Leaders Can Establish a Trusting Culture

By Kathy Miller on April 23rd, 2014

Why is it so difficult for leaders to admit that they made a mistake?  Do they think that they are infallible or do they view any admission of missteps as a sign of weakness?

Recently we were called into a client organization to assess whether their organizational culture was aligned with their business strategies. (See Culture and the Bottom Line ).  As always, our first step was to assess their current culture.   Quickly we discovered that this company had a severe gap in trust between the managers and the employees.  As is so often the case, both sides had contributed to the problems.  A few employees had violated work rules.  Some of the violations were so serious that the offenders lost their jobs. (See guidelines for Employee Discipline).  Management reacted (or overreacted) to the violations by imposing very stringent new work rules and policies on the entire workforce.  They enforced the new rules with zero tolerance.  They disciplined people who clocked in a minute late or failed to fill in the exact information required by the ever-increasing paperwork.  


By the time we entered the business, trust had eroded to the lowest level we had seen in a client organization for a long while.    And yet management wouldn’t even acknowledge that they had a problem with trust.  They certainly were not willing to admit that they had made any missteps that might have led to the low morale and downright hostile culture.  They were unhappy about the unease throughout the company, but they were not willing to change anything that they were doing, admit that they may have made some mistakes, or offer an olive branch to the employees.  The standoff continues. 

Trust must be earned and this leadership group will find that their problems will continue to fester until they are willing to admit their own contribution to the problems.   (See Theory R: How Relationship Drives Employee Trust by Wayne Alderson and Nancy Alderson McDonnell).