What Builds Leadership Trust?

In the work I do coaching leaders, everyone purports to have high leadership trust with stakeholders. Surveys, however, show otherwise. The truth is that most leaders could do far more to reinforce an environment of high trust.

I think part of the problem is that “trust” is a bit ill-defined and subjective, like “world peace.” Everyone wants it, but few people know how to build genuine trust. So I’ve done a bit of research on what goes into trusting relationships.

Two of the best books on this important topic are:

  1.  The Trusted Advisor (Free Press, 2001), by leadership consultants David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford
  2. The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust (Wiley, 2011), by Charles H. Green and Andrea P. Howe.

These books offer several key truths:

  • Trust grows; it doesn’t just appear.
  • Trust is rational & fact-based and emotional & intuitive.
  • Trust is a two-way street, experienced differently by each person in the relationship.
  • Trust is intrinsically about taking risks.
  • Trust is always personal; you place trust in people.

Feelings and Facts

“When we are having a good conversation, even if it’s a difficult one, we feel good. We feel connected to the other person in a deep way and we feel we can trust him. In good conversations, we know where we stand with others—we feel safe.” – Executive Coach Judith E. Glaser, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion, 2013)

Trust evolves more slowly than other feelings. You may immediately know if you like someone, but your trust in them builds over time. You withhold it pending confirmatory evidence.

Of course, much of this evidence is fact-based. When you follow through on a promise, you provide rational reasons to be trusted. When you extend trust, you create a platform that encourages others to be trustworthy.

Emotional factors also influence trust. Leaders need to provide support, encouragement, and personal stories. They must confide in others, express their true feelings, and share their values—acts that promote reciprocity.

Trust is never a solo operation. Another person must participate and respond, because unilateral efforts cannot force trust.

What do you think? Are your workplace relationships built on trust? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me here or on LinkedIn.