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Leaders . . . Trust and Control

Leaders, like other employees, want to feel trusted. Too often, leaders see relationships, both between employees and between employees and the leaders, in a dichotomy of trust vs mistrust. This duality, masks that a certain amount of mistrust is healthy and the viewpoint promotes behavior--when faced with the fact or fear of losing trust--that often turns a workable breach-of-trust into a struggle for control. Who will be blamed for the loss of trust? What will be the fall out? Will it be swept under the rug?

Nan S. Russell, in a 2011 Psychology Today article about trust in the workplace, wrote that the opposite of trust isn't mistrust . . . it's control. She's right. Or, partly right. When trust fails, many leaders, as Russell notes, fall back on control. These leaders don't see grabbing control in these situations as, what they often are, self-defeating behaviors. They focus on their good intentions . . . of protecting the workplace, correcting wrong viewpoints, or introducing reason into emotional interactions. It never seems to occur to these leaders that if employees have lost trust, they may no longer accept good intensions as the defacto position of the leader. 

But here's where I might differ from Russell's assessment. Not all leaders, I'm not sure Russell is assuming this, grab for control. Some leaders, in my experience, don't step in with control; instead, they will "flee the field"--hiding in their office, avoiding issues and/or the people . . . in one case, an executive began scheduling himself "out of the office" daily for meetings, but the board eventually found out that he was leaving to "go to the boats" and gamble. Perhaps this in control in the sense that the leader is choosing to avoid, but it certainly does not feel like control to the employees. It's more like avoidance, or abandonment.

When leaders lose trust, they need to admit their mistakes, face the consequences of their actions, and lead their employees to a new plane of transparency, openness, and daily effort to make right what was wrong. Anything less is emotional or cognitive cowardice and not leadership.

 

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