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The Trust Quotient

Mar 06, 2020

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The word trust is derived for the German word trost, meaning comfort. This is an appropriate association because when we trust someone, we are comforted by the belief that this person has our best interest at heart and thus will not endanger us or put us at risk. Trust is a critical component in all human interactions, just as in mathematics the quotient is the result of division, a leader has the ability to divide and separate teams as a result of their individual leader behavior, the outcome is the trust that team has developed in their leader. Trust is the outcome divided by the impact of individual leaders behavior.


Trust has many types.  Following are two types of trust that encountered most often in team settings.

  1. Generalized. We trust on the basis of our mental model that people are generally honorable. Generalized trust is a leap of faith in that we choose to trust without evidence that our trust is deserved or without concrete assurance that whom we trust will deliver positive results. Social and ethical theorist Russell Hardin stated that “generalized trust must be a matter of relatively positive expectations of the trustworthiness, cooperativeness, and helpfulness of others.”
  2. Behavioral. We bestow trust on the basis of how we experience a person’s behavior toward us. That is, if someone has exhibited reliability, honesty, competency, compassion or courage, over time that person earns our trust. Earn is the operative word in this instance. Trust does not come automatically with positions of power. Even if it did, however (as is the case with generalized trust) trust cannot be sustained by virtue of rank alone. It must be supported by ongoing good behavior, which then validates our confidence in bestowing our trust in that person.

The foundational principle of The Frisina Group and The Center for Influential Leadership that individual leader behavior is the single most important predictor of organizational performance. In keeping with that core belief let’s focus on the second type of trust – behavioral.  Trust-earning or building behaviors include:

  • Consistency in manner, words, and actions
  • Accountability and transparency, including actively listening, sharing information, and taking responsibility instead of blaming.
  • Genuine or sincere interest in and concern for others.
  • Respectful and equal regard for and treatment of others, regardless of rank or position.
  • Focused attention
  • Principled and evidence-based decision making
  • Dedication to fulfilling (not just making) promises
  • Willingness to celebrate and reward good and exceptional work


These behaviors depict the self-awareness traits of influential leaders.  As masters of interpersonal relations, influential leaders know that their everyday words, actions, and habits can either strengthen or weaken trust. People can only take so much bad behavior before they lose their willingness to trust and begin to feel disconnected from their leadership and organizations. We can all list the outcomes of an unmotivated, disengaged workforce, particularly in high stress and high risk environments. This is why, as influential leaders, we are vigilant to how we as leaders choose to make positive, impactful decisions that build trust in those with whom we work.




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