Four Ways To Become A Trustworthy Leader


Several years ago I connected with a colleague to do some research and write some articles. I was so excited to collaborate with another writer who shared my passion of leadership. We began to meet regularly and brainstorm our different perspectives, trying to hammer out a direction for our collaboration.

Initially our sessions were balanced in what each of us presented- a healthy discussion of back and forth information flow. Then things started to change with my collaborator making more judgments on my research and suggestions. It became more and more tedious and frustrating for me to share my ideas for the project. It seemed as if there was less of an integration of viewpoints, but rather an evolution into my collaborator’s agenda.

We completed the work and presented a wonderful program, but I lost total trust in my co-presenter as well as the entire process. I had such high hopes for cultivating a meaningful working relationship. What went wrong and what did I learn from this untrusting partnership?

1. Take the time to get acquainted

Before embarking on a project with someone, it is essential that you learn about one another’s backgrounds and passions. It is great to have a discussion about why each of you wanted to participate and what success means to one another. Talk about your work styles- is one person more big picture and another more detail oriented? Share stories of other collaborations you may have had and what went well and what was a challenge.

2. Establish ground rules

When working with other leaders, it is so important to establish how a joint effort should look. Make sure to be clear on what each person is responsible for and utilize each other’s strengths. Although it may be tempting, judging can lead to lower quality work.


Decide on how decisions will be reached, making a true effort to incorporate contributions from both leaders. When a project includes ideas and lessons from all collaborators, there will be more buy-in from everyone. Additionally, when leaders feel recognized and valued for their work, a sense of trust begins to build.

3.  Follow through on commitments

There is no better way to break a trust between two collaborators than to not meet your commitment. When leaders act on what they say they will do, a sense of trust begins to permeate- each person is living up to their words. It’s all right to have open questions to discuss, but it is essential to come prepared. Being accountable shows others that you take the project seriously and value working together.

4. Listen to each other

In Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed Of Trust, he talks about the importance “To Listen First”. He explains that means to genuinely try to understand what are the other person’s thoughts and feelings first before trying to diagnose or analyze the words. When collaborating, we need to intently hear what is being said and not interrupt or judge. If we do jump to conclusions without listening to all the information, we may come to the wrong assumptions. I never felt listened to with my collaboration. And that is when my trust disintegrated.

 These are my ways to cultivate trust in a working relationship. What are some of yours?


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14 thoughts on “Four Ways To Become A Trustworthy Leader

  1. Oh, I have a similar story…. it’s important to get to know someone before you get to carried away. The energy of early connection can go south without discussion of what you are each working to accomplish. Creative tension is wonderful. And some tension is just, well…. yucky.

  2. That is so true Karin. When the interaction becomes contentious because on person can’t be open to anyone else’s ideas, it can be so unsuccessful.

    The key is to figure out how to form a common piece where both feel like they are contributing equally.


  3. These are excellent points, Terri. Well done!

    I am entering into a new collaborative project with several others that I don’t know very well, and one of the first things we’re going to do is establish a former set of ground rules. While it’s tempting to assume that “all will be well” that is not smart from a business point of view.

    Great observation that even among friends, it’s a good idea to get expectations and guidelines out in the open.

  4. Awesome advice, Terri! I’ve tried collaborating with people that it turns out was really getting another set of hands to help create their vision – not exactly collaboration. I’ve also had AMAZING collaborators that when we put our ideas and spirit together I’ve been wowed by what’s possible.

    Sadly, collaboration can be tough. When it does go poorly I think that the biggest lesson learned is to just say “no thanks” the next time there is an opportunity to work together again.

    Thanks, Terri!

  5. Terri – Great post Terri! I too have a similar story. The bad part of my story is that I did not listen when my gut kept telling me to speak up about slowing down to build the relationship and clarify the intention first.

    Instead, I kept telling myself how much more experienced the other person was and that I should just go along.

    …Lesson learned!

  6. I wish you all the best with your new collaborative project, LaRae and it sounds as if you are entering the process with your eyes wide open.

    You make a great point that even with friends it’s important to go through the necessary steps to ensure a work environment of trust.


  7. Alli, it sounds like you have had a mixed bag with collaborating with others, just like so many of us. But as you mentioned, when it works well, the outcome can be extraordinary.

    What I have learned is to be as clear as possible, give everyone a turn to share their point of view and to try to keep an open mind. All these things have empowered me to learn and grow from collaboration.

    By the way, I love collaborating with you!!

  8. What a great lesson to share, Chery! Sometimes people come on so strongly and move so quickly to satisfy their agenda that we don’t know how to slow the train down. Trusting your gut is usually a great measurement to listen to.

    Taking the time to clarify the purpose or direction of a project is never a bad idea.

    I am so happy you are part of the book project!

  9. Terri, Great points. Clarity is essential for trust to really take hold. Clarity in roles, clarity in expectations, clarity in responsibility, clarity in purpose…. Clarity provides the fertile ground in which trust can really grow and produce. Thanks for all you do in engaging leaders to lead in better ways! Jon

  10. I just love your comment Jon- “Clarity provides the fertile ground in which trust can really grow and produce”!

    Your leadership lessons are always crystal clear and I learn so much from you! Here’s to a continued connection in 2014!!


  11. Excellent points Terri! These are four important steps in creating high-trust partnerships and I particularly appreciate #2 – Establish Ground Rules. So many times we suffer breakdowns in trust because of unmet expectations, oftentimes unspoken expectations! Having a healthy, open, and honest conversation about ground rules upfront helps to avoid this problem.

    Happy Holidays,


  12. Thanks so much Randy for sharing your meaningful thoughts about the need for ground rules!

    I have connected with many clients though the years who are frustrated and feeling unvalidated because there is a disconnect with expectations. One of the best ways I have found to build trusting relationships is to make sure each person understands clearly the expectations of one another. I love your idea of having an open and honest conversation about those expectations before embarking on a collaboration.

    Happy Holidays to you as well!

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