They Don’t Trust You

Trust is earned, the price is paid daily.

Trusted leaders earn radically better performance, engagement, and employee vulnerability. Sadly, doing the work to become and stay trusted is not happening in our workplaces. How do I know – talk with anyone at work about how vulnerable they are willing to be with their boss.

Is building trust a challenge? – absolutely. Does it require new skills? – of course. Is the ROI worth it? – only if you want to crush goals.

How does this work.

  1. Acknowledg the situation. Individual contributors have heard all the horror stories of disrespectful leaders, punitive bosses, and incompetent supervisors. We may not like these stories but they do frame the understanding of our team members. This is the reality of life, just like gravity.
  2. Have patience. Your team will not trust you because of a 5 minute conversation or worse – an email broadcast. Instead you have to expect to invest daily in building trust with each person on your team. This is a long game, building trust takes months.
  3. Be curious. Get to know the individuals on your team. What drives them, what excites them, and how do they want their career to advance. Where do they run into friction? You want to amass a dossier of understanding each person. This will take time (remember #2).
  4. Make their lives better. Yes, this is your responsibility. As a leader/supervisor/manager, your job is to help everyone on your team operate better. This means finding and removing frictions, coaching them to improve skills, and giving them a path for career advancement.
  5. Improve your own skill stack. Some of the “better” that your team needs will be new for you – yes, it’s an opportunity for your own growth. To coach your team, you will need to improve your communication, research, and presentation skills. It’s not their job to read your mind – it is your job to educate and catalyze behavior changes in your team.
    • Learn to handle emotional discomfort. Recognizing our own ignorance and incompetence at skills can be emotionally challenging – and it’s a necessity. Learn how to self regulate your brain chemistry and emotions. This is a critical element in learning new skills and being vulnerable yourself with your team, peers, and leadership.
  6. Repeat

I’ve used this process for 15+ years of team leadership. It has always been a part of the 40PB system that gave double digit improvements in productivity and cut churn.

The Art of Delegation: Empowering Teams and Boosting Productivity

In today’s fast-paced workplace, leaders are constantly bombarded with tasks. While the urge to do it all yourself might be strong, effective delegation is a crucial skill for success. It empowers your team members, fosters growth, and allows you to focus on strategic initiatives that drive the organization forward.

Why Delegation Matters

Research consistently highlights the benefits of effective delegation. Here’s a glimpse into the positive impact it can have:

  • Increased Productivity: A study by Gallup found that managers who delegate well have teams that are 6% more productive. Delegating frees up your time for higher-level tasks, while also allowing team members to utilize their strengths and develop new skills.
  • Improved Employee Engagement: A study by TINYpulse found that employees who feel trusted with challenging tasks report higher levels of engagement and satisfaction. Delegation demonstrates trust in your team’s abilities and motivates them to excel. It also fosters a culture of collaboration. Diverse perspectives come together as team members work on projects, leading to more creative and innovative solutions.
  • Enhanced Leadership Development: Effective delegation requires clear communication, coaching, and feedback. As you delegate, you refine these leadership skills, fostering better team dynamics and overall organizational success.
  • Leadership Pipeline Development: By delegating, you identify high-potential team members and provide them with opportunities to develop critical leadership skills. This creates a robust leadership pipeline ensuring a steady stream of qualified individuals ready to take on bigger roles in the future.
  • Reduced Bottlenecks and Improved Workflow: When one person becomes the bottleneck for multiple tasks, progress stalls. Effective delegation distributes the workload more evenly, streamlines workflow, and keeps projects moving forward.

