6 signs that teams don’t trust their leaders


Trust is one of the most important elements in a well-functioning team. When team members don’t trust their leaders it can become problematic for everyone. Here are the signs to watch out for.

mistrusting management

Image: iStock/fizkes

Teams that function well and succeed all have one thing in common: Team members mostly trust their leader. When distrust is present, it can show itself in these six ways, and it is essential to resolve the cause of distrust to re-gain team functionality. 

1. A lack of interest or resistance to initiatives

Not all projects or initiatives conjure up excitement for team members. Still, when a lack of interest, complaints, and overall resistance becomes commonplace, it may be a sign that teams distrust their leader. Even if groups like their manager, they may not trust his or her judgment or ideas. There may also be unresolved conflict or other factors at play. Regardless, these are potential signs of distrust.

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2. Not paying attention to leadership in meetings

Look around the room in any one meeting, and you’ll see people yawning, looking at their phones, rolling their eyes, or looking frustrated. This isn’t necessarily a reflection of distrust for leadership, but when it becomes a regular occurrence within specific team meetings or with a particular person leading meetings, it’s more likely to be the case. If this is so, more often than not, there will also be some chatter by the coffee machine, in the lunchroom, or via Zoom or text message, about a lack of interest in attending specific leaders’ meetings. This may signal distrust.

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3. Asking other leaders for guidance

Suppose team members find themselves looking for a second opinion. In that case, especially if it is more often than not, it’s a sign that they don’t fully trust the judgment or feel adequately supported by their leader. There’s nothing wrong with getting a second opinion periodically to solidify an understanding of a topic or initiative, but frequent second-guessing signifies that team members aren’t comfortable with their leader’s judgment or guidance. 

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4. Withholding opinions or information

There may be reasons for team members to withhold information. Some may include the sensitive nature of the information entrusted to them; others might be that it’s for the greater good and well-being of the group or personal information. Team members may withhold information or opinions because they believe they will be held back from promotions for expressing it or that their leader will, in some way, punish them for it. This can be a sign that they have developed a sense of distrust for their leader. 

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5. Displaying outward signs of disrespect

Once a team member has reached a high level of frustration due to distrust for their leader, they may no longer hide it and instead start to display outward signs of disrespect. Some of these outward signs may be glaring, rolling of eyes, snickering when their leader is speaking, exchanging looks with others, sarcastic responses, or even public arguments. Once things reach this stage, the level of distrust has become unhealthy for others. 

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6. High turnover within specific groups

Although team members can have various reasons for leaving companies, it may not be that innocent if turnover is higher in one department than in other areas. If there’s a disproportionate amount of turnover in a specific group, it’s a sign that, as the saying goes, “people don’t leave companies, they leave their bosses.” Before things get to this level, it’s vital to get to the root of distrust and find ways to resolve things.

Distrust doesn’t go away; it simply accelerates the damage that’s done. Resolving distrust at all levels requires having a sincere interest in supporting your team, being able to convey that sentiment in a clear and immediate way, allowing your team to have an open dialogue with you, and involving them in the solution. 

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