A Leader You Can’t Trust

Let’s start with the obvious: if you don’t have the trust of the people you’re leading, you will fail as a leader. Without trust, people can’t put stock in your vision, won’t commit themselves to your directives, and will lose confidence in you. If people can’t trust you, they won’t be loyal to you either. All of this, of course, damages a leader’s effectiveness. With anemic levels of trust, you get weak results – and getting results is what you were charged with doing when you were put into a leadership role. Your longevity as a leader is directly tied to getting more wins than losses. In harsh terms, without trust, you’ll be a loser.

Given these trust realities, it’s head-scratching that some leaders still make leadership all about themselves and not the people they’re privileged to lead. They violate the first law of leadership: Leadership is not about you, it’s about serving the people you’re leading. You can’t afford to be a leader who can’t be trusted.

What a Leader Looks Like

Over the course of the last three decades, I’ve interacted with thousands of leaders across the globe. They’ve taught me a lot about what leaders do to build trust, and what they do that destroys it. Many of the lessons they’ve taught me are included in my newest book, Leadership Two Words at a Time: Simple Truths for Leading Complicated People.

Here’s what a leader you can’t trust looks like:

  • Always trusts his or her instincts above everyone else’s ideas,
  • tasks people with busy work just to get every ounce of a workday out of them,
  • never admit mistakes, believing that doing so makes you look weak,
  • punishes even innocent mistakes harshly,
  • throws the team under the bus when performance wanes, making it the team’s fault,
  • shades the truth in their favor, sometimes stating boldfaced lies to get their way,
  • rarely smiles or show human warmth,
  • has a giant ego, using the word “I” way more than the word “we.”

How about you? Do you have the trust of the people you are leading? How do you know? Here are some things you can do to be a leader who is worthy of people’s trust:

  • listen with genuine interest to people’s interests and concerns,
  • set goals with people, versus unilaterally setting them yourself,
  • take people’s suggestions and go along with ideas that are not your own,
  • express gratitude sincerely and generously,
  • ask for people’s input when making consequential decisions that impact their work,
  • openly share some of your non-work identity, let them see what you look like outside of your leadership role,
  • ask people for improvement feedback, and create an environment where people feel safe to give it,
  • handle mistakes as valuable learning and coaching opportunities,
  • spend more time with your team than with your bosses,
  • provide air cover for your team, be their most loyal champion,
  • always tell the truth, even when the truth will sting,
  • say “we” way more than “I.”

Leaders that Last

The good news is that loser leaders don’t last. A leader who can’t be trusted is one who can’t stay in a leadership role. There is a natural order to behaviors. Bad behavior yields bad outcomes, eventually. Thankfully it works in reverse too. Good behavior yields good results. Being a leader who can be trusted is the best way to gain the trust of the people you’re leading.


Bill Treasurer is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting, Inc., a courage-building consulting firm. He is the author of numerous bestselling books, including his newest book, Leadership Two Words at a Time. For the last three decades Bill and his team have worked with leaders from such renowned organizations as NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, Aeroflow, Southern Company, Walsh Construction, Aldridge Electric Inc., the National Science Foundation, the Social Security Administration, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Learn more at CourageBuilding.com.

Photo credits: Leadership. by gstockstudio

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