The Art of Delegation: A Practical Guide

Delegation isn’t simply assigning tasks. It’s a strategic process that requires careful consideration:

  1. Assess the Work:
    • Is it a task better suited for your skillset, or can someone else do it effectively?
    • Consider the complexity of the task and the experience level of potential team members.
    • Task Suitability: Analyze the task objectively. Does it require your specific expertise, or could someone else handle it effectively? Consider the complexity of the task, the time investment required, and the desired outcome.
    • Development Opportunities: Look for tasks that can stretch your team members’ skills and knowledge**. Delegation shouldn’t just lighten your load; it should also contribute to their professional growth.
  2. Choose the Right Person:
    • Skillset Match: Align the task with the strengths and interests of your team members. This not only increases the likelihood of success but also boosts engagement. Someone passionate about data analysis might excel at a research project, while a team member with strong communication skills might be a better fit for client presentations.
    • Experience Level: Consider the experience level of your team members. While you want to challenge them, don’t set them up for failure. Delegate tasks that are appropriately challenging but achievable with the support and resources you provide.
  3. Set Clear Expectations (The SMART Way):
    • Specific: Clearly define the task itself, the desired outcome, and the deliverables.
    • Measurable: Establish clear metrics for success. How will you know the task has been completed effectively?
    • Attainable: Ensure the task is achievable within the given timeframe and with the available resources.
    • Relevant: Explain how the task contributes to the overall project or goal.
    • Time-Bound: Set a clear deadline for completion.
  4. Provide Support and Resources:
    • Offer guidance and mentorship throughout the process.
    • Ensure your team member has access to necessary tools and information.
  5. Empower and Give Ownership:
    • Empower Decision-Making: While guidance is important, allow your team member the autonomy to make decisions within the defined parameters. This fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility.
    • Offer Support, Not Micromanagement: Be available to answer questions and provide support throughout the process. However, resist the urge to micromanage. Trust your team member to use their skills and initiative.
  6. Offer Feedback and Recognition:
    • Provide constructive feedback throughout the process.
    • Recognize and celebrate successful task completion.
  7. Offer Support, Not Micromanagement:
    • Be available to answer questions and provide support throughout the process. However, resist the urge to micromanage. Trust your team member to use their skills and initiative.

Essential Considerations When Delegating

While delegation is powerful, it’s important to be mindful of these factors:

  • Micromanagement: Avoid the trap of micromanaging. Trust your team to complete the task and resist the urge to constantly intervene.
  • Under-delegating: Don’t overload your team members, but don’t under-delegate either. Challenge them with tasks that allow for growth.
  • Unclear Communication: Vague instructions lead to confusion and rework. Ensure clear communication to set everyone up for success.

The Stanford Prison Experiment: A Cautionary Tale for Leaders

The Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted in 1971 by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, remains a controversial yet impactful study in the field of social psychology. A simulated prison environment was created in the basement of a Stanford psychology building. Cells were constructed, and guards were issued uniforms with mirrored sunglasses (to prevent eye contact) and wooden batons. Prisoners wore smocks, stocking caps, and identification numbers. Designed to examine the effects of simulated prison life on volunteers, the experiment took a shocking turn as assigned roles of guards and prisoners quickly morphed into disturbing displays of power abuse.

While the experiment itself has been criticized for ethical concerns, its core findings offer valuable insights for leaders in any workplace setting. Here’s why understanding the power dynamics at play in the Stanford Prison Experiment is crucial for fostering healthy leadership and preventing potential pitfalls:

The Dehumanizing Power of Authority:

The experiment demonstrated how unchecked authority can corrupt individuals. Stanford students, randomly assigned as guards, quickly embraced their roles, exhibiting cruel and authoritarian behavior towards the prisoner volunteers. This highlights the danger of power inflating egos and distancing leaders from the human element within their teams.

The experiment had clear and profound impact in several ways:

1. Rapid Escalation of Abuse: The guards, initially unsure of their roles, quickly embraced their newfound power. This escalation was unanticipated by the researchers, highlighting the seductive and corrupting nature of unchecked authority. Guards exhibited cruel and authoritarian behavior towards the prisoners, including sleep deprivation, verbal abuse, and humiliation.

2. Deindividuation and Disinhibition: The experiment design, with uniforms and darkened glasses for guards, facilitated a phenomenon called deindividuation. This loss of self-awareness allowed the guards to disinhibit their behavior and transgress normal social boundaries.

