5 Critical Keys to Becoming the Leader We Trust


“We can build our leadership upon fear, obligation, or trust. However, only a foundation of trust results in the collaboration and goodwill necessary to achieve our peak performance.” – Roger Allen, Organisational Design Expert.

These words are certainly true. Trust in leaders plays a central role in building high performance organisations. Without trust, we follow unwillingly, struggle to commit, are demotivated and less satisfied at work.

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Whilst there are a number of elements to building trust in businesses, there are 5 distinct elements in your relationship with people that are key to building a trust based management style:

  • Integrity.This may seem obvious, but it is fundamental to trust in organisations. Your people need to see that you will keep your word, act on a strong set of principles, and do the right thing, even when it is hard.
  • Competence. At first glance this may seem strange. We may all know someone who we trust, even though they might not be very competent. This is true, but not for leaders. Your people cannot trust you unless they are sure that you are capable of making good decisions, that you are steering the ship in the right direction. After all, their collective futures could very well depend on you knowing what you are doing and getting it right.
  • Consistency. At the end of the day, people like to feel secure. Uncertainty can be anxiety provoking and detracts from your team’s ability to do a good job. If your team knows what you stand for, and they believe that you will be predictable in your decisions and actions, they can feel secure in your leadership. That is not to say that some industries don’t thrive on “shaking things up”, but even that has a measure of predictability to it. We are predictably unpredictable!
  • Care. Your team will only trust you if they know that you care about them, about their success and about their wellbeing. Max De Pree, the champion of the “servant leader” concept, says this: “The leader’s first job is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the leader must become a servant and a debtor.” This servant leader relationship with your team is what demonstrates your care for them.
  • Openness. Being open about self is a key to trust, as trust is ultimately about relationships. I remember coaching a team leader whose team expressed a deep distrust for her. When I enquired, people told me “We don’t know anything about her! We don’t even know if she is married, or has children, and we have worked with her for three years”. Interestingly, it was the lack of those details about their manager that caused the rift. She argued that those details were none of the team’s business, and that they were irrelevant to having a working relationship, but the team felt that the lack of openness meant that they couldn’t trust her. If your team can’t get to know you, then they probably can’t get to trust you, either. When you are open, there is a degree of vulnerability required, and the courage to show that vulnerability to others.

If you invest in developing these keys to trust, your relationship with your team becomes a solid foundation. When times are tough, in stress and in change, people will rally together with those they trust – relationships truly are the basis of high performing organisations.


Rosalind Cardinal is The Leadership Alchemist and Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, an Australian consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations. Ros’ expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, organisational behaviour, employee engagement and motivation, strategic direction and management.

Ros’ book “The Resilient Employee: The essential guide to coping with change and thriving in today’s organisation” is available from 21 June in paperback and e-book format. To find out more, visit http://rosalindcardinal.com/re-landing/

Ros also runs the Shaping Change Inner Circle, an exclusive membership network for driven leaders around the world who are passionate about making a difference, building successful businesses and leveraging the talents and skills of their people.

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