How businesses can create trustworthy leadership structures

As one of the leaders in your company's executive structure, you're obviously kept busy with the responsibility of steering the business in the best possible direction. But it's entirely possible – far from uncommon, in fact – to grow out of touch with the flow of day-to-day operations when you're trying to manage big-picture concerns. This, in turn, can lead to a certain disconnect between you (along with others in the C-suite and upper management) and the individual staff members who truly keep your organization running just as it should. 

Whether you're actually disconnected from the way employees do their jobs each day and the concerns involved or workers just perceive that you are, a new study by Gallup found that any lack of connection here can create serious issues of distrust among the rank and file. In fact, a significant majority of professionals worldwide simply don't trust their companies' leadership, full stop. You'll want to take a closer look at this research and also consider ways you can mitigate the chances of developing distrust.

Some roots of organizational disconnection

In Gallup's survey of all employees in its database, all around the world, about two-thirds of them say they have some level of distrust (or a feeling of neutrality) in the executive suites of their companies, leaving just 1 in 3 workers who strongly believe in their organizational leadership.

There are numerous reasons why distrust percolates among employees, with the wide divergence in perception of executives between individual teams representing one of the most significant factors of these. For example, if one team works in particularly close proximity to upper management, and thus receives more of their direct attention than others, members of that group will likely say they trust company leaders. People working in teams that operate further away from management, however, might feel ignored or disrespected by the powers that be. On a broader level, lack of a consistent and clear direction can contribute to the development of distrust as well. 

The consequences

What matters most about any lack of trust is how it affects workers' engagement. Gallup noted that employees who don't trust executives and upper management can often start phoning in their duties with little or no regard to quality, which can lead to staff jumping ship in large quantities – or, in extreme circumstances, being terminated out of necessity. The ultimate results of these occurrences are severe adverse impacts on organizations' bottom lines. 

Communication is key

It's virtually impossible to establish trust in your leadership among your workforce if you don't speak to them – face to face – on at least a semi-regular basis. In a Forbes Coaches Council blog post, multiple corporate leadership consultants stressed this: Whether in one-to-one conversations, departmental chats or all-hands briefings, it's critical to ask workers' opinions, listen carefully to what they have to say and seriously factor the most valuable feedback into processes (or adjustments to them). 

Forging connections

Creating a genuine connection between you and your staff is also vital – a task that can be accomplished successfully through communication, according to Harvard Business Review. David DeSteno, a Northeastern University psychology professor who specializes in the study of trust, confirmed this in an interview with the publication.

"As a person's power increases, their perceived trustworthiness goes down," DeSteno told HBR. "Do something that makes them believe that you are one of them, [to signal] even though you are the boss, in the end you're all in this together." 

It doesn't necessarily matter how you develop connections, as long as they're real: You can bond with a senior copywriter in your marketing team over something as simple as a shared interest in pro basketball, and maybe that will lead to friendship with other workers across departments and create a great chance for a team outing to see the local NBA team. Conversely, connections can be as serious as empathizing with an IT staffer when one of their relatives goes through an illness you dealt with in your own family. What matters is that you take the time to build such bonds.

The value of transparency

Imagine the following scenario: If business is struggling but you and other C-suite members act like everything is fine, workers will be shocked and justly hurt when problems lead to budget-saving layoffs. More than a few will likely start plotting their exits. Can you blame them? You must always be honest about the state of the company when speaking about it in macro terms: Celebrate successes, but also admit failures and apologize for them if management is responsible, according to Inc. magazine.

Then you must commit to new strategies that will make up the ground you've lost. As Gallup noted in its study, companies whose staff have trust in their leaders are more likely to be understanding of any mistakes that occur – and willing to do what they can to assist you in the efforts to rectify those errors. An organization held up by the connective tissue of trust is far less likely to fail than one lacking such an attribute.