3. Conformity and Groupthink: The guards, assigned to a common role, developed a sense of group cohesion. This conformity pressured individuals to adhere to the group’s emerging norms, even if they conflicted with their personal morals.

4. Psychological Distress for Prisoners: The prisoners, subjected to the guards’ abuse, experienced anxiety, depression, and feelings of helplessness. This highlights the devastating psychological impact of unchecked power on those subjected to it.

5. Blurring the Lines of Reality: The experiment design intended for a two-week duration had to be terminated early due to the escalating abuse. This blurring of the lines between reality and simulation demonstrates how quickly assigned roles can take hold and influence behavior in a powerful way.

Leadership Lessons from the Experiment:

  1. The Slippery Slope of Power: The experiment serves as a stark reminder that unchecked power can corrupt even ordinary people. Leaders must avoid creating hierarchies that isolate them from their teams and blind them to potential abuses of power by those in authority positions.

Lesson: Leaders should practice humility and remain approachable. Regularly solicit feedback from team members to gauge perceptions of fairness and avoid becoming out of touch with the work environment.

  1. The Power of Situational Influences: The experiment highlights how situational factors can significantly influence behavior. The artificial prison environment exacerbated negative tendencies in the guards. Similarly, a workplace culture that prioritizes competition over collaboration or emphasizes short-term gains over ethical conduct can breed unethical behavior.

Lesson: Leaders should proactively shape the work environment to encourage positive behavior. Foster a collaborative atmosphere where teamwork and mutual respect are valued. Clearly communicate ethical expectations and hold everyone accountable to high standards.

  1. Deindividuation and the Importance of Identity: The uniforms and mirrored sunglasses distanced the guards from their personal identities, contributing to deindividuation and disinhibited behavior. In workplaces, a lack of personal connection between leaders and team members can create similar distance, potentially leading to unethical decisions.

Lesson: Leaders should strive to build personal connections with their teams. Get to know your team members as individuals, understand their strengths and challenges, and create a work environment where everyone feels valued and respected.

  1. The Perils of Conformity and Groupthink: The guards, assigned to a common role, developed a sense of group cohesion that pressured individuals to conform to the group’s emerging norms, even if they conflicted with their personal morals.

Lesson: Leaders should encourage healthy debate and dissent within their teams. Create a safe space where employees feel comfortable voicing concerns or opposing ideas without fear of repercussion.

  1. The Importance of Active Listening and Course Correction: The rapid escalation in the experiment highlights the importance of leaders being actively attuned to their work environment. The researchers failed to intervene when the situation deteriorated.

Lesson: Leaders need to be actively listening to feedback from their teams. Conduct regular anonymous surveys or hold open forum discussions to gauge employee sentiment and identify potential problems before they escalate. Be willing to adapt your leadership style based on feedback and changing circumstances.

The Power of Situational Influences:

The experiment suggests that situational factors can significantly influence human behavior. The artificial prison environment of the study exacerbated negative tendencies. Similarly, a competitive or high-pressure workplace culture can also breed unethical conduct.

Leadership’s Role in Shaping the Environment:

Leaders play a crucial role in shaping the work environment. Here’s how:

  • Promote Collaboration: Foster a collaborative atmosphere where teamwork and mutual respect are valued over individual competition.
  • Lead by Example: Leaders set the tone for the organization. Demonstrate ethical behavior and hold everyone accountable to high standards.
  • Focus on Positive Reinforcement: Emphasize positive reinforcement and recognition for desired behaviors instead of solely relying on punishment.
  • Empowerment and Ownership: Empower your team members and give them a sense of ownership over their work. This fosters a more engaged and responsible workforce.

Beyond the Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment, despite its limitations, serves as a stark reminder of the corrupting influence of unchecked power. The findings on unchecked power are cautionary for leaders in any context. It demonstrates how unchecked power can corrupt individuals, breed conformity to negative norms, and ultimately harm those subjected to it. By understanding these dynamics, leaders can actively counteract them and cultivate more ethical and productive work Environments where everyone thrives.


