The basic underlying trait that every great leader has is the ability to instill trust between themselves and those they lead. It really does not matter how masterful a leader is in the art of communication or how experienced you are in your field, if people do not trust you then you will have no real influence. That might be hard to swallow for some. Leaders can fall into the trap of  working harder, analyzing the data and producing strategies only to become frustrated when they do not see the results they worked so hard to achieve. You may get people to respond by showing them the numbers, sparking their competitive spirit, but you will not be able to sustain that inertia. In the long run people will become disenchanted with idea of working harder to improve a numerical ranking. What people will never tire of is working hard for someone they trust.

I tend to be one of those guys that people confide in. It has always been that way even when I was younger. I do not think it is because I am all knowing, but rather because I am willing to listen. From these years of getting to know others I have received pearls of wisdom that has impacted my own life. One common theme when it comes to working with people in a professional setting has been this bewilderment about how to influence others. Often times people confuse title with influence. Comments like “I am their boss so they should do what I tell them to do,” or, “I told them over and over again, why is it they do not get it?” There is this disconnect between the need for some to first trust the person leading them or instructing them before they can expect that person or group to believe them.

Andy Stanley says that Clarity = Influence and Influence = Leadership. Think about it, even if you are not the titled leader in a room if you are the person who can articulate with the most clarity the vision or plan people will gravitate to you. They will seek you out for direction and they will begin to trust that you know what you are talking about. Conversely, as the leader, if you lack clarity, trust will be questioned. Without trust you cannot influence and without influence you cannot lead. Each year my organization takes the Gallup survey. We use this tool to measure the engagement of our employees from the highest ranking officer to the entry level associate. When the scores come back they are reflective of many things, mainly the leaders. You can boil all 12 Gallup questions down to one common underlying factor, trust. Sure, there are questions about tools to do my job and do I have a best friend at work, but the crux of all these points to the level of trust the person taking the survey has with leadership.

So how do we build trust with our staff, peers and on up the reporting chain?

  • First and foremost you must be willing to admit as the leader you do not have all the answers
  • Be vulnerable (Bill and I write about this a lot and here is a great TedTalk that we have referenced before)
  • Admit when you are wrong
  • Listen more than you talk
  • Close the loop on ALL communications
  • Ask people for their input, no really, ask, and then practice bullet #4
  • Do what you said you were going to do
  • Make sure you are equitable in your treatment of your staff. Equitable does not mean fair, those two words are not the same. Equity, takes into account what contributions members make. Ensure your team understands that.
  • Be willing to have the hard uncomfortable conversations
  • Last, but not least, care. Take the time to know at least one personal thing about people. Interest conveys caring and caring builds trust.

You may think these soft skills are a waste of time, but think about your own motivations. Are you really motivated day in and day out to meet a metric or do you find yourself most inspired when you are working with or for someone you know you can trust. We don’t trust people who do not care about us, bottom line, why would we. Challenge your leaders and your peers to invest in building influence through trust, it will pay dividends over time.




  1. Sarah rieffel | Reply

    Great article! Trust is the foundation of successful work relationships, but so few realize that trust is built from a leader’s ability to show vulnerability and humility. I will definitely be sharing this with my colleagues!

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