Four leadership characteristics that build trust

Your trustworthiness is an asset you can’t be effective without. If the people you lead don’t fully trust you, they’ll hold back.

They’ll hesitate.

They’ll become isolationists.

People can’t do their best work when they’re focused on protecting themselves.

We’re in the trust building business and have been for 25 years. But we’re not alone in prioritizing trust. Harvard Business Review released results from its unprecedented 10-year leadership study. What did it find to be the No. 1 thing holding back second-best executives?

The inability to build and sustain trusting relationships.

You don’t want to be second-best. You don’t want to work your fingers to the bone and give your heart and soul to your development as a leader — only to discover your trustworthiness is the one thing holding you back.


Support yourself to a foundation of trust. Take steps to emulate these four characteristics of trustworthy leaders:

Courage to take honest stock of how you’re showing up.

You know you care about your people. You have their best interests in mind.

But do they know that?


Or, might those intentions get diluted by how you actually show up? When you’re stressed and pressed, might you — unintentionally — slip into habits that fail to communicate your highest intentions?

The truth: Trust is built and broken through behavior. Your intentions aren’t enough.

Summon your courage and take a step to discover what’s hardest for people in how you relate to them. Raise your self-awareness. Bring into line how you want to be experienced with how you’re actually experienced.

Compassion for yourself and others.

You’re human. So is everyone else. Nothing will ever erase your own and others’ intrinsic fallibility.

Not training.

Not development.

Not even self-awareness.

So, don’t run from imperfection — embrace it! Use mistakes, missteps and dropped balls to learn more about what you and others truly need to do your best work. When you get disappointed, instead of coming down hard on people — or on yourself — extend compassion.


Ask questions with the intent to gain the surround sound and deeper understanding. People trust leaders who see them as whole people who’ve simply hit a rough patch.

They also trust leaders who open up and offer up their own mistakes as developmental tools.

Curiosity for how to deepen others’ contributions.

Leadership isn’t only about your contribution. It’s about helping other people deepen theirs and trust in themselves.

You’ve got people out there, right now, struggling to deliver how they want to deliver. They may not come to you for help. They should — but they may not.

Meet them where they are. Get curious. Ask questions. Discover what they need. Find out what you can give.

Conviction to people and your relationships.

Another truth?

High trust leaders never stop working on trust.

They know the real work gets done through relationships and effective relationships are built on trust. They have that conviction and that wisdom. And, that willpower to keep working on trust when other ‘business’ needs close in.

After all, without trusting, supportive relationships fueling the work at hand, there will be no ‘work at hand.’

Keep your relationships front and center. Pay attention to them.

Carve out time and save energy to check in with people an have authentic conversations. Even when you’ve least got the bandwidth.

Especially when you’ve least got the bandwidth. When the environment is moving fastest and things are most intriguing, trust is most vulnerable to being stepped on.

Commit to continually give yourself permission to maintain the health of your most valuable asset — your trustworthiness.

Michelle Reina, Ph.D., and her life and business partner, Dennis Reina, Ph.D., are co-founders of Reina, A Trust Building® Consultancy. The Reinas are authors of two award-winning, best-selling books, which have been published in multiple languages: “Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in Your Organization, Third edition,” and “Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace: Seven Steps to Renew Confidence, Commitment, and Energy.” They are both cancer survivors. In their free time, they enjoy exploring the world and their home state of Vermont. Visit