  • Authority doesn’t necessitate a tyrannical leadership style.
  • Leaders who prioritize empathy, clear communication, and a positive work environment foster a more successful and ethical team

The Double-Edged Sword: Mere Exposure Effect and Workplace Bias

The mere exposure effect, our tendency to favor things simply because we’re familiar with them, plays a significant role in the workplace. Surprisingly, this psychological principle has a significant impact in the workplace, influencing everything from colleague relationships to product adoption. That being said, the workplace is not always impacted in a positive way. While it can foster rapport and acceptance of new ideas, it can also exacerbate existing biases. Let’s look at both sides here.

The Science Behind Familiarity

Research by Robert Zajonc in 1968 established the mere exposure effect. Studies have shown that repeated exposure to stimuli, even neutral or subliminal ones, can lead to a more positive evaluation. This effect is thought to be driven by a couple of key factors:

  • Cognitive Fluency: Repeated exposure makes processing information easier and less mentally demanding. Our brains are wired to conserve energy. When processing information requires less mental effort, it triggers a feeling of comfort and satisfaction; and things that are familiar feel safe and predictable. Cognitive fluency leverages this by presenting information in a way that feels recognizable and easy to grasp, fostering a sense of trust in the information source. This ease of processing translates into a more favorable impression.
  • The Associative Learning Model: Repeated exposure can lead to positive associations. For example, if you consistently have productive meetings with a colleague in a specific conference room, you might start to view that room more positively. Another example: by pairing positive reinforcement with desired behaviors during onboarding, new hires can quickly learn company culture, expectations, and essential skills.

The Mere Exposure Effect in Action

The mere exposure effect plays a role in various aspects of the workplace:

  • Building Rapport with Colleagues: As you interact with colleagues more frequently, you become more familiar with their personalities, work styles, and sense of humor. This familiarity can foster trust, understanding, and ultimately, stronger working relationships.
  • Employee Onboarding: New hires are bombarded with information during onboarding. Repeating key information and processes during the initial training period can leverage the mere exposure effect, making it easier for them to retain knowledge and feel comfortable in their new role.
  • Customer Interactions: Salespeople often leverage the mere exposure effect by following up with potential customers consistently. Repeated, non-intrusive interactions can keep the company at the forefront of the customer’s mind, increasing the likelihood of a sale.
  • Product Adoption: Introducing a new software program or company policy can be met with resistance. By providing opportunities for employees to interact with the new system or policy through training sessions or pilot programs, familiarity can increase, leading to greater acceptance and adoption.

Harnessing the Power of Familiarity

Understanding the mere exposure effect can be beneficial for both employers and employees:

  • Leaders: Create opportunities for team building exercises and social events to foster familiarity and rapport among colleagues.
  • Trainers: Repeat key information and processes during training sessions to enhance knowledge retention.
  • Salespeople: Develop a well-defined follow-up strategy to keep the company top-of-mind for potential customers.
  • Employees: Lead with openness to new ideas and processes. Before forming an opinion, allow yourself to become familiar with and develop a sense of understanding of the newly proposed process/idea.

And of course on the flipside of this, the mere exposure effect can create some unintentional bias.

The Biasing Effect of Familiarity:

  • In-Group Favoritism: We tend to view familiar faces and personalities more favorably. This can lead to unconscious bias towards colleagues who share our background, experiences, or work style. Promotion decisions or project allocations might be influenced by this in-group preference. During meetings or project allocation, unconscious bias may lead to favoring ideas or contributions from in-group members, even if an out-group member presents a stronger option.
  • Out-Group Bias: The flip side of in-group favoritism is a bias against unfamiliar groups. This can manifest in overlooking qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds or harboring negative stereotypes about unfamiliar work styles. Résumés from candidates with unfamiliar backgrounds or names might even be unconsciously disregarded during the initial screening process.


