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Is a Lack of Trust Killing Your Culture?


“We don’t trust them!”

Your people may not say those words out loud, but a lack of trust may be damaging your culture if any of the following are showing up:

  • Withholding information and selective communication
  • Endless questioning of goals, strategies, actions and decisions
  • Protecting their own self-interest at the expense of the team or organization
  • Acting inconsistently with the organization’s values
  • Low or diminishing commitment and engagement


Trust is at the core of every strong relationship, and you can’t sustain a culture where everyone is engaged to help you succeed without it.

But, you knew that, right?

Unfortunately, you evaluate yourself by your intentions. Others—not knowing those intentions—evaluate you based on their perceptions of your behavior and performance.

Here’s What You Can Do

Even leaders who place a high value on trust find their intentions out of sync with others’ expectations. Here are six actions you can take immediately to strengthen trust:

1. Follow through on commitments. Our research shows that the number one behavior that causes mistrust is leaders not doing what they said they would do.

Most people understand that there are times when something prevents you from keeping a commitment. An occasional lapse can be forgiven – as long as you acknowledge it. A habit of not following through tells people that keeping your word is not important.

2. Communicate, communicate, and then communicate. Communication is everything and everything communicates when building trust. Create clear expectations and shared understanding of priorities. Talk straight, and talk often. Your team knows that there are things you cannot share. They want to know everything you can talk about, and they want to feel that you are telling them the truth rather than spinning the message for your own benefit.

The best communicators listen as much as they talk. A reputation for listening and actually caring about what others are saying is the stuff of legends.

3. Get better at your job. Would you blindly follow someone out of a burning building if you were convinced that they had no idea what they were doing or where they were going? Then why would anyone trust a minimally competent leader to provide direction, set priorities, or keep the team focused on results?

Your team improves when you improve. More important, they trust more and question less in uncertain times when they are confident that you know what you are doing.

4. Be consistent. Have you ever worked for a difficult boss? You probably learned to survive or even succeed as long as their behavior was consistent.

We value and trust consistency in action and response. When consistency is absent, people naturally protect their own interests even if it makes the team less successful. When consistency is present—especially when combined with open communication—people tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. They are more confident, and they are not constantly looking over their shoulder to see how you are going to react to every incident or piece of bad news.

5. Be very clear about your values. What are the principles that are so important that you would never compromise them? The most difficult challenges we face are rarely the choice between a clear right and wrong. More often, it is the choice between competing values that forces us into decisions between the better of two acceptable options or the lesser of two poor ones. The clearer you are on your values, the more trust you will build.

6. Have their back. There will come a time when you can either stand up for your team or throw them under the bus. You will have an option to be an advocate for their success or allow them to flounder on their own.

Your success in having your team’s back is less important than your action of doing so. Your team knows that you can’t control every decision or action. You will earn their respect and trust when they know that you will stand up for them even when it is not convenient.

Strong relationships grounded in trust are critical for a culture that consistently delivers results. Believing that is important. Consistently acting on that belief is the difference.