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‘In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, even precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you.’
Stephen Covey, The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything

Be careful not to underestimate the difference trust makes. Think about these four situations:

1. A challenging project
When trust is high: ‘I really appreciate that she trusts me to lead this project. I won’t let her down.’
When trust is lacking: ‘She’s trying to throw me under the bus.’

2. An important decision
When trust is high: ‘I think that’s the best option too Bronte. Run with it, I look forward to hearing the results.’
When trust is lacking: ‘Hmn, she says it’s good but frankly I just don’t trust her judgement or her motives’ and usually stalling accompanies this thought or comment.

3. Finding a colleague’s behaviour or attitude difficult
When trust is high: ‘Do you have 10 minutes Tom, I’d really appreciate your help’
When trust is lacking: ‘Oh no, we get on just fine’

4. A personal difficulty
When trust is high: You feel comfortable sharing personal circumstances. It feels okay to be vulnerable
When trust is lacking: ‘Oh no, everything’s good thanks’


two mean in suits shaking hands and smiling

Why Trust Matters

When there is a high level of trust work is both more efficient and effective. Results are better, they are achieved with less stress and they are achieved more quickly.

Conversely, when there is a lack of trust people tend to hold information tightly to themselves, they do ‘workarounds’ to avoid the person they don’t really trust, they refrain from collaborating and delegating.

All of these actions not only mean that the task takes longer but it is also often of reduced quality. The people involved often feel dissatisfied or frustrated.

‘Recently, as I was teaching this concept, a CFO, who deals with numbers all the time, came up to me and said, “This is fascinating! I’ve always seen trust as a nice thing to have, but I never, ever thought of it in terms of its impact on economics and speed. Now that you’ve pointed it out, I can see it everywhere I turn.

For example, we have one supplier in whom we have complete trust. Everything happens fast with this group, and the relationship hardly costs us anything to maintain.

But with another supplier, we have very little trust. It takes forever to get anything done, and it costs us a lot of time and effort to support the relationship. And that’s costing us money—too much money!

This CFO was amazed when everything suddenly fell into place in his mind. Even though he was a ‘numbers’ guy, he had not connected the dots with regard to trust. Once he saw it, everything suddenly made sense. He could immediately see how trust was affecting everything in the organisation, and how robust and powerful the idea of the relationship between trust, speed, and cost was for analysing what was happening in his business and for taking steps to significantly increase profitable growth.’

Stephen Covey, The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything


How do you Build and Nurture Trust?

We’ve established how important trust is, but how exactly do you build and nurture it? According to research by Zenger and Folkman (Feb 5, 2019), there are three elements of trust. Leaders who behave in accordance with these elements will benefit from an elevated level of trust.


1. Create positive relationships

  • Balance results with a genuine concern for people
  • Foster cooperation between people
  • Give honest feedback in such a way that people stay ‘on board’
  • Resolve conflict rather than ‘hiding’ or ‘ignoring’ it

2. Have the expertise and the confidence to make good decisions

  • Be well-informed and use sound judgement to make decisions
  • Others trust your ideas and opinions, in fact, they seek them
  • Anticipate and respond quickly to problems

3. Be consistent

  • Walk your talk
  • Keep your commitments
  • Follow-through


Knob being turned from low to high trust

60% is All it Takes

In the research study by Zenger and Folkman they found that if a leader scored above the 60th percentile (just 10% above the norm) in all three elements their overall trust score was at the 80th percentile. Their team, colleagues and clients trusted them and they achieved excellent results with a positive culture.

The research also showed that the level of trust is highly correlated with how people rate a leader’s overall leadership effectiveness. In other words, it is impossible to be seen as a great leader if there is not a high level of trust. No amount of expertise, of vision, of charisma, can compensate for low trust.


Consider your manager and their performance in each of these three elements of trust. How much do you trust him/her and why? Now look in the mirror. Which of the three elements do you need to work on to improve the level of trust, perhaps with a particular person or company? What are two specific actions you will take to start this improvement?