  • A manager consistently assigns challenging projects to a team member from their alma mater, overlooking a qualified candidate from a different university.
  • A close-knit group of colleagues always goes to lunch together, rarely inviting others from different departments.
  • During a brainstorming session, a team readily accepts an idea from a well-liked colleague but hesitates with a similar suggestion from a newer team member.

Consequences of Bias:

  • Reduced Employee Morale and Engagement: Feeling overlooked or excluded can lead to decreased motivation, job dissatisfaction, and ultimately, higher turnover.
  • Loss of Talent and Creativity: When out-group members’ contributions are undervalued, companies miss out on valuable perspectives and hinder innovation.
  • Negative Work Environment: Bias can create a tense and uncomfortable work environment, impacting collaboration and productivity.

Navigating the Bias Maze:

Mitigating the negative impacts of the mere exposure effect on workplace bias requires a proactive approach:

  • Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives: Creating a diverse workforce and fostering genuine interaction between different groups can help break down stereotypes and build familiarity with out-groups.
  • Structured Hiring Practices: Implementing standardized interview processes with clear criteria can minimize the influence of personal biases on hiring decisions.
  • Blind Reviews: Blinding resumes or proposals during the evaluation stage can help ensure candidates are assessed based on their qualifications, not familiarity.
  • Self-Awareness Training: Equipping employees with unconscious bias training can help them recognize how familiarity can influence their decision-making. Encourage self-reflection and open discussions about potential biases.
  • Mentorship Programs: Connecting experienced employees with mentees from diverse backgrounds can increase exposure and understanding, fostering positive relationships and career development opportunities.

Beyond Mere Exposure: Building Bridges of Understanding

While familiarity breeds fondness, it shouldn’t be the sole factor driving our evaluations and interactions in the workplace. By acknowledging the potential pitfalls of the mere exposure effect and implementing proactive strategies, we can create a more inclusive and equitable work environment where talent and potential, not just familiarity, pave the way for success.


  • Mere exposure can be a double-edged sword. While it fosters rapport, it can also exacerbate bias.
  • Proactive diversity and inclusion initiatives are crucial to counter bias and create a level playing field.
  • Self-awareness training and structured processes can help mitigate unconscious bias based on mere exposure.

Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace: Feeling Fake Despite Success

Ever nailed a presentation, crushed a project, then immediately convinced yourself it was all a fluke? You’re not alone.  Welcome to the world of imposter syndrome, a sneaky phenomenon that plagues high-achievers across all industries.

Imposter syndrome, also known as imposter phenomenon or the impostor experience, is a psychological pattern where individuals doubt their accomplishments and competence. In the workplace, this can manifest in high-achieving employees feeling like frauds, fearing they’ll be exposed as incompetent.

Here’s a breakdown of imposter syndrome and its impact:


Individuals experiencing imposter syndrome attribute their success to luck, external factors, or simply “faking it.” They downplay their skills and knowledge, often comparing themselves unfavorably to colleagues they perceive as more talented. This internal self-doubt fuels anxiety and can lead to a reluctance to take on new challenges or share their ideas.

Examples in the Workplace:

  • A salesperson consistently exceeds quotas but worries they’ll be exposed as simply “lucky.”
  • A manager downplays their leadership skills and hesitates to delegate tasks, fearing they won’t be able to provide adequate guidance.
  • A talented engineer constantly revises their work and avoids public speaking due to a fear of being seen as unknowledgeable.
Origin Story

The exact science behind imposter syndrome is still evolving, but researchers have identified some potential contributing factors:

Cognitive Biases:

  • Self-serving bias: We tend to attribute our successes to internal factors (skill, hard work) but blame failures on external factors (bad luck, difficult circumstances). This can make it hard to internalize accomplishments and fuel feelings of inadequacy.
  • Confirmation bias: We pay more attention to information that confirms our existing beliefs. Someone with imposter syndrome might focus on minor mistakes as evidence of their incompetence, while overlooking their successes.
  • Downward social comparison: We often compare ourselves to those we perceive as more successful. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy, especially for high achievers who constantly set the bar higher.

