strong business leader demonstrating trust through authenticity in a business meeting

Trust is something that is difficult to establish. It is very fragile that needs to be taken care of. Once trust breaks or shatters into pieces, it is very difficult to rebuild it.

K. Cunningham

This is today’s leadership quandary; great leaders need to build a high trust teams and organizations in a low trust world.  Today’s leader has to determine the best course of action to engage and counteract the rising wave of distrust.  This is the reality we face: the wave is real, and it will undermine our ability to lead.  As leaders in order to effectively engage, survive, and thrive against the “distrust tsunami”, we need to prepare like a master surfer. We must understand and recognize the distrust danger signs and then employ the optimal best practices to build trust.  Our simple objective: be a high trust leader in a high trust organization. 

 Let’s get to work!

Recognize and Understand the Danger Signs of Distrust

What is the level of trust in your leadership? What is the level of trust in your organization? Are you a trusted leader in a high trustorganization? Being in charge doesn’t mean you are trusted and being a trusted leader doesn’t mean you lead a high trust organization. To answer these questions, you must embark on a trust assessment journey.  For this journey, you will need a journal. For the next 30 days, focus on your powers of observation and intuition. Look for the danger signs of distrust and record each sighting in detail in your journal. After 30 days, set aside some time to reflect, review, and consolidate all the journal entries. If you stayed true to the assessment with vigilance and honesty, then believe whatever story your entries are telling you. Let’s talk about the 30-day trust assessment. Where do you look and what signs do you look for?


This is especially important when you are new to a company, role, or team. You can look for these signs in every type of meeting, but they are extremely important to identify in meetings that include both the leadership and the workforce, where the purpose is to discuss current performance or the future strategy of the organization. Danger Signs:

  • Is leadership fully transparent on the current and future state of the organization or does your intuition indicate that they withhold negative information to create a positive “spin”?
  • Is leadership too optimistic about their own individual (or their teams’) performance and not owning less than optimal results?
  • Are leaders providing realistic, open, accurate opinions and analysis on the organization’s strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats

What is the body language in the room?

Audience Low Trust Body Language – Danger Signs

  • Crossed arms– defensive – audience feels threatened by what the presenter is saying or doing.
  • Heads resting in hands, eyes downcast– indicates boredom or lack of engagement.
  • Looking down or face turned away– shows doubt and disbelief in what is being presented.

I would suggest you look for these signs in all meetings – town halls, team meetings, and even one on ones. If you observe these distrust danger signs, write it down in your journal. These are pretty straightforward signs about the level of trust in the leadership of your organization.

Lack of Courage – Danger Signs

When leaders display a lack of courage, it not only significantly diminishes trust, but it’s contagious and spreads throughout the organization. Danger Signs:

  • Leaders that don’t stand up for what they believe
  • Leaders that don’t openly and transparently face their problems
  • Leaders that are afraid to discipline or engage in tough coaching or counseling situations
  • Leaders that refuse to make hard or unpopular decisions

A cowardly leader is the most dangerous of men.

Stephen King

Mean, Backstabbing and Betrayal Behaviors – Danger Signs

  • Leaders that badmouth their direct reports, peers or superiors 
  • Leaders that engage in disparagement or belittle a team member’s abilities, quirks or misfortune, especially when they try to disguise it as humor or harmless sarcasm
  • Leaders who betray confidence-. They are not only destructive to trust, but word spreads about the betrayal, their stature and respect are diminished, and they lose the moral high ground to lead.
  • Leaders with hidden agendas

Sometimes the person you’d take a bullet for is the person behind the trigger.

Taylor Swift

Avoidance and Fear – Danger Signs

  • Risk Avoidance:Leaders that avoid taking a critical but tough assignment due to risk of not succeeding
  • Conflict Avoidance:Leaders that consistently avoid conflict and conflict resolution for their teams.
  • Decision-making Avoidance:Leaders that avoid making a decision by hiding behind data, analysis paralysis, “not the right time” or “getting ready”. This is sign of fear. 
  • Accountability Avoidance: Leaders that avoid accountability by always finding someone or something else to blame
  • Intellectual Curiosity Avoidance:Leaders that only want to hear and will only accept information and opinions that validate their predetermined thoughts and beliefs
  • Low Self Esteem Avoidance:Leaders that hide behind their title, position or power and must be “right” in all circumstances. They lack humility, grace or gratitude. They send a clear message that their self-interest is the most important objective. They are determined to be perceived as the smartest person in the room. You know exactly the person I am talking about. It’s misguided to think this is just a harmless big ego. It’s not; it’s fear. Fear of being found out that they are not as strong, intelligent or competent as they imagine they should be. 

A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting. A boss is interested in himself or herself, a leader is interested in the group

Russell H. Ewing

If you are observing any of the above signs, your warning lights should be flashing.  If at the end of the assessment you have recorded multiple instances of distrust signs, you have a trust issue. The circumstances and frequency of the distrust instances will help you identify the source and build a plan to counteract the distrust.  As a leader, you must not only understand the implications of these signs but own the responsibility of taking the necessary actions to build credibility and inspire trust.  In future blogs, we will talk about some very specific activities and best practices that you, as the leader, can start today to build more trust.  Trust is not magic, but it is magical in its ability to take the limits of your leadership and your organization.

Together, we have a simple mission, to be more trusted leaders and build high trust organizations.

Up Next – Building Trust by Leading with Authenticity Part 3 – Trust Building Best Practices

Live Without Limits!