How Honest Leaders Destroy Their Influence

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By Dan Rockwell

Here’s a simple business truism: No trust = no leadership.

Leadership is influence and influence requires trust. Wise leaders focus more on trust-building and less on position because trust is leadership collateral. Losing leadership is easy because trust is earned slowly and lost quickly.

You can always spot leaders who’ve lost trust; they lead by authority and coercion. Trust, on the other hand, excludes and eliminates coercion. You can coerce without trust but influence grows and expands on the foundation of trust.

Trust and Respect
Don’t think honesty is enough to build and maintain trust; honesty is only the beginning. It takes something much less than a lie to destroy trust and lose influence. People stop trusting you when you disrespect them even when you’re honest.

Danger of Disrespect
When you lose trust by making people feel disrespected, people give themselves permission to question your character and motives. Not only do they judge your character, they feel justified, even compelled to “warn” others that you can’t be trusted. In this case, it’s their feelings that matter. Surprisingly, you can be honest and lose trust.

Protecting trust
Honesty requires respectfulness in order to remain an effective trust builder that enhances your influence. People trust you when they feel respected by you.

Respect is about the way others feel, not what you think. You may think you respect others but until they feel your respect it isn’t real. Respect focuses on you but resides in them. When they feel disrespected they are disrespected. Perception is reality.

Ten behaviors that make people feel disrespected:

1. Rushed exchanges. People in a hurry don’t have time for good manners. They let others know they don’t have time for them.
2. Unilateral decisions. Deciding for others before inviting participation arrogantly says you don’t matter.
3. Poor listening. When others feel you don’t understand them they are disrespected.
4. Rudeness. You can seem harsh even when you don’t feel harsh.
5. Unsolicited advice. Someone said, “Unsolicited advice is always perceived as criticism.”
6. Emphasizing past failures as a tool to motivate forward momentum.
7. Favoritism.
8. Cutting them off when they’re speaking.
9. Rescheduling appointments.
10. Looking at your computer or BlackBerry while they’re talking.

Ten ways to show people respect:

1. The opposites of the list above.
2. Invite feedback. Saying, “Tell me what you think,” is an act of strength and confidence not weakness that says you matter.
3. Gently, clearly tell it like it is, even in the face of disagreement. When you make people feel understood by listening they feel respected even when they disagree.
4. Appreciate skills and talents. Respect is felt when people feel you believe in their competency.
5. Give opportunities.
6. Admire contributions and accomplishments.
7. Acknowledge people publically. The positive impact of a good word spoken publicly lasts for weeks. In addition, it impacts the team, because you get more of what you publicly honor.
8. Use people’s titles, that is, Doctor, Director, or Senior Manager.
9. Acknowledge challenges and struggles. People feel your respect when they feel you understand their battles.
10. Hold phone calls and other communications while they’re speaking.

The challenging truth
Influence grows when your team trusts you. They trust you when you respect them.
And no trust = no leadership.

About the Author(s)

Dan Rockwell is author of the blog Leadership Freak ( He is a social media and leadership consultant and the leader of a nonprofit organization in central Pennsylvania. Contact him at [email protected]