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How to Rebuild Broken Trust in Leadership

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: Some things have happened in my organization that have made it difficult for those of us at the lower levels to trust our leaders. I really want to stay here because I believe in the mission, but I'm just not sure they're going to come through for us. I like my manager, but I don't know how to talk to him about this. Any ideas?

A: It's not easy to work for an organization that you don't trust, especially when you genuinely like your work and believe in the mission. Most of us start working with an employer feeling like we've made a good decision to accept the position, but it doesn't take much to destroy that perception.

When an organization's executives or managers don't live out its values or keep their promises, trust goes right out the window, and rebuilding it isn't easy. In some cases, it's impossible. The sad news is that you're not alone—many people have lost trust in their employers.

Trust can't be demanded. It must be earned over time through consistent behavior. Rebuilding trust is critical to your organization's success because when trust is broken, productivity usually suffers.

Ask your leaders to be more transparent. Most employees want to know what's happening in the organization—the good and the bad.

If you and your colleagues genuinely want to rebuild trust, start by being honest with your manager. Let him know what you've observed or experienced and how it is affecting your performance. Be specific so that he has a firm grasp of the issues that have caused you to lose trust.

Tell your manager respectfully that you are holding him accountable for keeping his word. Encourage him to find ways to listen to you and your coworkers. You could suggest doing a survey or holding focus groups, where leaders hear directly from staff.

Ask your leaders to be more transparent. Most employees want to know what's happening in the organization—the good and the bad.

Rebuilding trust is a shared responsibility and is closely tied to employee engagement and retention. Once your leaders understand that they are not trusted, there's a good chance they will act to rebuild trust. Give them some time to make changes, and meet them halfway if possible.

If your manager and the organization's leadership don't work to rebuild trust, it may be time for you to leave the organization. I sincerely hope it doesn't come to that.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]

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