How do the best leaders build trust?

The first job of any leader is to inspire trust. Trust is confidence born of two dimensions: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, motive, and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, results, and track record. Both dimensions are vital.

With the increasing focus on ethics in our society, the character side of trust is fast becoming the price of entry in the new global economy. However, the differentiating and often ignored side of trust -- competence -- is equally essential. You might think a person is sincere, even honest, but you won't trust that person fully if he or she doesn't get results. And the opposite is true. A person might have great skills and talents and a good track record, but if he or she is not honest, you're not going to trust that person either.

The best leaders begin by framing trust in economic terms for their companies. When an organization recognizes that it has low trust, huge economic consequences can be expected. Everything will take longer and everything will cost more because of the steps organizations will need to take to compensate for their lack of trust. These costs can be quantified and, when they are, suddenly leaders recognize how low trust is not merely a social issue, but that it is an economic matter. The dividends of high trust can be similarly quantified, enabling leaders to make a compelling business case for trust.

The best leaders then focus on making the creation of trust an explicit objective. It must become like any other goal that is focused on, measured, and improved. It must be communicated that trust matters to management and leadership. It must be expressed that it is the right thing to do and it is the economic thing to do. One of the best ways to do this is to make an initial baseline measurement of organizational trust and then to track improvements over time.

The true transformation starts with building credibility at the personal level. The foundation of trust is your own credibility, and it can be a real differentiator for any leader. A person's reputation is a direct reflection of their credibility, and it precedes them in any interactions or negotiations they might have. When a leader's credibility and reputation are high, it enables them to establish trust fast -- speed goes up, cost goes down.

There are 4 Cores of Credibility, and it's about all 4 Cores working in tandem—Integrity, Intent, Capabilities, and Results. Part of building trust is understanding -- clarifying -- what the organization wants and what you can offer them. Be the one that does that best. Then add to your credibility the kind of behavior that builds trust. (see the 13 high trust behaviors below). Next, take it beyond just you as the leader and extend it to your entire organization. The combination of that type of credibility and behavior and organizational alignment results in a culture of high trust.

Consider the example of Warren Buffett -- CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (and generally considered one of the most trusted leaders in the world) -- who completed a major acquisition of McLane Distribution (a $23 billion company) from Wal-Mart. As public companies, both Berkshire Hathaway and Wal-Mart are subject to all kinds of market and regulatory scrutiny. Typically, a merger of this size would take several months to complete and cost several million dollars to pay for accountants, auditors, and attorneys to verify and validate all kinds of information. But in this instance, because both parties operated with high trust, the deal was made with one two-hour meeting and a handshake. In less than a month, it was completed. High trust, high speed, low cost.