Do you ever wonder how you’re doing as a leader? What’s the best way to evaluate your skills? There are a variety of metrics that might be useful. You could distribute a survey, conduct 360-degree performance evaluations, analyze the financials, and assess your progress against goals.

But there is an easier way. Ask yourself whether your team trusts you. Trust is the currency of effective leaders. Recently, I’ve written posts on culture as well as association excellence. I didn’t discuss trust in either of those articles. It’s easy to overlook the importance of qualities that we don’t normally quantify.

Although goals are not typically formed around trust, it is the foundation of organizational success. Yes, there are plenty of examples of leaders who are feared, disliked, or simply viewed as incompetent. Work goes on, even under less than ideal circumstances. But those negative emotions are invisible barriers. They impede progress, create confusion, and stifle innovation. Worst of all, lack of trust generates a constellation of other unproductive feelings and behavior.

Without trust you have employees, but you don’t have a team. As a consultant, I’ve experienced organizations at both ends of the trust spectrum. For CEOs who hang on to their jobs through intimidation or Machiavellian intrigue, every day is a new battle.  On the other hand, leaders who are trusted, operate in the jet stream. When colleagues have confidence in your judgment and integrity, initiatives that might have required scrutiny can often be expedited based on your track record.

Before I started this post, I googled trust. One article from “Psychology Today” included phrases like “semantic pointer theory of emotions” and “cognitive appraisal.” But here is a sentence that resonated with me. “To trust someone you have to feel good about them.” That straightforward statement is right in multiple ways.

Bring Trust to the Conference Room

Building trust is both incredibly simple and deeply challenging. You don’t need a genius-level IQ. Trust doesn’t require advanced degrees or even years of education. But it is a prize that is not won without effort. Writing about trust is infinitely easier than actually doing it. Trust requires hard work and practice.

In business trust becomes an economic issue.

For those professionals who believe that feelings and relationship building are soft skills that are better suited for happy hour than the conference room, .orgSource, Managing Director of Business Strategy, Sharon Rice, reminded me that in a work setting trust becomes an economic issue.

Sharon explained, “Several years ago when I was helping a client to improve working relationships among board members, I came across Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, “The Speed of Trust.” Covey takes trust outside the realm of culture and psychology and puts it into the world of commerce.

He gives an illusive quality concrete parameters and demonstrates its significant impact on operations. Then, he offers a framework and strategies to begin learning trust on multiple levels.”

Covey validates my premise that trust is a superhighway allowing work to flow more smoothly. Trust removes barriers and reduces time and expense. When colleagues, business partners, and service providers trust one another, plans are made and executed more quickly, not only reducing expenses but often increasing revenue.

Reflect What You Want to See

“I was attracted by the fact that Covey makes trust learnable, and he takes it beyond one-to-one relationships,” Sharon advises. “He identifies these five dimensions where trust needs to be established.”

  1. Individuals need to trust themselves
  2. The team needs to trust each other
  3. Committees and other groups need to trust the organization
  4. The organization and its members must trust one another
  5. And finally, the company must be trustfully aligned with society

There can’t be many associations that can claim success across all five dimensions. But it is certainly a goal to aspire to. Building trust, like many other things in business, is a journey that begins in an obvious place. Covey advises that before anyone else can trust you, you must trust yourself.

This message is especially important for CEOs. You are a mirror. You can’t pick and choose which qualities you would like employees to model. For better or worse, your attitudes and behavior will be reflected throughout the organization. Joanna Pineda who is Founder, CEO, and Chief Troublemaker at Matrix Group, International, Inc., made this observation about a leader’s influence.

“Early in our relationship, my executive coach would remind me that every CEO gets the organization he or she deserves. If your employees aren’t working well together and your office is siloed, it may not be because you created these problems, but you are the person who is allowing them to happen.”

Evaluate Yourself

“Do you trust yourself is not a rhetorical question,” Sharon advises. “Covey offers four specific examples of how people who are trustworthy think and behave. He believes that the basis for trust begins when we evaluate ourselves against these criteria.”

Trust begins with self-evaluation.

The first is acting with integrity. Do you walk your talk? Integrity involves being true to yourself and others. When you set goals, do you follow through? If you tell your staff that their well-being is a top priority, do you keep that commitment when the board suggests cutting back on health insurance benefits to balance the budget?


Acting with integrity is not always easy, but as people begin to know who you really are (or what you value) the challenges to that identity should diminish. Behaving predictably across a variety of circumstances is a key component of trust.


Intent is the second defining characteristic. Intent refers to the motivations behind our actions. Intent and integrity should be in alignment. How you behave should be driven by your values. In the workplace, especially, intentions should center on what is good for the group as opposed to what is best for you. Hidden agendas, favoritism, and quid pro quo are examples of intentions that erode trust. Integrity and intention are related to character, or mental and moral qualities.

Competency and Results

Competency and results, Covey’s other two benchmarks for trust, have to do with how you and others evaluate your ability to deliver on expectations. Do you have the right skills for the job and can others count on you to produce the anticipated outcome? Are you honest about your abilities, and do you delegate tasks you’re not equipped to perform successfully?   

Put Self-Trust First

“I think that Covey makes developing and maintaining self-trust sound a bit too easy,” Sharon observes. “In the real world, we constantly encounter challenges that can negatively impact that ability. Decisions are rarely black or white. Stress from either outside or inside the workplace could cause us to temporarily lose sight of our inner compass. But if we can bring self-trust into every deliberation, the right path will be easier to identify and follow.”

“I’ve used these concepts to facilitate groups that were experiencing significant dysfunction. In almost every case, when leaders, staff, and volunteers assessed their own trustworthiness, they are able to work together more effectively.”

As Covey emphasizes, “Trust is the one thing that changes everything.” Without it you have employees, but you don’t have a team.