I Don’t Trust My Boss: How to Build and Manage Trust at Work

I Don't Trust My Boss: How to Build and Manage Trust

“I don’t trust my boss.”
“I think he’s out to get me.”
“She’s such a hypocrite.”
“I’m afraid of what he might say.”
“She’s going to think I’m dumb.”
“I hate when my boss comes to meetings.”
“He doesn’t care about my success, just his.”

Like almost everyone else, I’m sure you’ve seen a boss that you really couldn’t trust. Early in my own career, I had a boss like that. He wasn’t a bad person, but simply didn’t know how to foster trust within the team. He had double standards, and you never really knew where you stood. The team suffered a lot because of that.

When I fast-forward to today, I find myself battling to make sure I don’t fall into those same mistakes. Whether you’re a manager or not, trust needs to be a major topic in your mind. If nothing else, having a trusting relationship with your boss will reduce stress at work and help you focus on better enjoying what you’re creating and building.

The One Thing Employees Really Want

It’s kind of ironic that as soon as someone becomes a manager, they tend to forget what it was like to be an individual contributor. Everyone says they’ll be a better boss than their own, but when our time comes, it’s not so easy.

Here’s a question for you: What matters most to you in your relationship with your boss? Regardless of roles, the answer that most everyone eventually comes to is a simply one: Trust. Employees want to be led by managers they can trust. [1] If there’s trust in that relationship, so much of what limits your potential can be avoided.

Denny Strigl, former CEO of Verizon Wireless, talks about his experiences with trust. Over the years he’s managed countless managers, concluding:

Without [trust], companies and managers can still survive—although it’s getting a lot tougher—but they certainly will not achieve the same results they can with [it].”

Most managers demand trust from their direct reports, but forget that their direct reports need to trust them too. From my experience, when you can’t trust your boss, you’re forced to constantly edit yourself. In an effort to make sure you’re always in good standing, you avoid taking risks. In the worst cases, you may even downplay or cover up mistakes. All of this is really harmful for you, and for the team, in the long run.

Three Components that Trust is Built On

Trust can be really abstract, but I want you leaving here feeling like it’s actually something pretty concrete. Trust is something you can very specifically work on. To do that, it’s important to break it down, like into these three core components: Integrity, Openness, and Respect. [1]

1. Integrity: How you conduct yourself, even when no one is looking

If you have integrity, it means you have a set of moral principles that you follow—always. When making decisions or reacting to events that happen around you, these principles govern what you do. A lack of integrity is most commonly shown by lying, misleading, covering up problems, or even abusing authority. Not only does this destroy trust, it can actually lead to others believing this type of behavior is acceptable (and emulating it).

2. Openness: How you allow others to act and express themselves

A lot of people think of openness in regards to sharing information with their team. That’s the start, but the real goal is to create a culture that allows others to freely express themselves. Without a culture of openness, people are forced to edit themselves, limiting ideas, solutions, and individual growth. It results in not only a weak team, but a manager needing to micromanage everything that gets done. You want people to feel open to taking risks, otherwise mediocrity is all that your team is going to produce.

3. Respect: How you treat others and empower them

Respect is all about empowering employees and setting high expectations for their future growth. Many newer managers think respect is about being a “nice” boss—it isn’t. How many times have you seen a nice boss that did very little to empower his or her direct reports? Respect is really about professional respect. Respecting a person’s potential and challenging them to further their development. When you truly respect someone, you want them to succeed in the most spectacular of ways.

Why It’s the Manager’s Job First

I once heard a manager say that they don’t trust their direct report. The insinuation there was that the employee needed to be the one to start building the trust. In almost all cases, this mentality is backward. Building trust must always begin with the manager. [1] It’s only once the manager sets the foundation, that the employee can then begin building upon it.

To drive this point home, imagine yourself brand new to your role. Now imagine being told you were responsible for building trust with your boss. The first question you’d have to ask is “how?” You’d struggle, trying to figure out what your boss expects and appreciates. You’d run around doing things that probably really didn’t matter, and eventually realize it’s not making much of a difference.

This scenario demonstrates exactly why managers are in charge of setting expectations. A manager who can properly set expectations around integrity, openness, and respect, will make it a lot easier for his or her direct reports to live up to those standards. Those clear standards put the responsibility back on the employee, making growth towards those objectives a joint effort.

Still, You’re Responsible for Yourself

You as a professional have a responsibility to create a mini-culture around you. The central core of that personal culture is your integrity. Yes, your boss is responsible for setting the foundation for trust, but you as an individual aren’t off the hook either.

If you’re unhappy with the relationship you have with your boss, begin with having open conversations about how you feel. I’ve found that many of the bosses that don’t foster a culture of openness don’t even realize it. When told that people constantly edit themselves to please the boss, they tend to be surprised or even in denial.

As for building around respect, it’s important to champion the people around you and build a culture of respecting your co-workers and peers. Professional respect is contagious. As soon as people realize what you’re trying to do, they’ll start to emulate the behavior as well. This is a win for everyone, but especially for you.

Trust is something all managers should aspire to build within their teams. It doesn’t stop with just managers, though. You, as an employee, should think about how you build trust with all the people you work with. I guarantee you’ll find more opportunity for growth and more satisfaction in what you do if you’re able to grow it. Just like distrust, trust will spread if more people attempt to foster it. That’s why it’s so important to start doing it now.


“The best-performing managers I’ve met had the trust not only of their employees but also their bosses and their internal and external peers. Bosses could absolutely depend on these managers’ words and actions. Internally, they had the trust of other departments they interacted with on a daily basis. Externally, they earned the trust of their customers, suppliers, and vendors.”

– Denny Strigl, CEO Verizon Wireless


[1] Strigl, Denny F., and Frank Swiatek. Managers, can you hear me now? : hard-hitting lessons on how to get real results. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.

Credit: Feature image by Freepik

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