“Trustworthy Leadership is the key to building and sustaining trust.”

If you want high-velocity results, Unlock Trust in your team and organization. The reason is simple: when there’s a high trust level, you tend to get success generating behaviors — creativity, collaboration, and aligned execution.

On the other hand, if the trust level is at rock bottom, you get failure generating behaviors — passive-aggressive resistance to improving performance or conscious sabotage. Even if the trust level is modest, at best you’ll get only cautious compliance.

So, Unlocking Trust is a must for leaders at every level.

The Trust Gap

There have always been untrustworthy leaders but the ability to instantly expose them to a global audience is new. That’s why there are so many trust-busting ‘facts’ reverberating in the mass media echo chamber.

Whether the origin of those ‘facts’ is accurate and verifiable, or an uninformed misinterpretation or intentional poisonous propaganda, the result is the same  a greater Trust Gap.

The Trust Gap has been growing for a long time.

In the United States, it emerged in the 1960s with Vietnam and Watergate. That period was followed by suspicions about stagflation in the late 1970s.

Since then, hyper-partisanship promoted by pundits on cable news and endless broken political promises — have driven distrust of politicians to extraordinary heights.

Scandals like Enron, Bernie Madoff, and the Wall Street crisis have eroded trust in corporations and financial institutions. Archival document avalanches from sources like Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, and the German newspaper that published the Panama Papers — now regularly erode trust on a global scale.

But there is also something more fundamental to the backstory of the Trust Gap.

Consider the distrust inflicted by our warp-speed world. Rapid change means unpredictability and uncertainty about the future. This causes people to fear losing something important and feel a lack of safety and security.

So, we see the symptoms of distrust around us every day:

  • suspicion and accusations
  • secrecy and subversive actions
  • defensiveness and blaming others
  • “Lip Service” instead of problem-solving

We’ve got a huge challenge on a dangerous trajectory. What do we do?

Commit to Unlocking Trust

We can follow the examples of the many great leaders who are committed to Unlocking Trust. Here are five that I’ve followed for many years:

  • Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is generally considered one of the most trusted business leaders in the world. His formula for success is simple: Culture + Leadership + Trust = Wealth.
  • Dennis and Michelle Reina were pioneers in the field of organizational trust. Through their Reina Trust Building® Consultancy, they have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide build high trust relationships.
  • Barbara Kimmel co-founded Trust Across America to help organizations that have “building trust” at the top of their strategic agenda. Trust Across America is now the world’s largest organizational trust membership program.
  • Rushworth Kidder founded the Institute for Global Ethics to promote ethical behavior. The Institute’s decision-making framework is currently being used by corporations, schools, governments, and organizations worldwide.
  • My late friend, John Mroz, founded the EastWest Institute to build trust among global leaders. Mroz received Germany’s highest award to a non-citizen for the role he and his institute played in facilitating German reunification.

What Can You Do?

According to a Towers Watson Worldwide Study, high trust organizations outperform low trust organizations by more than 280% on shareholder ROI.

Given the downsides of distrust and the ROI of high trust, there are good reasons to Unlock Trust in your team and organization.

Here are three ways you can do that:

1. Demonstrate Competency

Peter Drucker has said that “leadership is defined by results, not attributes.” People must first believe that you have the necessary skills, judgment, and influence to lead, but that’s not enough.

To Unlock Trust, you must continuously demonstrate your competency by living up to others’ expectations and consistently delivering on your commitments.

2. Operate with Transparency

Another way you can Unlock Trust is to operate with transparency — behave in ways that make it easy for others to see what is taking place.

For example, in decision making:

  • Be clear about the process. Make sure that everyone who will be affected understands how you intend to make decisions.
  • Engage a diverse group of people who have the knowledge needed for making fast, smart decisions.
  • Continuously communicate. Tell people exactly where you are in the decision process. This minimizes the surprises that breed mistrust.

3. Lead with Character

The foundation for trust is, of course, character. This means having solid standards of right and wrong and continuously striving to live up to those standards.

Frances Hesselbein, a leader with impeccable character, offers this advice:

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.


For a quick assessment of how others may view your trustworthiness, answer these four questions:

1. Do people know what to expect from you?
2. Do people believe you do what you say?
3. Do people believe you pay attention to their interests?
4. Do people believe you are competent to carry out what you say?

To learn more about how to Unlock Trust, watch our 5-minute video, FIVE WAYS TO UNLOCK TRUST.

Thanks for exploring this GEO Leadership Action.

What are your key Takeaways?

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Leland Russell
Founder / CEO
GEO Group Strategic Services