All Articles Leadership Inspiration Are you missing opportunities to build trust?

Are you missing opportunities to build trust?

3 min read


Are you a trustworthy leader?

You probably answered with a resounding “Yes!” and perhaps a bit of indignation. The subject of one’s trustworthiness is a tricky one — have you ever met anyone who wholeheartedly agreed that they were untrustworthy?

Not many, I’d bet. That’s because people mistakenly equate “trustworthiness” with “personal integrity.” Both attributes are important ingredients to leading with character, but they are not synonymous. When you have leadership integrity, it means that your moral compass is aligned with ethical goals. When you are trustworthy, people have faith that you will do what they expect.

There’s more to trust-building than your impeccable integrity, and that’s where some leaders may fall short. If you are relying only on your integrity to build trust, you’re leaving trust-building opportunities on the table because there is yet another aspect to becoming trustworthy.

At work, people use their own unique yardsticks to determine whether they trust someone. These yardsticks are internal, so leaders can’t always be exactly sure how their trustworthiness is being measured. I call these yardsticks Trust Touchstones. A touchstone in ancient times was a rock that people used to determine the value of a piece of metal. They would strike the metal up against the touchstone to gauge the metal’s purity.

In today’s world, people use a trust touchstone in much the same way — they are watching a leader’s actions, striking it against their trust touchstone(s) and deciding if they deem the leader trustworthy. Metaphorically speaking, people are carrying around a unique pocketful of touchstones — and these stones are what they use to decide if they have faith that you will do what they expect. If they have faith in you, then they’ll put their trust in you.

You’ll need to pay close attention because expectations vary. Some people expect a fast turnaround on decisions. Others expect a collaborative leader. Still others want a leader who is high-energy.

Some clues to determine your team members’ Trust Touchstones:


What is the “trust history” like in your organization? Is there a track record of leadership trust? What do your organization’s policies say about trust? Typically, the more extensive the policies, the less that employees perceive they are trusted.


Where does this person tend to naturally focus his/her attention: on “task” or “people” issues? Is this person high-energy or low-profile? What is this person’s patience level when it comes to waiting for organizational decisions? Is this person naturally skeptical?


What role does your organization’s culture play in your employee’s level of trust? What racial, ethnic or other cultural factors may play into your employee’s belief that you will meet his/her expectations?

Trustworthiness starts with personal integrity. Beyond that, leaders can strengthen the trust factor with their team members by applying the concept of the Trust Touchstones to create a personalized approach to trust-building — one person at a time.

Jennifer V. Miller is a career strategist who helps leaders ethically leverage their influence. Her chapter on Leadership Touchstones appears in the book “The Character-Based Leader.” Visit her blog, The People Equation, for tips on increasing your IQ — Influence Quotient — and connect with her on Twitter @JenniferVMiller.