Let Go! Mistrusted Leader

Transitioning People Through Constant Change

In my previous series of posts called “Kill the Hierarchy” I discussed the need for organisations to flatten the organisational structure if they are to survive in what is now described as a VUCA environment - volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Change is constant and unpredictable. Organisations have to be able to respond quickly to ever-changing conditions. Employees need autonomy and allowed to self-manage.

In this series called ‘Let Go!’ I explore what I believe one of the biggest challenges facing organisations that wish to create this autonomous workplace. This is getting managers to let go. Managers need to become leaders and surrender control.

No one ever did anything awesome or great just because they were told to!

The ‘Let Go’model shown the diagram below, illustrates that respected leadership comes when managers surrender control and are prepared to tolerate risks.

© Karen Ferris 2018

© Karen Ferris 2018

Mixed messages

I touched on mixed messages in my last post which discussed the doubted leader.

The mistrusted leader does the opposite to the doubted leader.

When a leader ‘says’ to employees that they can self-manage, make decisions, innovate, experiment and create but I will not tolerate risk, they are sending mixed messages.

When a leader ‘says’ you are autonomous but I will not tolerate risk, they are sending inconsistent messages.

When people receive mixed messages they are emotional confused and conflicted. Conflict happens when we think a message is going one way – good – but turns out to be going another way – bad. 

In my last post, Doubted Leader, I explored what the leader and the employee need to do in regards to the sending and receipt of mixed messages. I discussed the actions each needed to take to get to a point where messages were unambiguous and consistent. So I encourage you to read that post to understand how the mixed message situation can be reversed.

The mistrusted leader is saying I give you freedom but I will not tolerate risk – this is ‘you are on your own’ leadership.


Mistrusted leaders are dangling carrots. They are promising their employees self-management and autonomy to do the job the way they want, where they want and when they want. These are things that motivate employees.

But by not tolerating risk leaders are failing to deliver on those promises.

When employees are given autonomy and encouraged to innovate and experiment, they also being encouraged to take risks. If an innovation or experiment fails, that is ok as long as the interests of the organisation and its employees where forefront of mind. 

When promises are not delivered, the trust of the employee is violated.

Money can’t buy you trust

You can’t buy the trust of employees by making false promises. With the pace of change in organisations today, trust is inherently important.

Trust has to be earned. Leaders need to develop a tolerance of risk and recognise good and well-intended work regardless of the outcome.

Leaders have to provide consistent and clear communication and align employee work with organisational goals.

If you can’t deliver on a promise, be honest, transparent and explain why.

Leaders lead rather than manage. They build teams. They use the term ‘we’ more than “I”. They use the term “us” more than ‘you”.


Constantly recognise achievements and provide coaching and mentoring where improvement in performance is needed. Neuroscience shows that recognition has the largest impact on trust when it is given immediately after a goal has been met, and when it is tangible, unexpected, personal and public. 

Be clear that you have the team’s interest and that of the wider organisation in mind and not your own interests and needs. You have to demonstrate that this is the case.

Have meaningful conversations with employees. Ask “how are you?” and listen to what is being said.

When you don’t know what to do, say that you don’t know what to do. Ask for suggestions and problem solving ideas.

Give people discretion in how they do their work. Demonstrate that you trust them. Trust is a two-way street. If employees know that you truly trust them they will give it back. Trusting employees to do the right thing but in their own way, is a big motivator.

Be fair and show others that you trust and respect them.

Bottom line

Trust inside an organisation builds trust outside an organisation.

If employees don’t trust their leaders, they will be verbal about it. They will leave the organisation and tell people why. Customers and consumers soon become aware of an organisation built on mistrusted leaders.

In the PWC 2016 Global CEO Survey, it found that 55% of CEOs believe a lack of trust is a threat to their organisation. But the majority have done little to increase trust, mainly because they are unsure of where to start.

According to Paul J Zak, writing for HBR, his research has revealed the following.

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report:

·      74% less stress

·      106% more energy at work

·      50% higher productivity

·      13% fewer sick days

·      76% more engagement

·      29% more satisfaction with their lives

·      40% less burnout

All of these aspects have a monetary implication.

In short

Change is now constant and unpredictable. Organisations have to be able to respond quickly to ever-changing conditions. They need to create and innovate in order to not only survive but also thrive. 

This will only happen when employees have autonomy, can self-manage and are encouraged to make-decisions, innovate and experiment. 

resilient people.jpg

Leaders that send mixed messages and on one-hand talk about autonomy, innovation, experimentation and decentralised decision-making and on the other hand discourage risk taking create frustration, anger and confusion. 

Employee engagement will be damaged and the organisation will not innovate. They will become dormant and die.

Mistrusted leaders have no place in the workforce today.

Coming up!

The posts in this series will discuss each of the leadership styles in the “Let Go” model – feared, mistrusted, doubted and respected – and what leaders need to do to become respected.

More posts on their way over the coming weeks and months, exploring how we need to take a fresh and radical look at organisational change management, and the changes we need to make if we are to thrive.

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Also remember that older posts from me are available via the Resources section.