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When the Previous Leader Ruins the Trust

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Leaders and managers often take over teams that are run to the ground physically, mentally, and emotionally. I was advising on this a couple of weeks earlier, so it got me thinking last night.

How do we restore trust in a team that has completely lost it under the previous management or leadership? The mistake new leaders and managers often make is telling the team, "You can trust me, I am open to your feedback", or "My door is open", or "I am not like him/her." Don't do that!

This will not work. Remember, the team may have been deprived of trust for years. Psychological safety, the core of trust, has gone. A one-off or even a few nudges to tell the truth or voice their opinion will not be sufficient.

The good news is that it can be done. The bad news is that it will take time. Months and months of listening, communicating, and actions.

The most important thing when rebuilding trust in a team that has lost trust and now is sceptical or even suspicious of the leader is to give people the space to talk.

At first, they won't, but you cannot give up.

Have one-on-ones and maybe team sessions and invite them to share their experiences with the previous managers. Here, you don't want to open a gossip session, so you don't respond or give your opinion, only listen. Remember, your job is to gather information about how the team has been let down, what made them lose trust, what it is that you should not do and what you have to fix.

If you have identified areas that require your action, you must do it otherwise, you will not gain your trust. You need to update them on things that you are addressing and the outcome. Your actions will be the key to gaining trust, not the open-door policy.

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