How The Best Leaders Inspire Trust: 3 Virtues and How To Use Them

Posted On: May 31, 2019 by: Doug Lundrigan

Building Trust in the Workplace

Trust is a key attribute that we rely on every single day, whether we recognize it or not. It’s the confidence that we place in others that guide our daily interactions and allows us to believe that they mean what they say.

Research suggests that the core elements of trust include integrity, competence, and compassion (Preston Pond, Roger Allen, 2012). While not all three of these aspects may be equally important in all situations, in order to foster healthy and productive relationships, all three aspects must be present in the development of a trust bond.

Real Life Example

I recently worked with a team of 24 in a highly technical branch of a national organization. Many team members could be described affectionately as “nerds” who love their technical work about as much or more than they love people. The team had created a culture of avoidance when it came to differences, and miscommunication was rampant. This along with false assumptions and suspicion combined to create a culture of very low trust.

The negative culture came to a head when formal accusations were made toward the branch director, who was demoted and transferred to a different branch.  This created a very clear “us versus them” mentality between those who thought the action was fair, and those who thought it was a travesty.  That’s when they brought me in.

The branch members were in full dysfunction, with many having a hard time even looking at each other, much less work together.  Some highly talented people had already left the branch and many more were preparing to.  My approach to resolving the multi-faceted conflict and re-building trust was to first, do surveys and interviews.  A trusted colleague and I interviewed everyone and identified the most common themes of the conflict.  The results were troubling and fascinating.  The troubling part was the low engagement, low respect, low trust, fear of speaking up, and suspicion between coworkers.  The fascinating part is that they still loved their work, even with the dysfunction.

The first problem with low trust is the parties don’t see each other as people, they see them according to the labels they have put on them.  To help them see each other’s perspective we held a meeting in which the results of the survey and interviews were revealed.  The goal was to have every branch member feel heard and validated.  Anonymous interview comments from each person were shown to the entire branch.  Some felt their opponents didn’t trust their ability to do the job (low trust in their competence).  Others felt like they couldn’t trust others’ words (low trust in their integrity).  Some felt their opponents’ motives were based in self-interest and were unable to consider the needs of others (low trust in their compassion).

As was told to me following the meeting, “It was a real eye-opener to hear the effect my words and actions were having on the others.”  They started to see each other as real people, with valid feelings and challenges.  For the next month, we did some additional important things to re-build trust inside that organization, but I can only describe a few of them in this article. We identified the lightning rods in the conflict – those who seemed to instigate issues and be the objects of distrust – we gave them each an emotional intelligence assessment, and we coached them one-on-one.  As a group, we established new standards of acceptable behavior that they all can expect from each other.  At the end of the month, we met again for a whole day and had a trust-building workshop. We did some cooperative activities that provided an opportunity for former opponents to have fun side-by-side and see each other as human beings, not as objects.

One person commented, “I learned that it all came back to me.  I’m responsible for my own reactions to others, and the assumptions I make.  I can choose to think, speak, and treat others better.” Through intentional effort, the culture is becoming more positive and people report enjoying coming to work again. They’re not out of the woods yet, but they’re on their way. This kind of culture change requires months of consistent effort and is some of the most important work an organization can focus on for long-term success.

The Three Aspects of Trust


When someone is said to have integrity, it means that they continually practice honesty and consistently live their lives according to strong moral and ethical values that are important to them. When someone has high integrity, they fulfill their promises, can be counted on to keep their commitments, and are known to do the right thing, without looking for praise. They will always have the best interest of their company and their team in mind.

Demonstrate integrity to your team by avoiding gossip, giving respectful and honest feedback, and always following through on what you say you will do. If you ask them for their opinion, make suggested changes the best you can. Let your team know the process you need to take in order to make the change happen and stay transparent with the process. Few things are more damaging to trust and integrity then telling your team you will do something and never following through with it.


Competence is the ability to perform or complete a task successfully. A quick way to break the trust between two individuals, especially an employee/manager relationship, is for someone to promise something and then not be able to deliver.

Honest feedback can shape your team and provide measurable improvements to work on together. Set up regular feedback sessions and talk about not only things to be improved but ways the employee is doing well. As the line of communication is opened, you’ll find progress and relationships will improve faster than almost any other strategy.


 One simple way to demonstrate compassion is by remembering details about your team’s personal life and asking them about it. Showing that you care about not just their work but their personal life as well will show that you care about them as a whole, not just as an employee.


Organizations Depend on Trust

Organizations are built by, and thrive on, the hard work of their employees. Individuals working within teams and interdepartmentally can only function when they can trust each other. This interdependence requires communication and collaboration, which is only successful when the information being shared is through channels built on trust. When these three aspects of trust are present, success can be achieved.

If your team is struggling with open communication, lack of follow through or overall dysfunction, a lack of trust could be the root cause. Lighthouse Leadership is now offering free Lunch & Learn programs for qualifying businesses! There are 32 dynamic and engaging workshop topics to choose from. Check out The Trust Imperative: Life-Changing Principles to find out more information on how we can emphasize the importance of trustworthiness. Contact us now to learn more and see what quality leadership training can do for your business!

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