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Building Trust: The Key to Success

October 1, 2018


When it comes to characteristics that predict long-term success in business, one quality trumps just about every other: trustworthiness. Sure, skills are important, as are knowledge and a good work ethic. Yet the key factor in creating a strong network of clients, customers, employees, suppliers, and associates is the ability to build trusting relationships.

It’s no secret that a lack of trust has reached epidemic proportions. Gallup has found that fewer than one in four Americans trust big banks, big business, and the media. Gallup finds that the trust ratio is even worse for Congress. 

And an SEC commissioner recently cited data showing that nearly 80 percent of Americans do not trust in the financial system. In 2010 Maritz Research found that just 11 percent of employees strongly agreed that their managers’ actions were consistent with their words; only 7 percent strongly agreed that they trusted their senior leaders to look out for their best interests.

Given sobering statistics like these, it’s clear that we live in a distrustful world. It only makes sense, then, that the person who can earn people’s trust will have a competitive edge.

But how do you build trusting relationships? Trust is a notoriously complex issue. What is trust? How do we describe it? Does trust mean the same thing to you as it does to me? If not, how can we talk about it—let alone build it? 

Those are the questions I explore in my book, Trust Works! Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships, coauthored with Cindy Olmstead and Martha Lawrence. Cindy, a business consultant, noticed that organizations with high levels of trust were significantly more successful than their counterparts. Curious to know why, she conducted years of research on trust and discovered two surprising facts:

First, trust means different things to different people. In other words, you can be completely unaware that your behavior is eroding the trust of those around you. What looks like fine behavior to you could be making your friend, spouse, boss, employee, or business partner downright wary. 

Second, trust is something that grows when certain behaviors are present. But what behaviors? To find out, Cindy set up flip charts in her office so that during discussions with clients, colleagues, and friends she could write down behaviors they thought would either build or erode trust. As the lists grew long, she began to see patterns and realized that the behaviors fell into predictable categories.

The Four Pillars of Trust
Just as a table can’t stand on one leg, trust is not built on one behavior. For example, the person who never tells a lie—but who also never gets to appointments on time—cannot be called trustworthy. From her research, Cindy found that trusting relationships could flourish when people practiced a combination of four basic competencies: Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable.

    Trust begins with behaviors that show you are Able. This element of trust is about demonstrating competence. Getting quality results, solving problems, and having relevant skills enable you to actualize your good intentions, and that builds trust.

    Trust is strengthened when your behaviors demonstrate you are Believable. This element of trust is about acting with integrity. This not only means being truthful, but also showing the capacity to keep confidences, admit mistakes, and show respect for others.

    Trust can flourish when your behaviors show you are Connected. This element of trust has to do with caring about others. Listening well, showing interest in and working well with others, and sharing about yourself are ways you can strengthen the bonds of trust.

    Finally, trust requires that your behaviors prove you are Dependable. This element of trust is about maintaining reliability. That means doing what you say you will do, being timely, organized, and accountable, and following up on a consistent basis. 

Assessing Your Trust Strengths and Weaknesses
Now that you understand the four competencies of trust—Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable—go to and take the online self assessment, where you can rate yourself in each area. Have others rate you as well. Then think about how you might build up your weak areas. 

For example, because I love people and have never really heard a bad idea, I used to say yes to more projects than I really had time for. While this made me score high in the Connected area of trust—listening, showing interest, and sharing with others—it it made me less than Dependable when it came to being timely and following up. Thanks to understanding the four elements of trust and my team’s help in limiting my projects, I’ve become more trustworthy.

Trust is a delicate thing. It takes a long time to build, yet you can blow it with one poor decision. On the other hand, showing people they can rely on you can lead to benefits like greater autonomy, profitability, and satisfaction. So invest some time in building your trust muscles. Your success in achieving the rewards of great relationships—at work, in your community, and at home—will depend on your capacity to create trusting bonds.


KEN BLANCHARD is a world-renowned leadership guru. His dozens of books—including the blockbuster international bestseller The One Minute Manager®—have combined sales of more than 20 million copies in 27 languages. He has been a guest on “Good Morning, America” and “The Today Show” and has been featured in Time, People, Fast Company, and other popular publications. He is the cofounder and chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies, a global management training and consulting firm headquartered in San Diego, California. He is also a cofounder of the nonprofit ministry Lead Like Jesus, and The College of Business at Grand Canyon University bears his name. You can follow Ken Blanchard on Twitter @KenBlanchard or @LeaderChat and also via the HowWeLead and LeaderChat blogs. 


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