March 2023

Trust or Mistrust?

by Erin Yeagley

Leadership Philosophy

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We regularly talk to clients about how to improve the culture within their organization. Oftentimes, "Trust" appears to be a recurring checkmark in the "needs improvement" column. But does the organization really have a problem with trust, or do they have a problem with mistrust?

Trust is the foundation upon which relationships with bosses, co-workers, and customers are built—not unlike the relationships we share with our friends and family. That foundation takes time and effort to build and, when maintained and cared for, it can withstand the strongest of storms. However, the slightest crack or episode of mistrust can rock the foundation to its core.

How does this happen? There are a myriad of reasons that organizations experience mistrust.

However, if you really drill it down, it is plain and simple. People. People in general are the culprits. To be human is to sometimes exercise bad judgement and/or make mistakes.

So, what can a good leader do to establish a culture of trust within their organization?

A coherent leadership philosophy guides actions that are consistent with a set of values and principles and results in predictable behavior. That consistency and predictability create two important by-products: Credibility and Trust.

A successful CEO and client of Academy Leadership included this in his leadership philosophy: "Don't gossip. It's a cancer in an organization." Here's how he explained it:

"It takes a lot to build trust on a team. The leader has to set the example and live the values. People have to be willing to help one another. They have to be interested in and care about one another as people; sometimes that means being engaged with a bit more than a person's work life. You've got to have one another's back, especially when things get tough. But you can undo all of that effort with a few remarks.

A guy I worked for years ago was technically competent, had good ideas and was generally pleasant. But at one team was like he turned into a mean middle-school bully, criticizing people who weren't there to defend themselves. And it was completely meaningless stuff, like what so-and-so was wearing. He only made a few comments, but they were so startling. I wondered, probably like everyone else, if he criticized me when I wasn't around. All the work he'd done to win our trust just left the room, like air going out of a balloon.

What's more, other people jumped on the bandwagon. It was like he'd given everyone permission to gossip. He could not have found a more efficient way to ruin that team."

If your organization is having a mistrust issue, ask yourself if you have articulated to your team what you expect and what they can expect from you. If you want your team to align with you and act in a certain way, you must articulate your expectations, set the example. and live the values…every day.