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Understanding how to build trust and trustworthiness are THE crucial leadership skills of tomorrow

Grip on trust

29 December 2020


Why trust?

Imagine that everything runs smoothly in your company: teams reach their targets without friction, people are creative beyond their job description and have fun doing so. When managers suggest something, you try hard to help him reach his goal -even when he’s not around, and company leaders are trusted that they have your back.

This cannot be achieved with KPI-dashboards, algorithms, or whatever management tools that you prefer to throw in there. It can be done by having a grip on trust.

Companies exist of people and almost everything we do has to do with relationships. The quality of those relationships determines the success of the company. Most people think that the level of trust between people is a matter of faith or luck. That it’s simply there or not, that trust can not be influenced. This is not the case. Trust has different aspects and when you understand how it works you can actually improve the quality of relationships. High quality relationships makes everything run smoother.

Understanding how trust works, how to create trust-awareness and create a trust-based company culture is not difficult at all when you know where to start.

Tencent uses trust as management philosophy.

Tencent is one of the world’s largest online gaming companies. It has developed the messaging apps WeChat and QQ. MIT Sloane Management Review quoted senior adviser Arthur Yeung, member of the Executive Committee Meeting of one of the most influential companies in the world right now.

Arthur Yeung about leadership skills:

“In the past, companies usually hired leaders who were good at creating standardized processes, formulating five-year strategic plans, and establishing a series of controls for people to follow those plans in order to win in business, but now, in the digital economy, we realize we need to hire leaders who can create an innovation-minded culture that fosters creative thinking, agility, and speed. We can’t do any of those things without building a solid foundation of trust and empowerment.”

“At Tencent, we want people to feel and think like owners, not to work like employees under command and control. If people start to lose [the] passion and initiative to create new opportunities, then they won’t be a good fit with our future, but if they are willing to experiment and grow, we will invest in them. Trust is a two-way street.”

But what about the everyday concerns of today’s leaders?

I understand that leaders and managers have better things to do than think about trust. They have to prepare for tomorrow’s success. Keep their eye on the ball. In these challenging times the right leadership skills are crucial for staying in the game.

The article in MIT Sloane Management Review (PDF on request) listed a top ten of “qualities of the leader of the future”:

  1. Change mastery: Mobilize resources to do things differently, faster, better, and more efficiently.

  2. Managing smart innovation: Launch small, frequent experiments — fail fast, learn, then reset.

  3. Execution excellence: Visions are only powerful if executed well for customer value enhancement.

  4. Technical/analytical savvy: Understand the power of analytics and design thinking.

  5. Nurture relationships: Optimize networks, embrace ecosystem partners, and collaborate to win.

  6. Empower to engage: Unleash the energy in your team; next-generation talents won’t have it any other way.

  7. Authenticity: Know yourself, be yourself, and bring that person to work every day.

  8. Empathy: Diverse, inclusive teams will require new perspectives and approaches to leading.

  9. Encourage dissent and transparency: Make questioning everything a two-way street.

  10. Clear-minded communications: Make it clear, frequent, honest, and engaging.


Trust has many different aspects and angles. It is influenced by subject, context and circumstances and changes all the time, but there are 3 principles of trust you can apply on most situations:

3 principles of trust.

1.    Respect (empathy, character, personality)

2.    Competence (skill, reputation, portfolio)

3.    Behavioural consistency (integrity)

Now let’s take a look at the leadership skills-list and sprinkle it with the 3 principles of trust:

Leadership skills and trust:

 1.    Change mastery: Treat others with respect, know what you are talking about, and do what you say. When you have high level of trust in your company, people are more willing to follow leadership. When you say “jump” everybody happily joins in.

2.    Managing smart innovation: High trust teams operate with more speed and have more fun doing so. They stay late, are involved and overcome challenges with a smile.

3.    Execution excellence: When your job has a lot to do with management systems and instruments of control, this is what people do all day. But when delivering quality work for your colleagues is a matter of pride, execution excellence is self-explaining.

4.    Technical/analytical savvy: Competence is vital part in establishing trust. Determining what knowledge and skills are vital for a task or job and making sure that people can learn and grow helps to create a culture of trust.

5.    Nurture relationships: You don’t have to like every person in a company or smile all day long. But when you are respectful to others, this will influence company culture hugely. 

6.    Empower to engage: Now, this becomes a no-brainer

7.    Authenticity: Can you see the picture?

8.    Empathy: Duh 

9.    Encourage dissent and transparency: Wow, right?

10. Clear-minded communications: We say what we think, but do what we feel: behavioural consistency is extremely important. Do what you say. Make your words matter. And when circumstances change, communicate quickly. Too much time and space between words and actions creates confusion and this is where you lose trust.

 Understanding how trust works is THE crucial skill for all leaders.

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