Leadership Skills: The Formula for Building Trust

In my last post, I wrote about the three keys for a trustworthy reputation:

  • telling the truth,
  • keeping your agreements, and
  • standing by others under pressure.

So you know how to make sure you are thought of as trustworthy. This week I want to teach you how to build trust with others.

Team members must have confidence (and therefore trust) in one another if the team is to be successful.

If you ask a room full of people how to build trust with somebody,you could make a list of all the things we’ve been taught over the years:

  • show interest,
  • share information about you,
  • ask for information about them,
  • be trusting,
  • etc.

This formula I have for you cuts through all of that:

The Formula for Building Trust

  1. Make a small agreement
    The agreement has to be one you are willing to risk, one that if you lost it, it would be worth it to you as an experiment.
  2. Keep your end of it
    Obviously keep your agreement, and see if the other person keeps his or her end.
  3. Graduate
    This means to make an incrementally larger agreement the next time.

When you do this in repeated instances, you can generate high levels of trust in a relationship with somebody else always knowing that the next larger agreement is worth making, because your history is being built on the confidence of a series of smaller agreements.

I learned as a consultant for customer-and-supplier partnering arrangements (i.e., fast response, sole source, etc.) that the best partnerships are built between businesses that have a long history of solving problems together and engaging in healthy business practices together.

Trust is the residue of promises kept — that trust is the result of repeated instances of making and keeping agreements.

There is an important lesson here: Never make any agreement, no matter how small, you’re not fully intending to keep. Why? Because trust does not get built on large agreements — it gets built on small ones.

Think of all the little agreements we make every day — how we treat those will determine our trustworthiness. If you don’t keep small agreements, you never get a chance to make large agreements.

Get Started With This 5-Minute Practice Tip

Making and keeping small agreements is how you begin to build trust.

Think of a small agreement you could make with someone with whom you’d like to build more trust. Once that agreement has been upheld, venture to make an agreement that’s a bit larger and see if your relationship gets stronger because of the confidence and trust you now share.

Also: make a note of all the small agreements you have made to make sure you keep track of them — small agreements are easy to forget.


Attention business executives and supporting partners — Do you seek proven exceptional solutions for leadership development and culture-shaping? See Partnerwerks approach to sustainable change with measurable results enterprise-wide.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Responsibility on 05/19/2014 06:25 am
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