You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

What Employees Are Saying When They Say They Don't Trust Leaders Employees think competency, honesty, transparency and empathy are not too much to expect from leaders.

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Leaders have a big problem in the workplace -- employees don't trust them. A 2015 survey of North American workers, conducted by Achievers, showed that just 45 percent of employees trust the leadership at their company. Leaders, are you listening? I know this might be a hard pill to swallow.

Why don't employees trust leaders? Well, that's a tricky question to answer. Trust is a combination of six well-established factors. But how trust is built or eroded is subjective based upon the individual, experiences and relationships.

Here's a look at what employees mean when they say they don't trust leaders and what leaders can do to establish more trusting relationships:

Leaders aren't competent.

While competency may seem like the bare minimum for any position, there are some leaders who do not know what they are doing. Some are promoted because they are strong in their area of expertise -- but they aren't people leaders. Others are great people leaders but not very strong in their area of expertise. Either way, if leaders lack any skill, it is readily noticed.

Related: 5 Sure-Fire Ways to Improve Your Leadership Skills

Gallup's 2015 State of the American Manager Report, which studied 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries, found that the top two reasons employees are promoted to management positions are because they were successful in a non-managerial role and they have experience and tenure with the company -- not because they have leadership potential or experience. This tends to happen in technology companies where engineers are promoted into leadership roles.

How to fix it.

Training in the soft skills needed for leadership is the standard these days. Organizations need to do a better job of providing leadership development whether through classroom or online training, or better yet, executive coaching, which is more personalized and customized.

Make no doubt about it. Lack of competency in both areas -- soft skills and deep expertise -- is completely unacceptable and a recipe for disaster. It is an organization's responsibility to ensure that its leaders are competent. That is the first obvious thing that erodes trust -- a leader who doesn't know what they are talking about.

Leaders aren't caring.

Lack of trust in leadership might really come down to lack of empathy. Empathetic leaders consider the needs of their team, act with the best intentions and care about the impact their actions have on others and the company.

However, a survey of more than 800 full-time U.S. employees, conducted by Globoforce in November of last year, suggests many leaders struggle with empathy. Among respondents, 47 percent don't think their company leaders cared about or actively tried to create a human workplace.

How to fix.

Empathy starts with listening and understanding. Listen to employee concerns and complaints, and try to understand where they are coming from. Before making decisions, consider the needs of employees -- is it really in their best interest?

Empathy also allows leaders to understand when employees need time off, need extra help and resources to finish a project or need their schedule rearranged. Consider the needs of employees, respect their lives outside of work and show empathy and understanding to build better, trusting relationships.

Related: A Little Empathy Makes Good Leaders Great

Leaders aren't consistent.

When leaders show up to a meeting in a bad mood, it creates an environment in which employees don't know what to expect. Will this person be moody again? Consistency in behaviors is important, whether mood, decision making or leadership style. It's no different than having an unpredictable parental figure in the home. Employees want to know what to expect from the other person.

According to a 2014 survey of 520 U.S. employees, conducted by Interaction Associates, an incredible 96 percent of employees who said they trusted their leaders and their organization said that their leaders make decisions that are consistent and predictable. These companies were 2.5 times more likely to be leaders in growth revenue than companies that lacked trust.

How to fix.

Provide more consistent feedback to leaders about the kinds of behaviors that make them inconsistent and unpredictable. Have the courage and get the permission to point out the times when a leader is being inconsistent.

Employees thrive when they are able to anticipate the response of a leader. That way, they can make decisions on their own that will result in a positive response from leadership.

Leaders don't follow through.

When leaders say one thing and then do another, employees don't trust them. They don't believe anything leaders tell them and don't expect them to follow through when they say they'll do something. Employees see lack of follow-through as a big problem.

In fact, in a survey of 1,400 office workers, published by Wrike in October 2015, employees rated changing priorities and moving deadlines as top workplace stressors. Everyone changes their mind sometimes, but when leaders frequently flip flop and do not follow through on their commitments, employees feel the strain.

