Think back to the leader that you consider to be a role model. Do you trust that person? Participants in workshops always answer yes. We trust the people who we are willing to follow. Great leaders need to be trustworthy in order to have the personal influence needed to get people to follow them. We build trust by being consistent. Great supervisors are consistent and reliable.
Honestly, none of us are going to be reliable and consistent all the time, but we need to manage it most of the time. Our employees need to know that we aren’t going to yell at them when they come to us with a problem. They need to feel confident that we are going to be calm and reliable. We’re going to ask questions and figure out how to fix the situation. We want our employees to feel that we are a stable, reliable force that is going to help them. Until employees feel confident that their leaders are reliable and consistent, they are going to be tentative and watchful—maybe even subversive or dishonest in order to avoid an unpleasant confrontation.
Fortunately for us, people tend to extend trust to people at the beginning of a relationship. Trust is a gift that we need to appreciate and work to keep. We want to avoid breaching trust because once it’s gone, trust is difficult to gain back. However, all is not lost if we lose someone’s trust. There are things that we can do to regain it as quickly as possible.
The first thing to do is to admit that we’ve done something disappointing. If we made a bad decision, forgot something, or lost our temper, we should admit it. The second thing to do is apologize. Some old-school thought states that leaders should never apologize. It’s based on the belief that leaders have to be perfect to be great leaders. The problem with that thinking is that none of us are perfect. We are human, and we make mistakes. We only make matters worse if we don’t admit them and apologize.
We also need to do whatever we can to fix the problem if that’s possible. An apology goes a long way, but we also want to do what we can to make things right. If we forgot to do something, how can we get it done and deal with the results of forgetting? If a plan doesn’t work, it’s time to regroup and try again. We help to rebuild trust when we do what we can to repair any damage that we’ve done.
After we have broken trust, we will have to continue to behave in a consistent, reliable manner until everyone feels comfortable again. It may take some time, so we need to be patient.
In summary, when we break trust, it’s important to acknowledge it, apologize, and do what we can to fix it. Then we continue to be trustworthy until whoever was affected decides that they can trust us again.
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