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3 Pillars of Trust in Relationships

Hadley’s Intro:  Your relationship success determines your level of success

in life, work and love.  Discover action steps to build all 3 pillars of trust

as you read this guest post courtesy of  Harvard Business Review

written by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman

As a leader, you want the people in your
organization to trust you. And with good reason. In
our coaching with leaders, we often see that trust
is a leading indicator of whether others evaluate
them positively or negatively. But creating that
trust or, perhaps more importantly, reestablishing
it when you’ve lost it isn’t always that

Fortunately, by looking at data from the 360
assessments of 87,000 leaders, we were able to
identify three key clusters of items that are often
the foundation for trust. We looked for
correlations between the trust rating and all other
items in the assessment and after selecting the 15
highest correlations, we performed a factor
analysis that revealed these three elements.
Further analysis showed that the majority of the
variability in trust ratings could be explained by
these three elements.

The Three Elements of Trust
By understanding the behaviors that underlie trust,
leaders are better able to elevate the level of
trust that others feel toward them. Here are the
three elements.

Positive Relationships. Trust is in part based on
the extent to which a leader is able to create
positive relationships with other people and
groups. To instill trust a leader must:

Stay in touch on the issues and concerns of others.
Balance results with concern for others.
Generate cooperation between others.
Resolve conflict with others.
Give honest feedback in a helpful way.

Good Judgement/Expertise. Another factor in whether
people trust a leader is the extent to which a
leader is well-informed and knowledgeable. They
must understand the technical aspects of the work
as well as have a depth of experience. This means:

They use good judgement when making decisions.
Others trust their ideas and opinions.
Others seek after their opinions.
Their knowledge and expertise make an important
contribution to achieving results.
Can anticipate and respond quickly to problems.
Consistency. The final element of trust is the
extent to which leaders walk their talk and do what
they say they will do. People rate a leader high in
trust if they:

Are a role model and set a good example.
Walk the talk.
Honor commitments and keep promises.
Follow through on commitments.
Are willing to go above and beyond what needs to be

We wanted to understand how these three elements
interacted to create the likelihood that people
would trust a leader. We created three indices for
each element and since we had such a large dataset,
we experimented with how performance on each of the
dimensions impacted the overall trust score. In our
study we found that if a leader scored at or above
the 60th percentile on all three factors, their
overall trust score was at the 80th percentile.

We compared high scores (above 60th percentile) and
low scores (below the 40th percentile) to examine
the impact these had on the three elements that
enabled trust. Note that these levels are not
extremely high or low. Basically, they are 10
percentile points above and below the norm. This is
important because it means that being just above
average on these skills can have a profound
positive effect and, conversely, just being below
average can destroy trust.

We also found that level of trust is highly
correlated with how people rate a leader’s
overall leadership effectiveness. It has the
strongest impact on the direct reports’ and peer
overall ratings. The manager’s ratings and the
engagement ratings were not as highly correlated,
but all the differences are statistically

Do You Need All Three Elements of Trust?
We were also curious to know if leaders needed to
be skilled in all three elements to generate a high
level of trust and whether any one element had the
most significant impact on the trust rating. To
gauge this, we created an experiment where we
separated leaders into high and low levels on each
of the three pillars and then measured the level of

Intuitively we thought that consistency would be
the most important element. Saying one thing and
doing another seems like it would hurt trust the
most. While our analysis showed that inconsistency
does have a negative impact (trust went down 17
points), it was relationships that had the most
substantial impact. When relationships were low and
both judgment and consistency were high, trust went
down 33 points. This may be because many leaders
are seen as occasionally inconsistent. We all
intend to do things that don’t get done, but once
a relationship is damaged or if it was never formed
in the first place, it’s difficult for people to

We often tell people that they don’t need to be
perfect to be an excellent leader but when it comes
to trust, all three of these elements need to be
above average. Remember that, in our analysis, we
set the bar fairly low: at the 60th percentile.
This is not a brilliant level of performance,
barely above average.

We have regularly found in our research that if a
leader has a preference for a particular skill,
they are more likely to perform better at it. Think
about which of these elements of trust you have a
stronger preference for – and which you prefer
least. Because you need to be above average on
each, it is probably worth your time to focus on
improving the latter.


What you focus on expands.  Focus on building

3 pillars of trust to improve interactions in your

your personal and professional relationships.

Hadley Finch


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