THE BLOG
09/08/2011 04:51 pm ET Updated Nov 08, 2011

The Real Reason Your Team Doesn't Trust You

Your team doesn't trust you. Honestly. They don't.

Trust is key to effective working relationships; yet, as you climb the corporate ladder, trust seems harder to earn and easier to lose.

What causes a team to not trust their leader? You. Yes, you. You're unpredictable and your team doesn't know what to expect from you. But, these are fixable problems.

Trust is about an ability to rely upon or expect a predictable outcome. When you act in ways your team doesn't expect, it erodes trust and makes them wonder what you're going to do next. The root of all your trust issues lies in not clearly setting expectations of your behavior in the first place.

If you can clearly lay out how your people can expect you to behave in a variety of situations, they'll have a basic expectation upon which to build a foundation of trust. These expectations, however, cannot simply be broad, buzzword-filled platitudes. They have to be personal and meaningful enough to you that they guide your behavior in a variety of situations. I refer to these guiding principles as "leadership maxims," which are rules of behavior or conduct. The collection of all your leadership maxims becomes your personal leadership philosophy.

Defining Your Leadership Philosophy

I encourage you as a leader to define your own set of leadership maxims. They can be as simple as one of mine, which is, "What would Nana say?" For reference, Nana was my grandmother. I can use that maxim in a variety of situations to guide my behavior. When faced with a set of difficult choices, I simply ask, "What would Nana say?" and my choice becomes clear. To expound upon that, when I explain this maxim to my team, they'll better understand how I make choices, and they'll see my behavior as consistent with this maxim. It is this consistency that forms the basis of trust.

You'll need to define your maxims across a range of situations. You'll need to think about four aspects of leadership:

  • Leading yourself: what motivates you, and what are your "rules of the road"?
  • Leading the thinking: where are you taking the organization, and what are your standards for performance?
  • Leading your people: duh. This is the one we always focus on usually, to the detriment of other aspects.
  • Leading a balanced life: if you're burned out, you're worthless. How do you define and achieve balance?

How Can They Get to Know the Real You?

This isn't about hanging out with your team and being best buddies over a beer. Helping them get to know you is about being transparent with your beliefs and standards. It's about letting them know who you really are as a person. It boils down to having a clear leadership philosophy.

Before you run off and throw together a bunch of buzzwords and call it a philosophy, I encourage you to articulate your personal leadership philosophy in a simple, concise way. Once you've defined that philosophy (which needs to be uniquely yours) you're in a position to share those beliefs with your team members.

Reducing Uncertainty

Once they know who you are and what your leadership philosophy is, you need to live it every day. Predictability is key. If you articulate a philosophy, they'll be watching for indicators of whether you lead in a manner that is consistent with it or not. Even the slightest departure in your actions from what your philosophy indicates will give them pause. Consistency and predictability are crucial aspects of getting your team to focus less on "what's the boss going to do today?" and more on the work they're supposed to be doing.

To help them get comfortable with you being consistent, try pointing out instances when you're taking action based on your philosophy. Help them see how your actions are in harmony with the things you already told them were important. When you do this, two things happen: first, they get more comfortable believing your philosophy isn't just an empty set of platitudes, and second, they understand that there is logic and reason behind your actions. Those two dynamics go a long way toward building trust between you and your associates.

The Bottom Line

The sooner you commit your leadership philosophy to paper, the better off you are. Be sure it is personal, authentic and free of jargon or buzzwords. Share it with your team. Live it every day. Help them see that you're really not that complex or unpredictable. Morale, productivity and trust will all increase as a result.