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Building the Trust Relationship

Updated: Mar 9, 2018

Originally published on August 3, 2016

This is the third part of a multi-part Blog on Executive Leadership.

Now that you know where you are, where you are going, and how you plan to get there, it is time to strengthen the foundation. The mortar that binds the foundation you have laid is trust. There are three principles that define the ways by which leaders may gain the trust of their co-workers and subordinates: 

  1. Reliability

  2. Credibility

  3. Relationships

Three principles of gaining trust. (Adapted from Mega, 2016) [1]

But what do these three concepts mean in a practical sense? Let’s examine the application of each of these principles in terms of executive leadership.

Reliability. Simply put, reliability + dependability; however, being viewed as a dependable executive means more than just getting the job done. As an executive, these additional concepts help to establish your reliability:

Be prepared. Looking ahead and studying processes and tasks ahead of time so you can provide a degree of vision and direction to those working on tasks.

On Time. It means more than just showing up on time; an axiom I learned from my three decades as a military leader was “on time is late.” As an executive leader, you should strive to be early—but not too early—to meetings and events under your purview. When you make a commitment, keep it; if something keeps you from the commitment, let people know who may be depending on you.

Extra effort. You may have heard the adage “if minimums weren’t good enough, they wouldn’t be minimums” from a colleague or employee in the past. As an executive leader, you damage your reliability by adhering to this premise, as well as constraining progress and innovation.

Performance. As an executive leader, you are still human—or at least you should be. As such, there will be times that you take a misstep or fall short of a projected objective or goal. Two important actions derive from this situation:

  • First, own it. It is your task, your responsibility. Others may have times they fall short—knowing that their leader is willing to take the accountability for actions helps the team view the leader as reliable, honest, have integrity, and be…well…human.

  • Second, if you find yourself in this situation, do what you can to make it right! If it means relying on others for part of the actions, explain why and ensure they understand that you need their assistance because you respect their knowledge, experience, or expertise.

Credibility. At the core of this principle is the premise of adding value. To do this, you must “go back to school,” in a sense:

Know your organization. Study what is happening with the organization’s processes, understand those processes and know what must be accomplished to bring those processes to success.

Educate yourself. Learn all you can about related processes—including those aligned with your vision and goals—in your industry or area of business.

Presence. Build a presence in your field of expertise, whether products, services, or other specialties. This applies equally to non-profit organizations as it does to for-profit ones—maybe even more because of the non-profit’s model relying on donations and support.

Relationships. This principle encompasses the premise that relationships are a necessary component of both mission and vision—in other words, the interactions you have with others provide learning experiences as well as motivational and participatory benefits.

What’s important? Learn what is important to those with whom you work and assist them on accomplishing goals. This may include realizing that someone needs additional training and then arranging for that training to occur—in other words, retaining a valuable human asset by providing the tools they need to accomplish the mission.

Two-way communications. It is easy for the executive to be directive and pass information from the top down, especially in distributed enterprises and global organizations. However, it is equally important to facilitate—and value—communications from the bottom up. It is through this two-way communications approach that the executive “listens” to others, learns to understand them, and subsequently is able to provide the right kind of guidance and leverage the right people for the right responsibilities. It is also how people come to believe that executives value their opinion. This two-way communication is also likely the most effective key to building trust among people.

And so we come again to the overarching umbrella of concepts discussed in the introduction to this course. Choose a direction and then lead from the front. Commitment—by you and your team—and your dedication to motivating the team. Make the plan results-driven, with measurable objectives to reach strategic goals. Self-development—you will learn and enhance skills along the way, just like your team. From these overarching concepts, the next chapter will examine the first—and foundational—concept of setting a direction.


Next week will be Part 4 of the series: Setting a Direction


[1] Mega, J. (2016). Developing the executive leader: The essential guide to leadership style.: JMB.



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