See No Evil: Balancing Trust and Distrust

Effective leaders trust the people on their team, but trust does not mean blind trust.  The challenge is balancing trust and distrust.  Distrust is different from mistrust.   Mistrust is a general sense of unease in others honesty.  Distrust is based on experience or reliable information. Leaders don’t cover their eyes to the following realities:

Reality One:  Most people are honest, but not all.  Most people show up for work on time.  They’ll do the job they were paid to do and they’ll go home without company pens, paper or staplers in their bags.

But not all. Some employees are very good at looking busy when the boss is around.  They show up late, they leave early and while they are at work, they spend more time on Facebook than on their job. They take office supplies home to help with their child’s back to school shopping list, with the rationale “this helps make up for the lousy paycheque”.

Reality Two:  Negative behaviours are more contagious than positive behaviours. If the negative behaviour is not addressed, if it is allowed to continue because a warm, slightly thieving body is better than no body, then the employees who have been working hard may start to show up late, leave early and spend more time on Facebook.  Their rationale becomes “If Susie can do it, why can’t I?”

Reality Three:  The most honest person on your team may be faced with a personal crisis and decide that you may be the way out.  Perhaps a spouse or partner loses a job, the saving account is depleted, and the mortgage and other bills have  not been paid.  All of a sudden, the stock room looks like a temporary solution to a challenging time.

Being a mistrustful leader, manager or supervisor who believes everyone is out to rip off the company by stealing stuff or time, is not good for business.  A police state environment, with employees spending more time on “cover my butt” or “save my job” activities than on tasks that move the company forward, is not good for business.  At the same time, being a leader, manager or supervisor who blindly trusts and believes everyone, who is blissfully unaware of stuff or time being stolen, is also not good for business.

Distrust does not mean believing everyone is out to rip you off.  It is recognizing the reality that hiring mistakes will be made.   It is recognizing that honesty and integrity may be rationalized away in times of stress.   It is putting protocols, such as inventory control measures, in place to make theft more difficult for people who may be tempted to help themselves.  It is continuing to believe that most people are honest, but keeping an eye out for people that aren’t.

What are your thoughts?  How can leaders balance trust with the reality that not everyone is trustworthy?


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