Can’t Trust Your Boss?

What is Trust?

First, let’s talk about what trust is.  Trust is the ability to rely on a particular response from another person.  If I trust you, then I’m pretty sure that you’ll do what I expect you to do and if you don’t, I’m pretty sure that there was a good reason why you didn’t do it.  If I trust you, I give you the benefit of the doubt.  If I don’t trust you, then I don’t think you’ll do what I need you to do, and if you say you’ll do it, I don’t really give you the benefit of the doubt.

In our world, we trust a lot of people, and they deserve it.  We trust that someone at the electric company will do his/her job and that our electricity will stay on.  We trust that someone will deliver the food to the grocery store and that it will be there when we go to buy it.  The grocery store trusts that we will pay for the groceries with legal money and that we won’t steal the food instead of paying for it. We trust that people will drive on the correct side of the street and that teachers will actually teach our children.  We trust pilots to follow the rules in flying their planes.  We trust (rely) in standard behaviors.

BUT, we don’t trust bankers not to set up deals that are unfair.  We don’t trust politicians.  We don’t trust lawyers.  We don’t trust . . .  complete your list.  Well, actually, the truth is that we do trust these folks according to my definition of trust.  We trust (rely on a particular response) that these folks are going to act in their own interest.  (Yeah, yeah, I know there are bankers, politicians and lawyers who don’t act in their own interest –but you’d never know it by talking to most people/listening to the news, etc.)  So . . . if we use my definition of trust, what can you trust your boss to do?

What Can You Trust Your Boss To Do?

This is a serious question—what can you rely on your boss to do consistently?  Good or bad? 

  • Does he show up?
  • Does she help you understand what the organization is trying to accomplish?  The vision?
  • Is he clear about what you should be doing?  Your deadlines?
  • Does she take your side with your peers?  With her peers? With her boss?
  • Does he always disagree with you?
  • Does she act in your interest?  In her interest?  When conflicted, which way does she come down?

When you use my definition of trust–able to rely on a particular response–chances are good that you actually CAN trust your boss more than you think you can.  There are probably consistent responses that you see from your boss.  When you say you can’t trust your boss, you aren’t likely using my definition of trust.  You more likely mean that you think your boss will act in his/her own interest instead of  yours when faced with the choice.

We All Act In Our Own Self-Interest

There are even those who argue that altruists are acting in their own interest.  I don’t know if I’d take it that far, but we all have lines that we draw.  Most of us would put our children, our families, our communities over others.  It’s hard not to choose to for yourself, even when you feel conflicted between your own good and the greater good. It’s pretty human. If you feel that your boss chooses his/her own self interest every time over your self interest, you are probably right.  S/he may not even see it that way.  S/he may be in denial about it.  Regardless, it is likely you don’t like it.  BUT if it happens on a regular basis, then you can rely on that particular response.  You can trust your boss to act in a way that you don’t like–to act in his/her own interest instead of yours.

Shift the Way You Look at This

If you can rely (trust) on your boss to act in a certain way, you can begin to figure out how to use your boss’ reactions, by learning to get consistent reactions, to be successful.  If you can stop feeling hurt/distrustful/unhappy about the fact that your boss doesn’t act in your interest, but rather in his own, then you can learn how to get consistent reactions from your boss.  If you want your boss to do something in particular, how can you frame her decision so that she sees it as a decision in her self interest?  If your boss consistently decides things to support ‘favorites’ then figure out how to frame the decision as supporting those folks.

As long as you are struggling to get things done in a way that protects your self-interest, or is for the ‘greater good,’ and are frustrated and angry because your boss doesn’t do that, you aren’t succeeding.  If you reframe it for your boss–you can think of it in any way you like–so that your boss feels like he is making the decision for whatever his purposes are, then the decision can go the way you want it to.  You win.  Why the hell do you care that the boss isn’t making the decision for the ‘right’ reason?  You win. 

See–you CAN trust your boss–even if you can’t.

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Filed under Career Development, Executive Development, Trust

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