Trust Is Squishy. Here’s How New Managers Can Get a Grip.

Two local leaders offer advice to new managers looking to boost their teams’ confidence in them.

Written by Eva Roethler
Published on Mar. 30, 2022
Trust Is Squishy. Here’s How New Managers Can Get a Grip.
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Trust is the invisible glue that holds relationships together. It is critical in our personal and professional lives, in the workplace, in the economy and for society at large. 

Recently, The Atlantic hypothesized that the U.S. is entering a trust recession, positing that working from home may have given workers diminished faith in their colleagues and supervisors more doubts about the motivation of their employees. The article even cites a 1998 comparative study that suggested a “15 percent bump in a nation’s belief that ‘most people can be trusted’ adds a full percentage point to economic growth each year.”

A lack of trust corrodes progress. The trouble is, trust is hard to get a handle on. It’s surprisingly squishy, it fluctuates, it’s fragile and it has to be earned. And perhaps no one knows that better than a new manager.

“The most valuable piece of information that you can have as a new manager is the understanding that you don’t know everything,” Steve Thomas, associate director at Devbridge, said. “Even the most gifted people who run businesses and teams, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, know that they don’t have all the answers. This idea is the key to unlocking perspective as a new manager. Perspective allows you to understand your gaps so that you’re able to effectively support your team.” 

Built In Chicago asked Thomas and another local manager for more insight into the tricky task of building trust as a new manager during an era where that sentiment is a scarce one.


Devbridge manager having a meeting with his team


Steve Thomas
Associate Director • Devbridge


Devbridge is a product design and development service. 


What can new managers do to build trust with direct reports from day one?

A strong manager continually cultivates relationships with their direct reports and understands that the relationship is like any other. It needs to continually grow.  

It’s natural that not all team members will be open on the very first day of working together. The most important thing is to persevere and to have a sincere desire to understand what drives the individual. Therefore, listening must be a priority. As a new manager, you’re not there to determine their career trajectory, but rather to support and help them on their journey. This requires listening to and understanding how they like to communicate in your one-on-one meetings.

It’s also important to convey how you, as a manager, like to work and be approached. This is an opportunity to share your management philosophy, your expectations and how you’d like them to contribute to the team at large.

As you develop trust with your team, a result of that will be giving and receiving feedback. As a new manager, one of the first things you should take on is fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable, heard and motivated. Once you’ve started to create trust within your team, feedback is welcomed rather than feared or rejected. The team knows feedback is there to help them grow as individuals and push along the initiatives that they are part of.

 One strategy that is often overlooked is finding a mentor. This is typically someone further down the management path with more experience — either within your organization or externally — who you can talk to. You can bounce ideas off of them and talk through the situations that you’re dealing with. Your mentor can help you explore areas that you hadn’t examined and develop strategies that may work with your team. 


Steve Thomas’ Principles of Building Relationships With Direct Reports

  • Embrace the mindset of a servant leader.
  • Develop a quality relationship with each team member.
  • Discuss goals and outcomes.
  • Develop a culture of feedback.
  • Find a mentor.


What are some common mistakes that often cause new managers to lose trust with their direct reports?

As a new manager, you have an exciting and challenging path ahead of you. Putting a premium on developing relationships with your team members will take you far in establishing trust and helping them reach their professional goals.

At some point in your career, you’ve probably been a part of miscommunication, which can fracture trust and lead to undesired outcomes. As a manager, embracing tough situations, being transparent and having honest conversations with your team is a way of realigning where communication may have failed in order to start rebuilding trust. This is no easy task, and one that most new managers want to avoid. By embracing transparency early on in your journey as a manager, you can build a framework in your relationships to avoid potential miscommunication. 



Gearset coworkers outside with some team members jumping in the air


Dan Fenner
Customer Support Team Leader • Gearset


Gearset is a DevOps release management tool for Salesforce.


What can new managers do to build trust with direct reports from day one? 

In new working relationships, some people will trust from the outset, and others need their trust to be earned. Personally, I establish an open-door policy early on and carve dedicated time in my schedule to give my reports a regular opportunity to speak openly and honestly about how things are going. Members of the team need to know they can approach a new manager for help or guidance without fear of judgment or repercussion. I believe that by showing you trust an employee when building a relationship, you’ll be setting them up to succeed.


What are some common mistakes that often cause new managers to lose trust with their direct reports? 

It’s not uncommon for managers to become complacent, believing that once trust is earned, the job is done. Once an initial level of trust is built, it’s important that new managers proactively maintain this through regular check-ins and development discussions to capture any new concerns  or needs. Failing to act on issues that are raised can lead to a direct report feeling isolated, alone and ultimately unhappy. That’s why it’s vital that a manager does the things they say they’ll do.

Once trust is built, it’s important to proactively maintain this through regular check-ins and development discussions.”


Why is it important for employees to trust their managers? 

Many of the best managers and mentors I’ve had were clear in their expectations of me and gave me the right tools and support, without dictating how I should go about achieving a task. They’ve also shown vulnerability and openness to learn themselves. I find that a mutual trust relationship empowers my reports to make better decisions on their own, think more creatively and ultimately learn through their actions, knowing that they’re fully supported.



Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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