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C-Suite Challengers

Trust: The Magic That Transforms Vision into Reality

Shantha Mohan Ph.D.

“The capacity to generate and sustain trust is the central ingredient in leadership.” So wrote Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus in the foreword of the book, “Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge.” 

Trust is essential in any relationship and vitally critical in business leadership.

A trustworthy leader fosters a positive and productive work environment, promotes transparency, and makes informed decisions. When trust is present in business leaders, it inspires confidence, respect, and loyalty in their team members.

It creates a culture of psychological safety and promotes a positive, collaborative working environment. When leaders have the reputation of being trustworthy, they attract outstanding talent and retain them, who, in turn, respond by bringing their best to the organization.  

A leader who has the trust of their employees can communicate more effectively because they have established credibility with their team. They can provide feedback and make suggestions without fear of negative repercussions and are likelier to receive honest feedback from their team members.

Trustworthy leaders inspire confidence by consistently doing what they say they will do and taking responsibility when things go wrong. They lead by example, showing their team members how to act with integrity and accountability.

Trust is Hard to Come By

It is tough to establish trust in a relationship. There are many reasons why this is so.

A person’s past experiences shape their feelings about trust in a relationship. If someone has a history of those they trusted not living up to it, that affects their ability to be trustful.

Trusting someone requires us to be vulnerable and put our well-being in the hands of others. 

Vulnerability takes courage. For many, it feels scary, and they would instead not put themselves at risk.

When you trust someone, you are giving up control to some extent. For example, a new team leader who feels they need to own a project outcome and the commitments they made to their upper management may find it hard to trust things will work out, leading to micro-management behavior.

Some people are more trusting than others by nature.

When There is No Trust in the Leader

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” – Warren Buffett

The results can be disastrous when the teams don’t trust their leaders.

The team members may become apathetic and develop a “don’t care” attitude. They may stop sharing their ideas and taking risks. They may leave the organization. If customers don’t trust a business leader, you may find they would instead do business with someone else. When there is no trust in a CEO, the organization may fail.

How Do You Build Trust? 

As mentioned earlier, building trust is not easy. It is a complex process. But you can do it by following these ways.

  1. Honesty: Angela Duckworth’s The Character Lab says: “When you leave your valuables on the lunch table or use a bank account to save money, you’re relying on the honesty of others. While it’s easy to convince yourself that a small lie is harmless, cheating is a slippery slope: dishonesty breeds more dishonesty. It’s important to create environments where it’s easier to do the right thing. Honesty builds trust, and trust creates a healthier social fabric.” Honesty is fundamental to trust.
  2. Authentic Competency: In business relationships, it is essential to demonstrate that you can do your job. It leads to others trusting you to do whatever you undertake. You must be authentic and sincere about what you are capable of and where you need help. Self-awareness helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses and enables you to be authentic.
  3. Clear Communication: You build trust when you are transparent and clearly communicate what is in your mind. All communications are conversations. Be sure to listen actively by focusing on the person you are conversing with.
  4. Empathy: When you understand what the other person is going through and can act accordingly, the feeling of trust begins. The three kinds of empathy—cognitive, emotional, and compassionate—allow you to connect with the other person, demonstrating that you care about them, and leading to trust.
  5. Accountability – Honoring Commitments: When you commit to doing something, follow through. There are times when you are unable to keep commitments. It could be as simple as setting a time to meet and showing up late. When this happens, offer a sincere apology and promise not to repeat it. Trust is eroded when you repeatedly make the same mistakes and make no effort to correct them. When your team sees you holding yourself accountable, it creates trust.
  6. Consistency: Warren Bennis said, “Whatever surprises leaders themselves may face; they don’t create any for the group. Leaders are all of a piece; they stay the course.” When others know what they can expect from you, they start building their trust in you. Be consistent in how you approach, and react to situations.
  7. Boundaries: When you are familiar with each in a business relationship, you know what you can and cannot do. For example, a colleague might have a hard stop for work at five in the evening due to other commitments, and you honor that boundary. On the other hand, in a new relationship, you may not know the limits. Be sure to check on what is acceptable, showing the other person you care about boundaries, and the trust between you grows.

Trust is a Two-Way Street 

Leaders need to be trustworthy. By the same token, they need to have trust in their teams. If you have been burnt in a relationship where your faith was misplaced, you might have trouble trusting again. There are some ways to overcome this feeling.

Start from the place that everyone is trustable. For those with whom you don’t already have a relationship, begin trusting them in small ways until you feel more comfortable trusting them with more critical things. With your team, you start by delegating tasks and slowly move towards empowering them, depending on what you see. Setting boundaries about yourself can help those with whom you are developing a relationship.


Building trust takes time. It starts when you are young. If you need to work on it, get started now. It is crucial for healthy relationships in your personal life and your credibility as an outstanding leader. 

Written by Shantha Mohan Ph.D.
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - C-Suite Challengers - Trust: The Magic That Transforms Vision into Reality
Shantha Mohan Ph.D.
Shantha Mohan Ph.D. is an Executive In Residence at the Integrated Innovation Institute, Carnegie Mellon University. Before that, she was a global software engineering leader and entrepreneur, co-founding Retail Solutions Inc., a retail analytics company. Shantha also has over 20 years of experience focused on mission-critical systems to support semiconductor and other high-value-added manufacturing. She is the author of Roots and Wings - Inspiring stories of Indian Women in Engineering and is a co-author of Demystifying AI for The Enterprise - A Playbook for Business Value and Digital Transformation. Her book, Leadership Lessons with The Beatles, was published by Taylor & Francis in May 2022.

Shantha Mohan Ph.D. is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.