What Kills Trust in Leaders

By | July 12, 2016

[July 12, 2016]  It is certainly interesting to see news about the development of U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over her use of private email servers to transmit classified information.  Of course she has denied it …  and though an FBI investigation determined she did in fact do so, she steadfastly continues to deny it.  This is a classic example of how trust in leaders is lost.

Many times I’ve written about how important it is for leaders to build trust and confidence so that they can be effective (see here, here, and here).  Avoiding hidden agendas, removing ambiguity, playing by the rules, and keeping promises are just a few ways to build that trust.  Operational competence, good leadership habits, and mission focus are ways to maintain that trust.

“Trust arrives on foot but leaves on horseback.” – an old Dutch saying

Many leaders simply shoot themselves in the foot and make it difficult for others to trust them.  The problem is that once trust is lost it is most difficult to regain.  That old Dutch saying seems to bring it into focus for us when it points out that it is difficult to gain trust and easy to lose it.  Politicians the world over appear not to heed this advice and regularly make promises and then fail to keep them.  It is surprising that any would be re-elected.

Trusted leaders know the importance of gaining and prudently maintaining trust in their relationships and they know that without it they would be unable to accomplish anything.    Here are some of the ways for a leader to kill trust:

  • Lying (including being perceived as lying and ignoring the truth)
  • Misleading or pandering statements and the failure to speak honestly about issues
  • Failure to act professionally when wrong (admit wrongdoing, apologize, fix it, and move on)
  • Lack of focus on important issues and people
  • Failure to lead by example
  • Lazy habits (erratic and unpredictable schedules, late to work, not completing tasks, etc.)
  • Acting above the law and privileged
  • Not respecting others, failure to take care of people, and destroying their confidence

When leaders lose trust, the first thing lost is their ability to be effective.  Leaders should always be interested in maximizing their influence on others and that is what trust is all about.  There are professional ways to correct this problem and it begins with admitting wrongdoing.  Leaders who are mindful of their actions or failure to act will be those most capable of influencing others to join them in carrying out any task.

Over my years in the military, I experienced a number of leaders who lost the trust of the men and women who knew them.  One would think that those in the military are better at gaining and maintaining trust and I think that is true.  But like all humans they are not perfect and can be just as prone to lose trust as anyone.  That is why leaders need to remain vigilant so they can avoid traps that destroy trust.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.