Trust: Three Ways to Build It

May 20, 2010 — 3 Comments

What’s the number one quality followers look for in leaders or peers they allow to influence them?


Trust is confidence based on previous experience. Trust is the foundation that must bear the daily load of bumps and bruises in every personal and working relationship. Trust often takes months or even years to build, but can be destroyed by a single act of irresponsibility, immorality or perceived betrayal. More commonly, trust erodes over time due to lack of attentiveness and self-awareness.  Since trust is so critical, how do we build trust?

Here are three gauges I use to monitor the balance in my trust account with others:

1. Character. As a 7th generation Texan, I grew up in an environment where a person’s handshake was usually as good as a contract. I vividly remember a couple of times when I broke my word and had to go back to make it right. Sometimes it involved redoing shoddy work. Sometimes it involved financial restitution. There were a few embarrassing confessions and requests for forgiveness. I didn’t miss the lesson, though: Pain forges character. Can others believe what I say? Will I follow through on those things I’ve committed to? Is my “yes” a yes and my “no” a no, or will others have reason to believe that I will waver on commitments I’ve made?

2. Competence. Work done well builds trust. When I need a plumber or a mechanic, I ask my neighbors who they would recommend (or not recommend). Perhaps you’ve got some technical expertise that’s in high demand. Maybe your EQ is off the charts and you provide the critical relational glue for a group. Maybe you’re responsible, organized, diligent, networked, or service-oriented. Whatever it is, the more you bring it to bear with consistency and humility, the more rapidly your trust account will grow. Also, unless you’re a rock star or pro athlete with a multi-million dollar contract, technical excellence coupled with arrogance usually increases resentment and undermines the trust-building process. What skills and abilities do I offer to my boss, my team, my family or the larger community? How am I developing my level of proficiency in these areas?

3. Concern. We’ve all heard the maxim: People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. When it comes to building trust, demonstrating authentic concern is key. I quickly trust people who I perceive care about me and my stuff. Call it empathy or call it love, trust grows rapidly when each party knows the other person is looking out for their best interests. Misunderstandings and vain imaginations vaporize when I know you’ve got my back. What level of genuine concern am I expressing in this relationship?

Action points for leading well:

1. Do what you say you will do.

2. Do it well.

3. Do it with others’ best interests in mind.

*Source: This intuitive fact can be verified by any number of sources. Two of the broadest representative surveys of managers, employees and business leaders that reveal trust (or its counterpart, honesty) as the #1 factor are Strengths-Based Leadership by Rath & Conchie and The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner.

3 responses to Trust: Three Ways to Build It

  1. Thanks for the great Truth and insight. I was directed this way by Tristie Fisher, and I glad I came. I will add y’all to my reader.

  2. Shane Sebastian May 22, 2010 at 1:02 am

    Solid stuff Ken- have you written about the next C in building trust- Chemistry?If so, pass it on. I would love to learn/read your thoughts on how we can build chemistry with those we lead……

  3. Such good insight not only for leadership but also for living as a Christ follower

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