Leadership – as seen by Followers.. Why employees lose trust in leaders

There are countless theories on leadership and leadership behavior, many of which talk about the relationship between the leader and the followers. It is now a globally accepted norm that a leader can only become one when he/she has followers and the role of followers is critical to the success of the leader. Social scientists and behavior analysts are deeply looking at various facets to define how followers developing leaders can lead to more effective business sense than the standard concepts of the leader controlling the followers (not to be confused with supporters or ‘yes-men’).

Every business and every organization is increasingly bearing the brunt of failed leadership today – across sectors and industries. Many universities, theorists and even business leaders themselves are investing huge sums of money and effort in building a more engaged workforce that can sustain the tests of time and lead to a holistic development. Innumerable theories talk about various aspects of leadership – Authentic Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Ethical Leadership, Emotional & Social Leadership, etc. that all help business leaders develop different traits, gain the trust of their employees and become effective leaders. However, I want to address the converse –

“Why do employees lose trust in leaders – and by extension, the organization?”

As much as an organization is represented externally by the collective of its employees, it is internally represented to the employees by its leader and the sum of each of his leadership behavior. This is a significant concept that many organizations ignore when they start looking at annual performance, policies, targets, balance sheets and profitability. Following are what I believe are the reasons why even highly-acclaimed & accomplished leaders often fail when leading large groups and complex organizations:

1.     Lack of INTEGRITY – this has to be ranked the top-most! A leader who doesn’t WALK THE TALK is but just a hypocrite!

2.     Questionable MORALITY & ETHICS – turning a blind eye towards unprofessional conduct

3.     MACHIAVELLIAN LEADERSHIP principles – working against the organization / group

4.     NEPOTISM – promoting incompetent people & creating Claustrophobia for honest performers

5.     STRATEGIC FAILURE & failing to strategize – causing negative impact on the group

6.     Misaligned VISION, MISSION & VALUES – being myopic and proscribing bigotry

7.     Procrastination in CHANGE MANAGEMENT – allowing primitive practices that restrict growth

8.     POOR PEOPLE PRACTICES – building a detrimental & dysfunctional environment

In this age of digital proliferation & open-viewership of social media, a leader’s every action, word or decision is closely observed by the followers. Any lapse or mismatch from the leader is quickly circulated amongst the followers and receives wider criticism than a positive development or progress. This applies not just in the organization, but also to the digital space and ‘outside of work’ space. Personal lives of the leaders are also scrutinized by the followers and the above attributes are the ones that become ‘viral’ first. One act of a leader disrespecting or even ignoring a low-level employee gets greater condemnation amongst the followers than an act of kindness / support towards an employee by the same leader. Therefore, BUILDING TRUST in the followers requires a high degree of SITUATIONAL awareness by the leader at all times, while no effort is required to lose it all.

Tons of literature are available on each of the points mentioned above, which elaborate quite extensively and provide more detailed analyses & theories. Businesses and organizations that look to build the charisma of their leaders and maintaining the ‘power-influence’ dichotomy would benefit from a bottoms-up approach, by starting at the grass-roots level. However, the underlying message is singular – any organization that wants better and effective leadership has to look within and seek to understand from the followers on what message the current leader is actually conveying to them! If this is not done, any amount of top-down intervention will be futile.

A leader (or the organization in general) who doesn’t listen will eventually be left with employees who don’t speak!!


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This article is based on the author’s experiences and learnings – no plagiarism intended! The reader is advised to assume that any references to literature or any other forms of material that may have been missed alluding to here, are duly accorded and acknowledged by the author.

©Deeksha-Consulting                                                                                          www.deekshaconsulting.com                                                                          gurudath@deekshaconsulting.com

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