How to fix.

Don't pull the rug out from employees -- stay consistent in words, actions and expectations. Set deadlines at the beginning of the project, and don't change them. Don't talk about how "employees are our most valuable asset" and then a short time later announce layoffs. When changes do happen, communicate them clearly to employees. Let them know why the deadline is moving or another project is taking priority.

The same goes for performance evaluations. Set expectations and then evaluate employees on that criteria. Don't surprise them by critiquing skills they didn't know would be reviewed.

Make good through on promises big and small. If employees are told the broken microwave in the kitchen will be replaced, replace it. If they're promised new team members to lighten the load, hire them. If they're offered an incentive for improved performance, give it to them. Keep words and actions consistent and employees will put more trust in leadership.

Related: How To Win The Trust Of Your Team

Leaders lack transparency.

Employees don't trust leaders who keep them in the dark. They crave clear communication and transparency. After all, an overwhelming 81 percent of U.S. employees surveyed by 15five in March 2015 said they would rather join a company that values open communication than trendy perks like free food and gym memberships.

How to fix.

Be as transparent as possible. Be direct with employees and free-flowing with information. Keep them in the loop with company changes as appropriate and talk openly about sensitive subjects -- like the things that keep leaders up at night.

Keep everyone up-to-date on company goals, challenges and performance. Be open and direct when it comes to changes in teams. Don't beat around the bush -- let employees know when an employee leaves by choice, when they are let go and when new team members are coming on board. The more open leaders are, the more trust in leadership employees will have.

Leaders aren't open to new ideas.

Trust doesn't stop at open communication -- leaders need to have open minds as well. Stubborn leaders who don't listen to new ideas won't win trust from their employees. According to a survey of U.S. employees published by the Society for Human Resource Management, 49 percent said that respect for ideas from their direct supervisor is very important to their job satisfaction.

How to fix.

Put away pride, and take employee input seriously. In the face of facts, change strategy and processes to make work easier and more effective. Don't keep doing things the same way just because that's how it's always been done. Be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Take the time to consider employee feedback, make the best decisions and gain employee trust.

How do you help employees put their trust in leadership? Share in the comments below!

Thuy Sindell and Milo Sindell

Principals of Skyline Group International

The Sindells are principals in Skyline Group International, Inc., Skyline Group is the leading provider of scalable leadership solutions with a foundation built upon decades of executive coaching with some of the most recognized companies in the world. Skyline is revolutionizing the leadership development industry with the C4X coaching platform. C4X is the only coaching solution that gives you the ability to develop all leaders consistently and systematically from onboarding to executive development. C4X combines a flexible and mobile technology platform (integrated assessment, personalized content, metrics, and coach management system) with the impact and connection of 1:1 coaching. Learn more at and

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Side Hustle

He Took His Side Hustle Full-Time After Being Laid Off From Meta in 2023 — Now He Earns About $200,000 a Year: 'Sweet, Sweet Irony'

When Scott Goodfriend moved from Los Angeles to New York City, he became "obsessed" with the city's culinary offerings — and saw a business opportunity.


Save on Business Travel with Matt's Flight's Premium, Only $80 for Life

This premium plan features customized flight deal alerts and one-on-one planning with Matt himself.

Science & Technology

Here's One Reason Urban Transportation Won't Look the Same in a Decade

Micro-EVs may very well be the future of city driving. Here's why, and how investors can get ahead of it.

Health & Wellness

Do You Want to Live to Be 100? This Researcher Has the Answer to Why Longevity is Not a Quick Fix or Trendy Diet

Ozempic, cold plunges, sobriety and the latest health fads are not what science reveals will help you live a longer and healthier life.

Data & Recovery

Better Communicate Data with Your Team for $20 with Microsoft Visio

Visio features a wide range of diagramming tools that can support projects across all industries.