7 Signs of Trust Issues in the C Suite

7 Signs of Trust Issues in the C Suite

Leadership teams are force multipliers that have enormous impact on the success of an organisation.  But they need TRUST first to succeed.  Without trust, it’s like trawling through mud.  Everything takes longer than necessary.  People block each other, double up on resources, avoid talking about the real issues and require countless meetings to gain consensus.

In today’s fast-moving environment, if an organisation isn’t constantly disrupting itself to move forward, the competition will move faster.  At it’s core, it involves changing management team interactions.  This requires an awareness and focus of each team member building trust with one another, so the organisation can execute swiftly on ambitious goals.

So let’s take a look at the top seven trust issues that trigger high performing CEOs to determine that trust problems are potentially impacting growth opportunities.

1. Lack of Understanding of other Team Members

Management team members often come from diverse backgrounds and experiences.  Throwing high performing individual leaders together doesn’t translate into a team that will naturally gel and work together seamlessly.  CEOs realise that it takes effort and planning to help their leadership team reach their full potential.  

Leaders often find it challenging to understand why their peers behave in a particular way or don’t communicate in the same way as they do.  One of the main reasons is that they tend to make assumptions about each other based on their own world view, failing to take into account the other person’s perspective.  The result is that they will often get frustrated with each other – butting heads or avoiding each other fearing conflict.

To fix this requires leaders spending time with one another to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how they like to work and communicate.  Learning about each person’s work style and what KPIs they are required to achieve, creates a deeper understanding with one another that is crucial towards building trust.  

2. Lack of Clarity around Vision or Strategy

A common cause of anxiety and uncertainty in organisations is when there is no clear vision or strategy articulated by the CEO.  Often, you’ll find a lot of conflict with people heading off on different tangents because they think they know what needs to be done and what doesn’t.  If people aren’t on the same page, as to the future direction of the organisation, it creates lots of issues.  One of the first things turnaround CEOs do when they are brought in to fix an organisation is create a clear strategy where everyone knows their responsibilities.

Positively, bringing the leadership team together to develop the strategy and spending time planning creates alignment and even excitement around the future direction. 

3. The CEO Plays Favourites

Trust issues in leadership teams often stem from how the CEO models behaviours and interacts with the group.  

CEOs that tend to have favourites, are not approachable, cannot be challenged and expect others to do what they say, create a psychologically unsafe environment.

While very few CEOs will acknowledge behaving in such a way and do something about it, it usually takes a successor to clean up the mess and create a more open, collaborative and risk free workplace.

4. Leaders Stuck in their Comfort Zone

One of the issues with medium sized organisations is that they often have executives in the leadership team who have been there a long time and helped it grow.  Unfortunately,  just because someone has been in an organisation a long time doesn’t mean they have the skill set (or desire) to grow their department as the organisation gets bigger. 

The result is they will often set pretty easy goals for themselves and their team.  This can often causes frustration and trust issues when new people are brought in from larger companies who are used to stretching themselves and pushing for ambitious targets.  High performers that have to work around low performers create a lot of tension and frustration. 

This requires the CEO to really consider whether the loyal executive is the right fit for the firm and where it is heading.  It means working with the leader to uncover whether they are setting easy goals because they are a symptom of the previous environment or whether they actually have the potential, capabilities and characteristics to lift their performance.

5. Conflict Between Leaders

Leaders who don’t care about each other, don’t communicate, create silos or who are often in conflict can be very destructive to not only the leadership team, but the organisation itself.  The longer it’s left to fester, the worse it will get.

Initially, it requires the CEO to have a one on one conversation with each individual and then bring them together to understand each other’s position or perspective that led to the breakdown of trust.  Referring to the strategic plan and the objectives required and understanding each person’s working styles and deliverables can help.   It also means the CEO taking a hard line and refusing to put up with bad behaviours.  But the reality is if they can’t get past their issues, the best way to deal with it is that they both have to leave, as aggression and conflict produce toxic cultures. 

6. People Not being Honest

Leaders who don’t act with integrity create massive trust issues in a leadership team and the organisation itself.  After all, it’s difficult to trust someone when they withhold information, cover up their own mistakes, blame others, talk behind people’s backs or send out complaint emails to all and sundry.

Leaders who aren’t honest about their behaviour or performance contribute to an environment where people are afraid to speak up about what’s really going on.  After all, fear drive information underground.  This is not just in the leadership team  itself, but the whole organisation, because how the leadership team behave and interact set the cultural tone.  When you don’t have honesty, you don’t get the truth.  It means you don’t see the train wreck before it happens.

Getting at the truth is essential for an organising to improve.  Fixing this involves the CEO creating a high candour environment through modelling the right behaviours such as fessing up to mistakes, asking for help, being challenged by others and being vulnerable.  And not tolerating poor behaviours or punishing people when they make an error.

7. Leaders being too Self-Focused

Finally, another issue is when you have a leader that is too focused on their own functional area and who doesn’t have an enterprise wide view of the organisation. It creates issues in a leadership team because they’re not on the same page for conversations about the future direction or even solving challenges.  It’s also very hard to trust someone when they are self-interested.

Typically, this tends to be an issue for leaders new to a leadership team.  It requires close tutelage by the CEO to ensure that they understand the role of other teams, in order to ensure that they deliver on time and to the right level of quality.

Solving Trust Problems

Creating a high trust C-suite is an evolutionary process led by the CEO to drive focus, direction and team momentum.  This requires undertaking inward facing activities to reset the team and create a new behavioural paradigm to springboard the organisation into future growth.  It all starts with getting everyone on the same page through better understanding of each other, designing a clear strategic direction and a CEO that champions the right behaviours and actions.


Marie-Claire Ross is the Founder and Chief Corporate Catalyst at Trustologie. She is a workplace sociologist, author, speaker and consultant focused on helping leaders put the right processes in place to accelerate trust during change and growth. She does this through strategic diagnostics, roundtables, workshops, coaching and consulting. Marie-Claire is also the author of the number three ranked book on Amazon, Transform your Safety Communication. She has been interviewed on “Technology Behind Business” for Sky Business News and regularly contributes articles to FM Magazine and LogiSYM on company culture. She is also a Graduate of the Company Director’s Course and is on the SME Committee for the Australian Institute of Company Directors.


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