Attributional Style:

  • People with a mastery-oriented attributional style believe their success comes from effort and skill, while those with a helplessness-oriented style attribute success to luck or external factors. Imposter syndrome is more common in people with a helplessness-oriented style.

Personality Traits:

  • Perfectionism: The relentless pursuit of flawlessness can lead to self-criticism and a fear of falling short.
  • Neuroticism: Individuals high in neuroticism are more prone to anxiety and negative self-talk, which can contribute to imposter syndrome.


  • Early Experiences: A lack of praise or encouragement during childhood, or critical parenting styles, can contribute to feelings of inadequacy that carry over into adulthood.
  • Cultural Factors: Cultures with a strong emphasis on achievement and competition might make individuals more susceptible to imposter syndrome.
The Imposter Cycle

Imposter syndrome often follows a predictable cycle:

Success Triggers Doubt: You experience some form of success, whether it’s completing a project, receiving positive feedback, or landing a promotion. Instead of feeling proud or accomplished, the imposter cycle kicks in. You might downplay your achievement, attributing it to luck, external factors, or simply “faking it.”

Internal Comparisons: You compare yourself to others, highlighting their perceived brilliance and downplaying your own skills. This fuels self-doubt and negative self-talk. You might think things like, “They’re going to find out I don’t really know what I’m doing,” or “I just got lucky this time.”

Increased Anxiety: Self-doubt fuels anxiety, making you overly critical of your work and hesitant to take on new challenges.

  • This fear can manifest in different ways, such as:
    • Overwork and perfectionism: You try to overcompensate by working excessively and striving for flawless results, which can lead to burnout.
    • Procrastination: You might delay tasks or projects due to fear of failure.
    • Reduced Risk-Taking: You become hesitant to take on new challenges or share your ideas for fear of being judged.
Breaking the Cycle

Cognitive Reframing:

  • Self-Compassion vs. Self-Criticism: A 2017 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found self-compassion, treating yourself with kindness understanding during setbacks, to be more effective than self-criticism in reducing imposter syndrome and promoting motivation.
  • Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset: Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s work highlights the power of a growth mindset. Believing your abilities can develop through effort (growth mindset) versus being fixed and unchangeable (fixed mindset) can buffer against imposter syndrome according to a 2013 study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. View self-doubt as a signal to grow, not a confirmation of inadequacy. Use it to identify areas for improvement. Recognize the cognitive biases fueling your self-doubt and challenge those thought patterns with evidence of your skills and accomplishments.

Challenge Negative Attributions:

  • Internal vs. External Attributions: Imposter syndrome often involves attributing successes to external factors (luck, help from others) and failures to internal factors (lack of ability). A 2018 study in the Journal of Educational Psychology suggests that challenging these attributions and focusing on your internal skills and effort for successes can combat imposter syndrome.

Focus on Evidence, Not Emotion:

  • Fact-Checking Negative Thoughts: A 2017 study in Behavior Research and Therapy recommends keeping a “success journal” where you document your accomplishments, positive feedback, and evidence of your skills. Refer to this journal when self-doubt arises to counter negative thoughts with concrete facts.
  • Focus on Facts, Not Feelings: Separate your self-worth from your accomplishments. Acknowledge your achievements, even if they feel like flukes.

Celebrate Wins (Big and Small): Take time to acknowledge your successes, no matter how small. This reinforces your capabilities and builds confidence. Save those emails from your boss that expressed praise. Hang on to those positive performance reviews. These will be helpful pieces of hard evidence when we’re diving headfirst into a pool of self-doubt.

Focus on Learning: View challenges and setbacks as opportunities to learn and improve. All mistakes are simply data. They inform where are strengths lie and our growth edges exist. Also consider challenging yourself with new projects or responsibilities. Stepping outside your comfort zone can build confidence and demonstrate your capabilities.

Find Your Support System: Vulnerability breeds connection. And connection can be such a powerful antidote when we’re otherwise feeling alone with imposter thoughts and self-doubt in the workplace. Chances are, many of your colleagues might share a similar experience to you.