Mark Craemer 1 Comment

In a previous post I addressed how important the attribute of trust is in leadership. Nothing impacts an organization’s overall productivity more than the level of trust found within it. But what happens when employees don’t trust their boss?

If you have strong and irrefutable evidence that your boss is not to be trusted, it seems to me you have four choices: 1) ignore the situation and hope things will improve on their own; 2) tell someone you believe can help make a change for the better; 3) leave your boss and find another job within or outside the company; 4) trust him anyway and help enable a change in behavior.

Ignore the situation. If you choose to avoid the problem of an untrustworthy boss, this only perpetuates the distrust and does nothing to improve your life. In addition, by not confronting him, you are ultimately accepting his untrustworthy behavior. A person cannot be untrustworthy by himself—someone has to be the recipient of this distrust. You have a choice as to whether or not this is you and, if you fail to confront him, you are enabling his untrustworthy behavior. Like any relationship, you have to take responsibility for your part.

Tolerating untrustworthy behavior results in harming yourself by continuing to work for such a person, and also contributes to the dysfunction of the organization as a whole. By not doing something to rectify things, you become as responsible for the dysfunction as your boss.

Tell someone who can help. This is a tricky option because your boss’s untrustworthy behavior is unlikely limited to you alone and, if nothing has been done, it may be condoned or at least tolerated by others. Who you talk to and what you expect him or her to do could end up reflecting poorly on you. If you do speak up, it is best to have your facts straight with plenty of supporting evidence. You should also make it clear what you believe needs to be done about it. And be prepared for nothing to actually happen.

If you have a progressive company where 360 assessments are regularly conducted, then perhaps the feedback of a lack of trust will get back to your boss anonymously and encourage him to rectify his behavior. However, without specific examples to refer to, any comments regarding his untrustworthy behavior may only breed ill-will towards those around him. Regardless, by not confronting your boss directly, you are leaving others to determine your fate.

Leave your boss. You could choose to look for a new position away from your boss either within the company or at another one. By doing so, you may be taking a stand that integrity matters and you will not tolerate working for someone who lacks it. If you choose to communicate to others the distrust you feel in your boss, this could have immediate and/or long-term repercussions. Like it or not, your immediate supervisor can have a huge impact on your future employment. It is therefore important to protect this relationship as much as you can, even if you lack respect for his behavior.

Trust him anyway. Okay this may be the hardest to swallow, but I think it is ultimately the right choice even if after your best efforts you end up needing to move back to the previous option. If you believe your boss is not to be trusted, I suggest you trust him anyway. I don’t mean this out of pure naivety or passive allegiance, but out of hope for a change in behavior. Most human beings (bosses included), respond favorably to being trusted. If you are genuine in your trust and listen respectfully to him, he is likely to reciprocate and trust you back. That’s how trust works and it is also how it spreads.

Trust requires respectful listening and this is filled with opportunities for self-improvement. Listening attentively with an open mind and open heart can make a huge difference in one’s ability to trust others. Trusting him may very well cultivate trustful behavior.

Trust is a two-way street. It cannot be imposed on someone and it requires risk. The only way to find trust is to look for it and expect it in others. This is risky, yet it is the only way trust can build in any relationship.

It’s difficult for most of us to confront any person in our lives. When it’s our boss, this becomes magnified because we believe he may use his power over us to make our work lives worse or perhaps fire us.

The thing to keep in mind is that everyone wants to be trusted and most people will make every effort to become trustworthy. In addition, most of us also want feedback on how we are being perceived. As hard as it is for you to talk to your boss about untrustworthy behavior, if your mistrust is representative of a group of people and not yourself alone, you may be surprised to find just how willing he is to listen and try to improve things.

More importantly, you will have taken a very courageous leadership step that will serve you throughout your personal as well as your professional life.

Mark Craemer  

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