The Trusted Leader: Bringing Out the Best in Your People and Your Company
by Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau

As most managers intuitively understand, trust in organizations is critical. Companies that have it in their organizations flourish. Those that don't fall rapidly into disarray. But what many executives overlook is that their best efforts to build and maintain trust inside won't succeed if they don't also work to overcome employees' natural resistance -- resistance to change, resistance to the unknown, resistance to risk.

Reduced to its essentials, there are three types of trust that organizations and their leaders need, and which require constant attention:

  1. Strategic Trust, which is trust in the company's mission, and in how you and your organization execute against that mission, both externally and internally.

  2. Personal Trust, which is your employees' trust that you, as an individual and as their leader, will treat them fairly, and that you will extend a level of care for their well-being.

  3. Organizational Trust, your employees' trust that the organization you lead is truly what it purports to be.

The Principles of Trusted Leadership

Trusted Leadership takes many forms. From the way the CEO talks to the members of his or her senior management team, to the way front-line employees show how they feel about the company in the way they deal with customers. From the way people get promoted, or passed over for promotion, to the expectations they have when they sign on or leave. In order to get a handle on trust inside, you need to develop some form of 360-degree, multidimensional perspective on the way trust manifests itself in the leadership group. Or doesn't.

Trusted leadership shows itself as the sum total of many interpersonal interactions, all of them extraordinarily fragile. Even in the best work environments, trust is potentially under attack all the time. Every time one manager says something about another without his or her knowledge; every time two staffers meet at the coffee machine; every e-mail sent, every announcement made, every time a high-profile executive walks down a hall or engages in casual conversation. Trust needs vigilant protectors.

Every day, every organizational juncture provides opportunities for building trusted leadership. Every instance in which trust might come under attack is also an instance in which trust might be created or strengthened. Every meeting with your employees give them a chance to see you and other leaders in action, hopefully not posturing or wearing false smiles.

The speed at which trust is destroyed is always faster than the speed at which it is built, but the process of building trust does accumulate deposits in your company's "trust bank." A major violation of trust can quickly spread and poison an entire organization if it's not managed properly, however, no matter how strong that organization's "trust account' had been up to that point. A leadership group that works to build trust inside achieves a rhythm that helps it move smoothly through the kinds of business situations that cause other leadership groups to sputter and stall.

Your "account balance" provides a buffer of sorts. Where there is a history of trust, people are more inclined to give the company the benefit of the doubt in tough or questionable situations.

An individual's ability to build and maintain trust with clients correlates with his or her ability to build and maintain trust inside. Relationships with clients are all about expectations, promises and delivery. So are relationships inside an organization. You can only set realistic expectations and make good on promises from the inside out if you're sure that the organization behind you can deliver. Your professionalism and certainty requires trust.

Becoming a trusted leader requires both message and medium. In other words, inspiring language, by itself, won't do the trick. Trust is intangible, but the acts of building, maintaining, and repairing trust require concrete processes. For example, you could easily proclaim, "From now on, the head of marketing will work to build trust with the head of finance!" Heads may nod, people may say "Aye, aye!" But the words by themselves are meaningless. If your head of marketing thinks about his need to build trust, however, and picks up the phone to call the head of finance to discuss a touchy resource allocation issue in advance instead of resetting it as a fait accompli a week later, then that's progress.

Trusted leadership is a combination of what you accomplish (outcomes) plus who you are (skills and competencies). Great outcomes and trustworthiness are often found together.

How to Rebuild Trust That Has Been Lost


Recognize the intensity of the loss of trust: its depth, its breadth;

Examine where the breach occurred, and where the damage was done: personal trust elements (credibility, reliability, intimacy, self-interest); organizational trust elements (aspirations, abilities, actions, articulation, alignment, resistance);

Place it out there: Fast!

Acknowledge its impact on the individual, the group, and/or the organization at large;

Identify as precisely as possible what you'll be doing in an attempt to rebuild trust;

Raise the bar of performance: Overdeliver on your attempt to rebuild;

Reflect carefully on whether progress is being made, and what else needs to be done;

Repeat the process for a good long time.

Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau are the authors of The Trusted Leader: Bringing Out the Best in Your People and Your Company published by Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, January 2003.

Many more articles in Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2003 - Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau. All rights reserved.

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