Closed doors. Rumors. Disappearance. Whispers in corners. Widespread panic.

What was happening!?!

It was 2001 and the company I worked for was laying off employees. People were given boxes for their belongings, then they were ushered out. Poof! They were gone. The worst magic act ever.

This memory came to mind when I read leadership communication trends in 2020.  Trend #8 grabbed my attention – building trust and encouraging transparency.  With only four sentences that followed and a couple of links, I wanted more … because my story  is an all-too-common story, especially in 2020.  Recently, I facilitated a successful organizational change training, and the theme of lack of trust and transparency came up several times. It’s a story that is repeated over and over again. A story of bad communication that so often ends with a snuffing out of trust in leadership. I think it’s time to talk about it.


Poor communication.  There. I said it.

Now, I realize there are other contributors to a lack of trust, but since I’m a communication expert, I’m going to talk about what I know.

Some leaders make the mistake of believing a paycheck should be enough to build trust – it just isn’t. Frankly, that way of thinking is archaic, and it isn’t going to work for most employees today.  Employees need more.

Sporadic and non-transparent communication leads to employees feeling devalued and negative because the human brain is prone to catastrophic thinking. On a good day, “… 80 percent of our thoughts have some degree of negative content” (Harris, 2008).  Throw some bad communication in the mix and it gets worse. When our brain doesn’t have all the information to complete the story, we worry. Then cortisol (a stress hormone) releases and our brain spirals into a dark abyss of negativity.

Think of the last time someone said, “We need to talk.”

What was your first thought? Was it, “Oh, they are going to tell me something really nice.”  How about, “They must have good news to share.” If it was your boss saying the two of you needed to talk, did you think, “She is going to give me a raise!”

I would bet money that the thoughts above were not your thoughts.  They were probably more like these:

“Should I be concerned?”

“What did I do now?”

“Am I in trouble?”

“Oh #$&*! My heart is pounding.”

Leaders – stop ruining trust. Please.


Be Accountable. Let your employees know when you mess up.  Own your mistake and communicate your plan to fix it. This not only communicates that you are human just like your employees, it teaches them to be accountable too.

Be Honest. Take time to share information you have permission to share. If there are reasons you can’t share information, tell your employees why.  This is transparency.  Remember, if they don’t have the right information to complete the story, they’ll complete it with the wrong information.

Be Supportive. Ask your employees what they need, then provide it. If you can’t provide it, see above.


Use the following scale to rate your ability to build trust. (And if you really want the truth, be courageous and ask your employees to rate you.)

Now, what are you going to do about it? If you don’t know, read the part on How to Build Trust again.

Other Ways to Build Trust:

3 Things Employees Cannot Live Without

Coaching Not Telling

Listen Better