unapproachable
  • Mismanagement of Change
  • Poor Communication

The survey comments showed that there were 3 basic questions employees thought about in relation to their senior leaders.

  1. Will these leaders steer the ship to success?
    In other words, are the senior leaders competent? Are they good leaders? Are they of good character?
  2. Can I trust them to do what they say?
    In other words, will the senior leaders do good on their promises? Are they people of integrity?
  3. Do they have trust and confidence in me?
    In other words, do the senior leaders have the necessary humility to put their trust in someone of lower rank or status than them? Will they spend the time to forge a meaningful relationship with me?

In his research, Branham has found that because lack of trust that has become so prevalent in the past few years, employees now consider the quality of senior leaders as a significant factor in their job selection process. Overall, they judge them by 3 criteria:

1) Servant Mentality vs. Selfish Greed

Selfish Greed: “I serve my own interests without regard for others’ interests.”

Servant Leadership: “I serve the interests of the organization by serving my employees and the community around us.”

2) Shareholder Value vs. Employee Value

Shareholder Value: “My only mission is to maximize shareholder value.”

Employee Value: “Shareholder value is important, but it’s nothing more than a by-product of proper employee treatment; by taking care of my employees, I take care of my customers, and in the process the shareholders gain.

3) Lean and Mean vs. Nice Workers Giving Great Service

Lean and Mean: “Because I need to cut costs, I lay off as many workers as possible, and raise the workload of existing employees without increasing their compensation. I am hard on my employees because that’s the only way to keep them productive.”

Nice Workers Giving Great Service: “I understand that ‘employees treat customers the way they are treated themselves’, so I commit to treating every member of my staff well. Whenever I consider making a significant change in my organization, I first ask ‘how will this affect crew member morale?’; if it would hurt morale, I don’t do it.”

Actionable tips for employees (Branham 187-192)

To Inspire Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders:

Inspire confidence in a clear vision, a workable plan, and the competence to achieve it.

A basic element of trust is competence; employees want to know that the leaders of their company are both able and capable of doing their job well, and leading the company in the right direction.

What kind of competence, though?

Employees are looking for leaders that:

  • Have a clear and achievable vision
  • Are confident in their capacity to achieve that vision
  • Have the ability to inspire and mobilize followers to achieve that vision
  • Have the ability to transform the vision into a workable strategy and plan
  • Have the right team of people in place to carry it out
  • The ability to follow through with persistence to achieve the plan
  • Are honest and have integrity
  • Care about employees as individuals

In addition, employees want a specific type of leader. In his famous book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, Jim Collins has found that the most successful leaders are those who ‘‘build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.’’ (qtd. in Branham 187).

These leaders are ambitious, but their ambition is directed towards the organization, not themselves. They are humble, yet know their place and understand their strengths. They are determined to achieve their goal, yet patient in executing their plans.

Is that too much to ask?

Back up words with actions.

Do you talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk?

Not surprisingly, employees hate leaders who fail to do as they say.

So, be sure to only make promises you can keep. If you commit to something, commit to it.

Place your trust and confidence in your workforce

As Adam Grant mentioned previously, trust begets trust. In other words, when we take the first step in trusting someone, we make it easier for them to put their trust in us.

In the workplace, trust can be expressed in different ways: by giving more power/responsibility to your employees, by asking them for their opinions, by involving them in important decisions or by simply keeping them in the loop.

“The irony is, when leaders give power away, they increase the collective power of the organization to innovate and meet new challenges, thus enhancing their own power in the long run.” (Branham 192)

Of course, doing these things is risky. What if your employees fail? What if they betray your trust?

Well, when it comes to trust, the risk is well worth the reward. Real and meaningful relationships are the most significant reward, which lead to increased employee engagement, increased productivity, positive work culture, etc.

Actionable tips for employees (Branham 193)

If you’re an employee, what can you do to create trust between you and your senior leaders?

• Respond honestly on employee surveys—point out how the actions of senior leaders do not match their words and professed values. Describe specific instances of management behavior that have created distrust or caused you to lose confidence.
• Speak up in meetings and express your convictions firmly.
• If you are asked to take part in something unethical or dishonest, refuse to go along, report it to a superior, or be prepared to resign.
• When a leader or manager puts trust and confidence in you by giving you the freedom to do the job without constant oversight, be prepared to take the initiative.
• Show that you are interested in having an ‘‘ownership mentality.’’ Learn how the business makes money and what you can do to make it more profitable and perhaps share more in that profitability.
• Earn your manager’s trust by constantly looking for ways to take the initiative to meet customers’ needs or by improving your own skills so that managers will trust you to handle new challenges.
• Give new leaders the benefit of the doubt. Give them time to communicate and begin to execute their new vision before judging it to be unworthy of following.


Branham, Leigh. The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act before Its Too Late. AMACOM, 2012.


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