The Line - Self Leadership - Development

The 6 Trust Fails

Avoid these 6 common trust fails to unleash the power of trust on your team

by Kat Schulte | August 2023

What is it like to work with someone you trust?
What is it like to work with someone you distrust?
(No really. Take a second to answer these questions. We’ll wait.)

We all can quickly access the feelings of openness, creativity and safety that exist when we interact with people we trust. And just as easily, maybe more easily, we can also access the feelings of guarding, defensiveness, and alertness that can come with distrust. Trust, or the lack thereof, is the foundation of any team. A team’s ability to collaborate and communicate effectively is built directly on that foundation however strong or brittle it may be.

As leaders we all want to create solid cultures of trust. We know what it feels like when trust is present. And yet, the practical actions that build trust on our teams can feel a bit more nebulous and hard to nail down.

What we know is that our behavior is never neutral.

In any moment and interaction, we are either building or breaking trust. And often this is unconscious and unintentional. There is power in putting language around how we break and build trust so that we can build trust with our people and teams on purpose. It can be helpful to name the ways we can unintentionally break trust. We can only shift what we see. Here are the most common trust fails. See if you can identify which one is your kryptonite (we all have at least one!)

The 6 Trust Fails


Fail #1 Distractions

It is HARD to be present when we typically have distraction devices (phones and computers) within arms reach. And yet it is hugely important that when our team is coming to us, we give them our attention. Flipping over our phone or closing our laptop may seem like a small act, but it makes a huge statement that the person in front of us is worth our full attention. If we cannot be present in the moment, telling the person we need 5 minutes to finish what we are doing and circling back with them can accomplish the same goal.


Fail #2 Back Channeling

This one is simultaneously a trust breaker and a symptom of lack of trust. This might show up as “the meeting after the meeting,” or agreeing with something in public and disagreeing with a smaller group after.

This can also look like what Brené Brown calls “public enemy hot wiring” where we connect with one person on the team by discussing or hating the same person. In the moment, we may feel an increased connection with the person in our inner circle. But the person you are back-channeling with will be wondering what you say about them when they are not around. It’s better that we let our public and private self be the same.


Fail #3 Lack of Communication

In the absence of data, we make up stories. It is a cool truth about how our brains work. And due to negativity bias, the stories we make up are often negative. We see this when we get an email that says, “we need to talk.” Most of us would assume we are getting fired, or maybe not getting a raise.

As leaders we cannot always give our team every piece of information we have, but it is important to know and address that negative assumptions will appear and erode trust whenever there is a lack of information.


Fail #4 Inconsistency

Consistency breeds trust. Whenever there is a disconnect between our words and our actions, we believe what we SEE. Every. Single. Time. This is obvious for any parent who has told their child to only use nice language and then their kid happens to drop a colorful word they have heard their parents say.

In leadership this could look like encouraging our team to not work too much or to utilize their PTO take their vacation, but then we send an email at 10pm or let our vacation days go unused. The more our words and actions align, the more trust we will build.


Fail #5 Avoiding the Tough Stuff

With our headquarters in Michigan, we call this “West Michigan Nice” or “midwest nice,” but it seems each locality has its own term for this phenomenon. This happens whenever we avoid tough topics. This might look like only providing positive feedback or being in a meeting where everyone is aware of subtext that continues to go unaddressed. Some conversations and topics are hard and messy. But when we face these issues with compassionate candor, even the hard conversations build trust. As Brené Brown puts it: Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.


Fail #6 Not owning your sh*t

It can be difficult to take responsibility for a mistake or for unintended negative impact. But attempts we take to circumvent this responsibility erodes trust with our team. Far better for us to own up when we misstep. Not only does it build trust with our team; it also models taking responsibility to our team and allows them room to do the same when they mess up.

Which trust fail is your kryptonite go-to?


We ALL fall into these trust fails. The leadership move is to catch ourselves in these and circle back to correct any damage done. Making intentional choices in these seemingly small moments brick by brick build a strong foundation of trust on a team.

Get Started

In addition to the above, take a peek at an oldie but goodie blog post on the power of asking for help as a leader. It just so happens to be the number one way for leaders to build trust with their teams. When was the last time you asked for help?

If you have not asked for help in a while, check out the Trust Playbook below.

Want more?  Here is a podcast with Brené Brown and author of Thin Book of Trust, Charles Feltman.

The Trust Playbook

We would love to support you in creating a strong foundation of trust in your team. 

After noticing the need to deepen trust on so many teams we partner with, we developed a stand alone experience: The Trust Playbook to leverage the power of trust for teams and organizations.

We would love to connect and explore the possibilities for your team!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Home     —    Approach     —    Our Team     —    Programs      —    Contact

 Copyright © 2021 AG Collaborative, LLC ®   —   All Rights Reserved.   —   Terms & Conditions

Sprouted by Germination Labs

Maintained & Protected by Maintain Hero