In business, trust is a challenging attribute to master consistently well. How do leaders build a high trust environment with their people? In this article, we’ll explore the three components of building and earning high trust.

Trust Me
There’s an old fable about a young girl who climbs a mountain only to find a snake at the top – one that can talk. The snake says, “Carry me down to the warm valley. I’m cold up here.” The girl replies, “But, you’re a snake and you’ll bite me.” The snake assures her, “No, I WON’T bite you. PLEASE carry me down to the valley so that I might warm myself.” After more assurances from the snake and some deliberation, the young girl shrugs her shoulders and carefully picks up the grateful snake, and places it in her coat pocket.

As the sun is setting on the horizon, the girl has finally made her way to the valley below. As she releases the snake, he reaches up and bites her on the hand. “You said that you wouldn’t bite me!,” says the young, now frightened girl. The snake smiles slyly and says, “You knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”

Years to Build, Seconds to Destroy
Trust is an elusive condition, fleeting and quite non-black and white. And once you think that you have it with someone or some organization, it can be easily lost, harmed or destroyed. Trust is like a fine piece of Waterford crystal which when held high by the hand gives off a beautiful sight of refracted light. Yet just ONE slip occurs, it crashes to the ground and is shattered. Trust can take years to construct, and only seconds to destroy.

The research on the topic of trust is clear -- it is a by-product of three primary attributes or characteristics of behavior:
o “I believe that you’ll do what you say you’ll do.”
o Competence
o A sense of benevolence

Let’s look at each of these three behaviors. Do they “walk the talk?” Anytime someone’s behavior or actions is incongruent with their words or communication, it causes distrust to build. We all have moments of inconsistency, but the true, trusted leader rarely, if ever, fails to follow this rule. Integrity? Violate a sense of ethics or morality, and your boat is sunk. It’s like the saying, “I’d rather SEE a sermon than hear one any day.”

If someone is not competent at most of the critical competencies of a job or task, then trust becomes more elusive. That’s why the best and most successful managers are:
1. Always open to learning themselves beyond a principal state of mastering fundamental competencies
2. Admitting when they don’t know something or better, surrounding themselves with very competent people in the areas that the leader is marginal or not an expert
3. Trusts others by delegating and empowering other people while not abdicating their own ultimate responsibility. They gently and caringly inspect what they expect.
4. Emotionally mature: when they make a mistake, they admit it quickly and sincerely.

You can feel a sense of benevolence in many ways, some of which include:
o They consistently put your interests ahead of their own.
o They communicate often and well so that people feel “in on things.”
o They insure that in any conflict, you’ll feel as if you came out better than they did, even if they had to lose something in order to reach a consensus.
o They under-promise and over-deliver – consistently, and never the other way around.
o They have a “servant attitude” – it is clear that they are there to serve others, and if you needed someone at a crucial time, you could count on them. They consistently give of themselves and their talents.

Faith and Fear
Organizations tend to develop a community reputation whether they’re a “good company” who cares for its employees. Probably the best, recent example of a benevolent company leader is the true story of a Massachusetts company whose manufacturing building burned to the ground, and whose owner continued payrolls until the plant was re-constructed. Loyalty breeds trust.

Several years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine about a problem that was causing me some anxiety and stress about the future. He listened intently and then said, “Remember that faith and fear cannot exist in the mind at the same time.” In other words, when you’re mind is filled with thoughts of faith, confidence, hope, charity and positive expectancy, fear has little ground in which to take root -- and that helps you maintain trust – about people, organizations and the future.

Author's Bio: 

Charlie Breeding is President of Performance Improvement Institute, an Internet Information provider, publisher and professional speaking, coaching, consulting and training firm. Mr. Breeding is a graduate of the US Military Academy, West Point and has worked in the Performance Improvement area for over 23 years – fifteen years with Dale Carnegie Training, and two years with FranklinCovey. His clients include colleges/ universities, non-for-profits, small, medium-sized and large organizations such as AT&T, Chrysler, and Lucent Technologies. For organizations, more information can be obtained at and for individuals, go to PEP = Productivity, Execution & Performance. His second book, Breeding Trust: How to Get Everything You Want from Life" will be published in late 2008.