Trust is a difficult topic, especially at work, because what do we want people to trust us with? Read about this here.
But here goes the other way around. When should we not trust a leader? There is one clear sign for this that never let me down.
When a leader talks bad about somebody, RUN! Don't take part. I know you want to because it makes you feel good that you are close to the management and all that, but don't!
Leaders do this for three reasons: 1, They are just poor leaders and gossipers. 2, They think it is a sign of taking somebody into their inner confidence. 3, Leaders also need support, a sounding board, somebody to trust with such information, to share their frustration, and to release pressure by talking about things.
The problem is that when leaders do this with their team members, they immediately lose trust with the same person (if the person's morale is in the right place) they are sharing this with because they know that the leader will talk bad about them. They will ask, "What is it that he/she says about me behind my back?"
The tricky part is that leaders need a confidante, but that cannot be at work if they want to maintain trust. During one of my sessions with senior leaders around building trust, this triggered a very genuine conversation. They expressed this need, and I supported them and I said:
This is why you have friends, family, wife, husband, partner, neighbours, etc... They are the ones you have to share these things with, not at work where everyone is too close to the fire, which makes it easy to get tangled up in politics, favouritism, toxicity, and to lose trust.
I have friends who know everything about everyone at work, and they never met anyone. My partner knows everything about my friends, and I never let him meet any of them. One friend of mine knows everything about my partner, and she never met him.
You talk about people with people they don't know. Keep it clean.
This is the secret to keeping trust, a healthy work environment, and helping you process information and work through challenges.
I know we all get into this mess sometimes because we need an outlet for our frustrations, but the relief is temporary. It is soon followed by guilt about talking behind people's backs, lack of trust and toxicity. It just isn't worth it.
You will want to do it, we all do it but don't. As a leader, you cannot. Talk bad about your teams with your friends or partner. It is one of the reasons you have them:-)
PS: On the other hand, having a bestie at work with whom you can share your challenges is important. So even if you are a leader, choose that bestie from a leadership pool, not from your team members'.