Trust Must Be Earned

How do you get someone to trust you?

Obviously, you can’t force trust – to even try would only accomplish the opposite. The same thing usually happens when we ask someone to trust us. (Why would we need to ask unless there was reason to doubt?)

Trust must be earned. It takes work to earn trust. It takes more to keep it – and even more to regain it once it’s lost.

If you can earn the trust of your team, they’ll follow. If not, you’ll have an uphill battle with each new task or project.

So how do you earn the trust of your team? Here are four critical elements that determine whether any team can trust the leader.

Relational Intent

By far the first (and often subconscious) question that comes to mind when considering the trustworthiness of another person is this: Does this person have my best interest at heart? The question of relational intent is rarely asked out loud, but it’s felt deeply.

To the degree we feel someone will work on our behalf and help us achieve our goals, we trust them.

To the degree we are unsure, we distrust them.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t great judges of character. We settle for affection. (I like this person, rather than I trust this person.) Or we allow unseen biases to cloud our judgement. (This person shares a similarity with me, he must be trustworthy.)

Relational intent may be hard to quantify. But until it’s felt, the decision to trust will remain on hold.

How can you demonstrate positive relational intent with your team?


It’s one thing to trust that a leader has your best interest in mind. But can they get the job done? This is a completely different question.

Unfortunately, this dichotomy presents a challenge for many followers. It’s the classic “results vs. relationships” scenario. We gravitate toward people we connect with, but hesitate when we question their ability.

If only we could have both!

Even if you win the heart, most people will only willingly follow your lead if they trust you can deliver on your promises, especially if they have something to lose if things go awry.

You can be the best person in the world, but if you can’t steer the ship, people will look for the lifeboats… or decline to get onboard altogether.

How can you demonstrate your ability to reinforce the trust of your team?


What happens to trust when you don’t have the information you need? What about when you ask for the information but are denied access?

Information is power and leaders often hold an advantage in this regard. They’re privy to information others don’t have.

Unfortunately, a lack of transparency is common place for many people:

  • Not having access to key information
  • Not being clear on direction
  • Not knowing who benefits and when
  • Not knowing how a situation will affect them
  • Not knowing how and when money changes hands
  • Being told “not to worry about it” when they express a concern
  • Being told to “trust me” when they ask for additional information
  • Having something to lose, but not having control

Trustworthy leaders go out of their way to share relevant information early and often. Of course, they maintain confidentiality in sensitive matters. But it’s their standard practice to make it easy to know what’s going on, to make requests and to receive additional input.

How can you demonstrate transparency with your team?


How well can people predict how you will act, behave or respond?

If you behave consistently, people can trust you – even if your actions are less than perfect.

When you have time invested in a relationship, it’s easy to predict how someone will act or react. You have history with them. If you don’t have much history, trust is volatile and can drastically change or shift.

Trust can be gained quickly, but it can also be lost quickly, especially at the beginning of a relationship. It takes time and iteration to produce predictability and consistency.

If you are a new leader (or a leader in a new situation), it’s critical to invest extra time both on the quality and quantity of your early interactions to provide opportunities to build consistency. Invest in relationships! Be present, not absent.

How can you demonstrate consistency in your leadership with your team?

Trust isn’t just a feeling. It’s a skill that can be learned and demonstrated. A leader is only as good as the trust they’ve earned.

This article is included in the Leadership-in-a-Box® program:

Building Trust

Bring Leadership-in-a-Box® to your organization!