Three Steps to Rebuild Trust after You’ve Lost It

From Enron to Bernie Madoff, scandals involving industry titans make big headlines. And, if you’ve noticed an increase in stories about unethical leaders, you’re not alone. According to research from professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC):

“Boards of directors, institutional investors, governments and the media are holding chief executive officers to a far higher level of accountability for ethical lapses than in the past. Globally, CEO dismissals for ethical lapses increased from 3.9% of all successions in 2007–2011 to 5.3% in 2012–2016, a 36% increase.”

Obviously, the scandals that make the news are extreme examples of leadership misconduct and not typical of most businesses. In fact, according to recent research from Gallup, 75% of employees describe the morals of their CEO as “excellent” or “good.” But, even the most respected company leaders aren’t immune to making decisions—even when made with good intentions—that erode employee trust in their leadership. And, once it’s lost, trust is often difficult to rebuild.

So, as a leader, what should you do if you find yourself in the middle of a crisis of trust? These three steps will help put you on the right track toward mending your reputation and strengthening relationships with employees.

Own it
Set aside your pride and bite the bullet—the first and most important step to rebuilding trust is owning up to mistakes. Pairing genuine humility with an honest and frank discussion with the affected parties will help lay the foundation for repairing business relationships.

In addition to owning your actions, explaining the logic behind them—no matter how misguided or embarrassing it may seem in hindsight—will help frame the circumstances of the situation. Then, open the floor to conversation about what led up to the unfortunate event to help pinpoint where things went wrong.

Fix it
The next step is to put an action plan in place to undo the damage that has been done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Again, this is a time to lay all your cards on the table and take an honest look at the situation in order to forge the best path forward.

Include your employees in the process as well. It’s important to let them see that you are genuinely invested in fixing the problem and regaining their trust. It also reaffirms that you truly value their insight and contributions to the team.

Learn from it
Once the issue has been acknowledged and resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, the final step is to put procedures in place to ensure the issue doesn’t rear its head again in the future or as a safeguard for other company leaders who may find themselves in a similar situation.

Remember, these three steps are just the beginning of the process. Rebuilding trust is an ongoing commitment that takes time and dedication to mending relationships before your reputation is fully restored. But, a focus on accountability, action, and learning is always a great place to start.

How have you built trust in your leadership among your employees? What are some ways leaders have earned your trust? Let us know in the comments section below.

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