You've broken the bonds of trust, now what?

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

You lied, or maybe you told a half-truth. You didn’t deliver on your promise. Maybe you pointed the finger of blame at someone on your team or you took the credit for good works that weren’t yours.

Usually, breaking the bonds of trust doesn’t just happen with one thing. It’s a repeated behavior or a myriad of shitty behavior. Either way, don’t fool yourself in thinking that your team doesn’t know all about your lies and broken promises. They can spot your bullshit a mile away.

So, why do so many managers continually behave in a way that pulls them farther and farther away from being a leader? I’ll tell you, lack of self-esteem. I’ve met both new and old hat managers alike who are completely unable to admit they don’t know or understand something. They feel like they lose face with their direct reports if they admit they don’t understand. Guess what? They already know you don’t understand, but acting like you do you reinforces their point of view that you are not to be trusted.

Lack of self-esteem can also come across as arrogance. Taking credit for other’s work or thinking that because you are in the position of authority that you always know best are huge indicators that you are lacking in self-worth.

If you manage a team and are really struggling making an impact, have high turnover or have a team that is disconnected and refuses to work together or be productive, it’s time to take a look inward. Chances are you are behaving in a way that causes the team to not only not trust you, but they don’t trust each other.

That’s a massive problem that can’t be ignored.

Building and maintaining the bonds of trust is essential if you want to lead a team that is productive, innovative, feels valued and can work responsibly and intelligently on their own. It’s that simple.

In fact, a Harvard Business Review finds that employees who work in high-trust environments have:

74% less stress

106% more energy at work

50% higher productivity

13% fewer sick days

76% more engagement

29% more satisfaction with their lives

40% less burnout

If you hate how your team operates, that’s on you. If you feel like no one is motivated, that’s on you. If you hate the fact that you have to micromanage every step people on your team take, that’s definitely on you.

I can’t address how to build your self-esteem as a person who has others in their charge, I’m not a therapist, but I can provide you with some ways to walk the walk in rebuilding trust with your team. Before I get into those steps, though, let me just say that you won’t be able to repair your relationships overnight. It will take time and perseverance. You need to commit yourself to changing your behavior no matter how long it takes or how uncomfortable it may be. You’ve broken the bonds, it’s your responsibility to prove through actions that you are serious about repairing the situation. Words only won’t suffice, you must walk the talk.

1. Admit your mistakes: Yep, suck it up buttercup and address your behavior. You don’t need to list all the specifics, just addressing it overall will suffice. Whether it’s a one on one situation or in a team meeting, tell those in your charge that you recognize that you haven’t been behaving in a way that a leader should and that you will be working hard to rebuild the bonds of trust. Be on the lookout: You need to prepare for comments and questions. This is a test to see how you will react. If they challenge you on something you did, accept it and state that you have learned or are learning from your mistakes. If you bite back, well, then they’ve just caught you in another lie because you truly aren’t ready to start building trust with your team.

2. Listen: When your team is trying to solve a problem or come up with improved ways of working, listen. It doesn’t matter if you use to do the same job, it’s their job now and they are the technical experts. Just because it wasn’t your idea, doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. Your job is to make sure it doesn’t disrupt any other areas of the business or has costs that the budget can’t take on. It’s also your job to make sure they’ve thought through all of the potential problem scenarios. Then if it seems like it will work, let them run with it.

3. Failure is a lesson: If you want your team to start working innovatively and to feel like they have value, then you need to allow room for failure. Which means, they can’t be afraid to fail. Two things here. First, let your team know that if things aren’t working to speak up quickly so you, as a team, can turn that failure into success. Second, if something fails it’s on the team which includes you. The best way to overcome this and not repeat the failure is to have a lessons learned session. Not a finger-pointing exercise, but a true session on what went wrong and how to not repeat the mistakes.

4. Don’t set your team up for failure: That seems like common sense, but all too often managers are not clear with their expectations. Along with this you must make yourself available and have open communication. If you are unclear with what needs to be done and then are nowhere to be found in order to clear up any misunderstandings, then the failure is not on the person or your team…it’s on you. You have become the barrier to success. So be clear, be available and practice open communication (positive back and forth).

5. Be transparent: That means admit what you don’t know. It’s not your job to know everything, honestly, no one can know everything. It’s your job to lead. It’s perfectly fine to ask for an explanation or to say that you need to go find the answer. You also need to recognize others for being transparent. Not knowing is not a weakness. Hiding or not admitting you don’t know is the weakness. Big Win: If you can model this behavior, your team will follow. Your team will reach unimaginable heights when they don’t fear asking for help. Your team will start filling each other’s gaps, learning from each other and seek out knowledge where they otherwise would have hidden or been ok with mediocrity.

Remember consistency is key and if you mess up, admit it and learn from it. Your ultimate goal should be to have a team that works as one, that is productive beyond your inspiration and that you actually get to Lead not manage. The path to that wonderful environment is to build trust. If you have been a poor manager and broken the bonds of trust, you can repair those relationships.

Start today. Be a Connected Leader.