It’s not a stretch to say that most people in a position to be someone’s boss recognize the importance of developing trust for long-term success. In talking to a group of bosses at one of my client organizations, it became obvious that their world was a minefield of ways to inadvertently undermine the trust that they’d built up already.
Here are 12 common mistakes bosses make that cause them to lose the trust of their employees and thereby limit the amount of discretionary effort they get from their employees.
- Failing to practice what they preach. If employees get in trouble for being a couple minutes late for work, the boss can’t be late simply because there isn’t anyone of authority watching them. Bosses have to be ready to do the things they say are important.
- Not following through. When the boss says they are going to do a performance evaluation and they don’t, employees remember. When the boss tells employees they’ll get them the new equipment they need if they fight through the hardships of the current bad equipment, employees remember if they do what they say or not.
- Playing favorites. This one is often based as much in perspective as it is reality. If the boss has good friends that are employees and it seems that they can slack while the rest of the team has to pick it up, trust will waver. Trust will die if it’s true.
- Not listening. A normal, everyday conversation to the boss might be something different entirely for the employee. Employees aren’t always involved in the crucial conversations to which bosses get conditioned. A conversation initiated by an employee might have taken every ounce of courage for that employee. If the boss doesn’t properly listen, it will be received by the employee as the boss blowing them off.
- Being a “stealth boss”. Not being available when employees have a need is bad, but frequently not being found is beyond frustrating for employees.
- Mood swings. When employees cannot predict, with any accuracy, the boss’s possible reactions to specific situations, they will feel that they do not really know their boss—even if they’ve worked together for years—and trust will diminish.
- Providing no protection from organizational politics. In order to do their best work, employees need to be freed from worrying about politics among the organization’s management. If their boss does not provide that, it simply limits their ability to do their best work and reduces the boss’s credibility with her employees.
- Taking credit for your employees’ work. When employees work hard and invest their sweat equity in their work and the boss uses that hard work for their own professional gain, well, trust may never recover.
- Lying. Bosses sometimes are faced with situations where the result will not be ideal no matter what they do. If a boss cannot say what needs to be said, and, instead sacrifices the truth to avoid discomfort, it becomes very difficult for trust to exist.
- Trying to please everyone. This one is a trap for many bosses. By trying to please everyone, this could actually gain the trust of everyone. For a short time. Unfortunately, nobody can sustain the level of energy it takes to please everyone indefinitely. When the boss burns out trying to accomplish this, it often backfires, and the trust of everyone is lost.
- Abusing title power. The use of title power must be used carefully and judiciously. I usually tell bosses that if they have to use title power to get someone to do something, they’ve already critically failed somewhere along the line. Personal power is much more effective in both the long- and short-term, but personal power takes time to build up.
- “Killing the messenger”. Bosses who cannot stand to hear bad news will find, very quickly, that there isn’t any. Nobody will trust the boss enough to tell the truth. In this case, the boss has created artificial filters and will often not get good information.
“Capital L” Leaders know the importance of trust as the foundation of the relationship between their employees and them. With trust, possibilities open wide and employees want to do what the boss needs them to do. It’s not magic, it’s work. Bosses who are “Capital L” Leaders have put in the work and are now reaping the benefits.