Three Words to Power Up Your Relationships

J Cole Quote“I trust you.”

When it comes to building trust in relationships, someone has to make the first move. One person has to be willing to step out, be a little vulnerable, and place trust in another person. Is it risky? Yes! Without risk there isn’t a need for trust.

So in a work setting, who makes the first move, the leader or the follower? Some would argue that trust has to be earned before it is given, so that places the responsibility on the follower to make the first move. The follower needs to demonstrate trustworthiness over a period of time through consistent behavior, and as time goes by, the leader extends more and more trust to the follower. Makes sense and is certainly valid.

I would argue it’s the leader’s responsibility to make the first move. It’s incumbent upon the leader to extend, build, and sustain trust with his/her followers. Why? It’s the leader’s job to create followership. It’s not the follower’s responsibility to create leadership. In order to create followership – influencing a group of people to work toward achieving the goals of the team, department, organization – trust is an absolute essential ingredient, and establishing, nurturing, and sustaining it has to be a top leadership priority.

When you make the first move and say “I trust you,” through word and deed, you accomplish the following:

  • You empower your people — Being trusted frees people to take responsibility and ownership of their work. Trust and control are closely related. We don’t trust others because we want to remain in control and over-supervising or micromanaging employees crushes their initiative and motivation. Extend trust means letting go of control and transferring power to others.
  • You encourage innovation — When employees feel trusted they are more willing to take risks, explore new ideas, and look for creative solutions to problems. Conversely, employees that don’t feel trusted will do the minimum amount of work to get by and engage in CYA (cover your “assets”) behavior to avoid catching heat from the boss.
  • You tap into discretionary effort — Trust is the lever that allows leaders to tap into the discretionary effort of their people. People who feel trusted will go the extra mile to do a good job because they don’t want to let the boss or organization down. Being trusted instills a sense of responsibility and pride in people and it fuels their efforts to succeed.
  • You free yourself to focus in other areas — What happens when you don’t trust your people? You end up doing all the work yourself. Leadership is about developing other people to achieve their goals and those of the organization. Does it take time? Yes. Is it hard work? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely! Develop and build trust with your team so that you can spend time on the critical leadership tasks that are on your plate.

Let me make an important point – I’m not suggesting that leaders extend trust blindly. It’s foolish to give complete trust to someone who isn’t competent or hasn’t displayed the integrity to be trusted. I’m talking about extending appropriate levels of trust based on the unique requirements and conditions of the relationship. Leaders have to use sound judgement in regards to the amount of trust they extend and it usually begins with small amounts of trust and grows over time as the person proves to be trustworthy. But the point is, someone has to make the first move to extend trust in a relationship.

Leaders – It’s your move.

Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts appear the last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.

15 thoughts on “Three Words to Power Up Your Relationships

  1. Trust is huge Randy. I’ve seen the negative effects of a lack of trust. The boss becomes unapproachable, needs are not addressed, and the company suffers. I love how you focused on how trust increases your potential and unleashes it in others.

    • Hi Joe. Most people don’t think about trust until it’s been broken, but if we can keep it top of mind and proactively work to build and nurture it, we can reach higher levels of productivity and satisfaction than we thought possible.

      Take care,


  2. I felt duty bound too answer this, it’s rough, and needs, but it’s anway off too the grandkids in a few hours so pleas my apologizes.

    would like too answer my question from the end. It begins so beautiful. I like too believe that there is only one trust. And trust is the relief of the watchful eye which has already divided even more power

    with someone you don’t trust. No, from the end up is just so much wrong you have managed too drag miss-trust. You expect it at every turn. You can actually give complete trust so much easier and too so

    much benefit which is the exercise otherwise .. It just dosn”t compute or am I not getting something. . No, I’m just making excuses taking your advice na that doesn’t work. ALL the trust or ”jack” all in, I’ll be . All in.

  3. Thank you for sharing these 4 benefits to developing trust within your team as a Leader. As you mentioned in your article, some Leaders have a tendency to have control issues. Hence, it stifles the team and stresses out the Leader because they feel the need to have a hand in all the work rather than delegating the work among the team.

    The big take away for me is that Leaders need to develop a trust relationship over time by delegating task and allowing the team members to use their critical thinking skills to solve problems.

    How would you handle a Leader with control issues?

    • Great points James. When it comes to control issues, I have found it helpful to explore the “why?” with the leader. Keep asking the “why?” question to drill down to the core issue. E.g., Why you feel the need to be in control? (Because I don’t trust people.) Why don’t you trust people? (I’ve been burned before.) Why have you been burned by people? (Because they weren’t skilled enough to do what I asked them to do.) – So the core issue is that the leader delegated inappropriately.

      Is that helpful?


  4. Pingback: Three Words to Power Up Your Relationships | People Discovery

  5. Hello Randy,
    I share James concern regarding leaders that have control issues. I found that oftern times it is not about the issue that the leader delegated inappropriately, but the issue that leaders with a strong sense of control, cannot bear anyone making mistakes. So in some cases I found that although they trusted their employees, the mere one mistake turn them to not trust and go back to their control leadership style. Any advice on this?

    • Those are challenging situations, aren’t they? It may be helpful to have a conversation with the leader and help him/her understand how much easier their life can be by letting go of a little control and trusting a bit more.

  6. Hi Randy, Great article! Most leaders don’t realize the importance of trust – it’s huge. Being a leader doesn’t automatically build trust with your followers; in fact it’s the opposite. It is up to leaders to build and nurture a trusting relationship with their followers.

    • Great point Cecile. Depending on the situation, a leader may actually be stepping into a condition of mistrust where the followers are suspicious of the new leader.

  7. I love the point about discretionary effort being unlocked when an employee is shown trust. I think that this can be extended to employee retention as well. If an employee is putting forth that kind of extra effort, s/he is more likely to be engaged and more likely to stay. Extending trust is a big risk, but there is potential for a big reward.

    • You are spot on Susan. Organizations with high-trust cultures have much lower turnover (up to 3x) than low-trust cultures.

      Thanks for sharing your insights!


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