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Viewpoint - October 2019



How Great Leaders Build Trust

by Bob Gershberg, CEO/Managing Partner Wray Executive Search

Trust is integral in top-performing organizations. Proven leaders empower followers through trust.

Clear accountability is a necessary feature of a high-trust culture. As a leader, being trustworthy is about earning confidence, being dependable, being approachable, being honest, being supportive and being consistent. Trust must be earned.

Nothing speaks more loudly about the culture of an organization than the leader’s behavior, which influences employee action and has the potential to drive their results. Show support for your team members, even when they make mistakes. Model the behavior you expect. To build accountability, acknowledge your mistakes as readily as your successes. Admit it when you do not know the answer.

According to Joel Peterson, in his book The Ten Laws of Trust, “You have to be intentional about building a high-trust environment. It doesn’t just happen. It’s just like diet or exercise.” Peterson provides three tests for deciding who to trust. The first is character. “We can’t trust a leader without integrity, who we can’t count on to do what he or she says,” he explains. Next is competence. You trust your mom, for example, but would you trust her to fly a 747 to London? The third, he says, is authority to deliver. There’s no point in trusting a pilot to fly to London if she doesn’t have permission to take off. “It’s folly to trust anybody if all three aren’t present,” Peterson says.

Building trust is hard work. Be open and honest. Credibility is an important leadership trait for building trust. Be highly ethical. Closely related to credibility is ethical behavior. Have integrity and conduct yourself in a way that sets a high standard for ethical behavior to earn the trust of those around you. Live your values. Understanding a leader’s personal values is an important part of building trust. Finding ways to authentically demonstrate your values enables you to connect at an emotional level with others in your workplace. It also helps build credibility if you behave in a way consistent with those values.

Trust is a two-way street. You must extend trust in order to gain trust. Extend trust by finding every opportunity to add or expand channels of communication.

Aligning your words and actions is a key pillar for building trust in the workplace and, ultimately, for an organization’s success. We often find employees say that what leaders say and do has the most impact on their perception of an organization. When there is a disconnect between a leader’s words and actions, employees are less likely to become engaged and committed to the organization. Actions matter most if you want to earn employees’ trust and engage them in the organization. Starting with the leader, it takes involvement at every level to create a deep bond of believability that motivates employees to put forth effort needed to make their organization successful. If you say teamwork is important, reinforce the point by collaborating across teams and functions. Give credit when people do great work and you’ll set the stage for an appreciative culture. Master balancing the need for results with being considerate of others and their feelings. Work hard to win over people by being respectful of their ideas and perspectives. Ensure that your words and actions match, not just some of the time but all the time.

To define trust, we also need to go beyond these practical kinds of considerations. A deeper version involves more of an emotional response. This includes feelings for employers such as knowing that leaders are on “their side,” they will be treated fairly and with respect and setbacks will be viewed favorably or at least not with particularly negative consequences.

The job of a leader is to go first and extend trust first. A true trust with clear expectations and strong accountability built into the process is the mission. The best leaders lead with a decided propensity to trust, as opposed to a propensity not to trust.

Leaders cannot be effective without their team’s trust. Create positive relationships with your team. Demonstrate expertise and judgment.  Your behavior must be consistent. You must do what you say you will do. Follow through on your commitments and keep any promises you make. Building trust can be a leader’s best path to glory.

All the best,


Bob Gershberg |CEO|Managing Partner|

(888) 875-9993 ext 102

Finding tomorrow’s leaders today!

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