The Dark Side Of Trust

Tracy Cocivera Blog

Steve had the golden touch.

Long a top salesman in the organization, Steve was one of those irrepressible guys who just seemed to be able to move the product. No matter the time of year, the customer or the economic conditions, Steve consistently exceeded his targets.

So, it wasn’t surprising that, after years of producing leading results for the sales team, he would get bumped up and put in one of the top jobs in his organization. The people who promoted Steve felt that, if he could pass on some of the gold dust to others in the organization, new levels of success would surely follow.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to achieving all that success.

A few months after Steve’s promotion, one of the top account leaders under his charge suddenly left the company. Shortly thereafter, two more people from the same team left, as well. Among those left behind, the problem was clear: Although he was an excellent salesperson, Steve did not make a great leader.

 Steve’s history in sales dictated the way he treated his people. He would make bold promises and statements but never followed up or followed through. He often exaggerated so much, he was ultimately seen as manipulative and dishonest.  He would also make promises that others were expected to deliver on -- but without their knowledge or consent.

For all his positive attributes, Steve clearly had no idea that trust is an essential element for any leader trying to build influence and followership.

On the positive side of the equation, Steve was available to his team when he needed them and was clearly competent in advising others on how to sell. Steve had closed a lot of big deals and his experience in this regard was valuable.

He was also receptive to their ideas and concerns. Steve seemed to be a good listener, which is a necessary quality for any great leader.

Unfortunately, many of his team members felt he was always acting in his own self-interests, more concerned about closing a deal than treating people fairly.

Steve was also consistently inconsistent. He would say one thing to one person and then go around saying the exact opposite thing to other people.

He also suffered from a lack of discretion. Steve would blab intimate details about his team and its members to others in the company. At the same time, he would withhold information from the team or only allow some members of the team to share in valuable internal intel while giving others deliberately false information about what was going on in the company.

In the end, Steve was a leader who talked a good game but couldn’t deliver. He frequently described himself as a kind and benevolent leader, when in fact he was constantly disappointing the people he was leading.

He would say he cared about his team and how they were doing, but everyone knew that Steve put his interests before theirs.

After a string of departures and mounting negative word-of-mouth reviews, Steve was ultimately cautioned by his manager to adopt a different tone and approach to build greater followership on his team. After considering the hard work that would be necessary to achieve those goals, he decided it was better to go back to doing what he did best: Steve found a sales position at another organization.

As Steve clearly shows, the problem with untrustworthy leaders is that they often cannot see what it is they are doing to undermine their ability to build trust. Many leaders like Steve actually think they are worthy of the trust of others, despite the fact that almost everything they say and do makes others see them as completely unreliable.

Self-awareness is a key skill for all great leaders. If you want to check your own trustworthiness score, ask:

• Am I available when my colleagues need me, or do I blow them off?

• Am I consistent in my behavior, or do I make my team nervous because I’m unpredictable and volatile?

• Am I discreet, or do I share everyone else’s sensitive information for my own amusement and aggrandizement?

• Am I honest with my team, or do I lie to them when it serves my purposes?

• Do I keep the promises I make to people, or do I constantly disappoint people by not delivering?

• When things go wrong, do I accept my share of the blame or point fingers at others on my team?

 This is by no means an exhaustive list of self-assessment questions. However, if you are guilty of even one of the negative scenarios described above, then you may have already convinced the people you work with that you are unworthy of their trust.

When you have the trust of the people you’re leading, they will go that extra mile for you. They will put in the extra work and strive to produce better results because they want your approval.

It’s important to remember that once trust is lost, it’s very tough to win back.

Many leaders underestimate the emotional impact when you realize that you have lost someone’s trust. It’s a gut-wrenching, life-altering experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

So, if you’re looking for inspiration to earn or win back the trust of the people you work with, all you have to do is imagine someone important in your life or your work. Picture them standing in front of you.

Now picture them saying to you, “I don’t think I can trust you anymore.”

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