How to Build the ‘Right Kind’ of Trust With Your Employees

Mike Townsend
Posted on October 7, 2019

To build the best team, a leader must focus on five strategic areas. We will deal with the first area, the Right Kind of Trust, in this article. Since leadership at its core is influence, it is important we understand how we, as leaders, are intentional in how we impact relationships and results through our leadership influence.

It’s ironic that some leaders unintentionally divide the employees they so desperately desire to unite. They often sacrifice employee engagement through poor relationships, which leads to poor results. One of the ways this happens is best expressed by this expression: Perception minus Communication equals Division.

We have dealt with many leaders who have a sterling reputation of integrity in the community. In the eyes of their team members, however, the opposite is true.

Misunderstanding a sound bite from a meeting or receiving a sound bite from a coworker without proper context can give team members the wrong impression of their leader. True or untrue, perception is reality.

Most often the leaders are unaware of the perceived attitude, and their lack of communication with their employees compounds the problem, thus creating division within the team. But the lack of communication works both ways. Company leaders think they are getting the whole truth from their employees, but may only be getting part of what is reality.

The result is “predictive trust” between the leader and employee. Predictive trust is generally defined by the subordinate: Even before he or she approaches their manager with an issue, they can accurately “predict” what his response will be based on the time they have worked together. This causes disengagement and, depending on the issue, ultimately loss of profit and a slow departure of good customers.

Predictive trust takes time to change. It must be replaced by “vulnerability trust” between the team leader and team members, which involves being honest and open with one another. Admitting mistakes, apologizing, taking responsibility for your actions are all ways to establish vulnerability between the parties. And it all starts with the leader.

To establish vulnerability trust can take a year or longer depending on the person and situation in which the trust was lost. Vulnerability trust with team members may never happen unless they know they are safe to submit any idea or complaint without fear of retaliation.

Fighting the Perception of Nepotism

Generational family businesses have to fight perceptions of nepotism. According to data from the Family Business Alliance (, more than 30% of all family-owned businesses make the transition into the second generation. Twelve percent will still be viable into the third generation, while 3% of all family businesses will be operating into their fourth generation and beyond.

Family members working directly with their teams and getting a little dirty from time to time go a long way toward earning the employees’ respect.

A number of tire dealerships in the U.S. have survived through four generations. Now more than ever, it is important for all generations to be aware of their impact on their coworkers.

I recently spoke with a fourth-generation store manager from a seven-store retail tire chain in east Tennessee. Fletcher Porter worked his way from tire changer to store manager, and when needed will still get out of the store and will change tires.

He has a strong desire to “live up to the expectations of his dad and grandad,” who poured a lot of blood, sweat, and even a few tears into the success of Porter’s Tire Store, which opened in 1952.

He mentioned during a recent conversation that he also wanted to live up to “the longtime customers” that his uncles, dad, grandfather and great grandfather had taken care of over many years.

As for younger customers, the website ( says it all: “No matter what your vehicle needs, Porter’s has you covered… just ask your granddad about us!”

What impressed me most about Fletcher was how this fourth-generation manager answered my last question about how he could ensure the future success of another generation or two.

His response was perfect: “Stay on my knees and continue to pray.”

It has been this kind of hard work and humility to pray and to serve customers — as well as to practice vulnerability trust with their employees — that have helped Porter’s Tire Store remain a growing business for 67 years.

Mike Townsend is owner of Townsend Strategies, a sales and leadership training and marketing firm. He has 30 years of sales experience, 13 of them in the tire industry. As a Six Sigma black belt and professional trainer, Townsend says he “has witnessed every scenario and heard every objection in the retail tire environment across every state in the U.S.” For more information, call (865) 318-4588 or (800) 319-8552, or email Townsend at

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