6 Sure Fire Ways for Leaders to Cultivate a Culture of Mistrust

My previous post focuses on what leaders can do to build a culture of trust. Today we prove the negative. We discuss what ineffective leaders do to destroy trust and create a negative culture based on mistrust. I hope if you lead a team you do not see yourself in these 6 points. Trust is the most obvious reflection of leadership quality. Good leaders even in difficult times enjoy their employees trust. Bad leaders create anxiety, suspicion and poor performance because of the trust they failed to earn.

1) Low trust leaders have not yet realized the impact of their words. They speak harshly in half-truths and then wonder why their employees do not trust them. I believe employees want to follow a leaders they respect. Without respect you have no followers, just a room or department or a building full of employees desperately searching on Monster for a better job.

2) Low trust leaders hoard information. They are convinced knowledge is power so they only share what they have to. This knowledge bottleneck hinders employee development. The weak boss may even view his or her own employees as threats. Therefore, the low trust leader hires weak employees that can be easily controlled and uses them to make himself look good.

3) Low trust leaders are notoriously vague when giving directions or setting forth expectations. I find this characteristic fascinating. My observation is that as long as they are intentionally vague they can point out to the employee that they missed the expectations. If the expectation is clear then it is too easy to meet it. By being internationally vague the expectation can change and the manager keeps his power over subordinates.

4) Low trust leaders are inconsistent because they lack an anchor. Most high trust leaders have an anchor that is rooted in principles or values. Most low trust leaders I have observed are almost completely situational in their leadership style. Their motive is to do what is best for them or what makes them look good. Little to no thought is given to the “right thing” to do for the customer or employee. Unless of course there is blow back on them for the decision.

5) Low trust leaders are quick to criticize others because in pointing out others short comings they gain more power. At least they think they do. Inherent in a critical message is “I am better than you. I do it better. I am smarter.” And you may be better and smarter. But in communicating only your displeasure with employee performance you alienate them, isolate yourself, and decrease performance. Most of the impact made in communication is non-verbal. How we say something, our word choice, our facial expression, and our volume all determine impact on the employee more than what we say.

6) Low trust leaders are often perfectionists. They expect everyone to learn quickly, make no mistakes, and get it all done by 5PM. If the leader was honest they would admit that it took them years of hard work to get to their present point of expertise. Unfortunately that does not stop them from unrealistic expectations of others. Low trust leaders often treat people like machines that need to work harder and faster. They give no regard to employee’s feelings or their life and priorities outside the office.

Are you a low trust leader? I hope not because all research indicates that without exception low trust leaders impact morale, productivity, engagement, and retention negatively. If you are one get some help from a coach or a mentor. If you have low trust leaders on your team move them out quickly before they run off good employees. Consider assessing all of your leaders with a 360 instrument. Or bring a consultant in to do a confidential one on one with your staff. Trust must be earned. If you identify a leader, no matter how capable, who does not want to do the hard word of earning his employees’ trust then your mind should be made up. It’s time to let them go. Their staff will most likely applaud you for your decision. If they do you know you were at least 6 months late in addressing the problem. But as they say, “late is better than not at all.”

Michael Duke is the Founder and CEO of Michael Duke and Associates, Inc. and NEWSCHOOL Recruiting. He works with organizations who want their managers to lead with purpose and build high performing t#ceams. His services include leadership training and consulting, recruiting and retention consulting, culture building and improvement as well as team building. He is the author of two books. Lead Like a Coach; Leadership Lessons from Legendary Coaches and Coach to the Goal; Ten Truths to Transform Your Team into Winners. Find and follow Michael here: michaelduke.com and newschoolrecruiting.com