Trust is paramount when building strong relationships

Trust is at the foundation of great leadership. When others trust you, they are willing to engage in challenges that they might otherwise deem too risky. They are willing to take input from you, and value your perspective.

In my experience, building trust with your team takes considerable time and comes after those on your team have measured your leadership against three primary requirements.

  • Commitment. Have you demonstrated a commitment to the team and others that confirms you are all in, regardless of how challenging or difficult the leadership role becomes?
  • Honesty. Have you offered honest feedback to the team and those you lead, in both good times and bad?
  • Intimacy. Do you have a deep and meaningful understanding of the individuals you lead? Do you understand what makes them tick? Ultimately, do you care about them over and above the work that you share each day?

Leaders who invest themselves in building commitment, honest communication and intimate relationships with those they lead will ultimately earn the trust of their team and organization. While these three requirements do not stand alone with respect to great leadership, if any one of the three is missing, the leader’s effectiveness is reduced.

Start with individuals

Typically, trust is earned at the individual level, because relationships take time to develop and grow. Leaders will never gain an organization’s trust until they earn the individual trust of the team and other leaders in the organization.

Trust also is time dependent, because experiences over time are what people use to evaluate your commitment, honesty and intimacy. Individual experiences add up to create a trust index. If you manage those individual experiences properly, people score you high on the trust index. If you fail to manage those experiences well, people score you lower.

Word will spread

It’s important to understand that organizational trust is achieved through first building individual trust with each of your direct reports. Second, build individual trust with each of your peers and superiors, and finally extend your engagement to those who report to your team and others in the organization.

Why do I suggest trust is built in this sequence? Your team is first because they will ultimately begin to represent you to others. Long before you can build a relationship with your peers, your boss or others in the organization, the team that reports to you will share their opinions with others.

The goal early in your leadership role is to understand that your team will shape the organization’s perception of your leadership style and effectiveness. By investing early in your team to build trust, you will get favorable reviews and word will spread. For example, as you prepare and think about your first 30 days leading a team, think about how you want the team to finish the phrase, “My new boss … ”


Gregory D. Cessna is the CEO of Consumer Fresh Produce, an innovative distributor of fresh, high-quality produce, Consumer Fresh Produce is a leader in produce supply chain management. Greg has led publicly traded and privately held companies for 30 years, including successfully completing 15 strategic acquisitions and mergers. In 2005, he founded Northbound Consulting to coach and mentor family business leaders in succession planning, strategy and business analytics.