Can You Trust Your Boss?

by Nov 14, 2019It's Not What You Think

When a leader is vague, says one thing and does another, or shows little empathy for his or her team, people lose trust. At first, it might not be obvious that we should withdraw trust. We may be wary, but not convinced one way or the other.

How do you know if your boss can be trusted?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they telling a credible story? Is it logical? Frances Frei, Harvard Business School professor says that a critical aspect of trust is logic. When a story, plan, or proposal just doesn’t hold up, trust “wobbles.”
  • Does your boss say things that stretch the truth to the point that it is not defensible?
  • Are they dismissive of questions or concerns?
  • Do they blame others for his or her decisions?

If your answers to these questions indicate a lack of trust in your boss, the first thing to do is talk to them. Express your commitment to your role (if genuine) and your concerns. If this opens up a conversation that feels honest to you, good. If you determine that the cause of your concerns was a misunderstanding on your part, that is also ok. However, if what you hear is blatantly untrue or a smoke screen, this is truly a problem and more so if your boss is totally committed to what they are telling you. A delusional leader probably can’t be helped.

At this point, you may be tempted to turn wonder into inquiry, talking with colleagues, speculating about what is causing your boss to be so misguided. You are very unlikely to influence them. What you can do instead is invest your energy in doing the things that will increase your trust in yourself.

It is disappointing when we reach the conclusion that a boss is untrustworthy. Share on X

First, do the work, the hard work, to identify and articulate your distinctive value. This is about your talent, not your title. Start by answering the question: What are you great at, that you love doing, that has value to others?

Second, look for new ways to apply what you are great at, at work and elsewhere. There aren’t many better responses to feeling stuck than strengthening self-efficacy.

Third, engage with the people in your network and actively expand it. This is especially important if you have neglected professional relationships outside of your own company.

It is disappointing when we reach the conclusion that a boss is untrustworthy. It can also be tempting to try to analyze them, fix the situation, or find someone who can. If there is real danger, by all means, speak up! Most often, the danger is fomenting a culture of mistrust, low commitment, and poor performance. There are real losses in this case, but if those to whom your boss reports maintain them in their role, you may not be able to trust the organization, either.

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