Humble Leadership – Building Trust

As I mentioned in a previous post, the topic of trust is a BIG topic, so I may take a few posts to discuss this topic. Let’s get started and see where this information leads us.

The first important point to consider is that in order to build strong relationships with people, there must be mutual trust between the people in the relationship. It’s not enough for you to trust your employees; each of your employees must trust you. So let’s explore the four ways that you build trust with people. I pull this information from Maister, Green and Galford’s book, The Trusted Advisor

Using their model, there are four components of building trust:

Credibility – People need to count on what you say and know that you are honest and will not steer them wrong.

Reliability – People also need to believe you by your actions. Do what you say that you are going to do.

Intimacy – This is one of the hardest aspects of building trust. We must be able to bond and develop APPROPRIATE levels of intimacy with other people so that they know you. If they don’t know you, how can they trust you?

Self-Orientation – This is also a difficult aspect of trust- and one that is essential. People need to believe in your motives. Are you putting your employees first in your decision-making, or are you putting yourself first? If you are self-oriented, people will struggle to trust you.

So what do these four components of trust look like in a given work day?


Let’s take a look at this scenario with Stan the Supervisor. Then let’s develop a list of questions that we would ask of Stan to start conversations with him about how trust is being developed with all of his employees geared toward helping him to become a more humble leader.

Stan retired from his previous company where he had worked himself up through the ranks and left as a director in their regional sales office. Stan now works for a large organization and has been with the company for about 2 years, where he was hired as an operations director. He is in his mid-50s, white, and has a college education. Half of his employees are male and the other half of his employees are female. He takes his lunch breaks with the male employees, and rarely invites female employees to have lunch with them. In Stan’s office hangs all of his sales awards from his previous company. He is quick to tell people how his previous company handles business and what his accomplishments were with that company. When his boss needs him, he is quick to cancel meetings that he has called with his employees. Statements he has made include, “You won’t get anywhere in this world without a college degree” and “Leadership is like riding a bike. Once you get on it and learn how to go, just keep your balance and you’ll be fine”.

Now let’s commend Stan for the strengths he is doing in building trust, while also asking questions that will help him to analyze his behaviors and help him to grow the relationships he has with his employees:

“It’s awesome that you schedule lunch with some of your employees. How do you think your female employees could feel by not being invited to go to lunch? How could you include all of your employees in informal gatherings so everyone could have an opportunity to get to know you?”

“Congratulations on all of your awards from your previous company. How do you think the employees feel when they see awards from your previous company? How could you help employees know that you are connected to the goals and vision of this company?”

“It can be really difficult to juggle meeting the needs of your boss with the needs of your employees. It’s great that you are responsive to your boss. How could your employees feel when you are prioritizing meetings with your boss over appointments that you have already made with them?”

“It’s wonderful that you value education and personal growth. How could your comment about having a college degree make people feel who do not have a college degree?”

“It’s important to feel confident as a leader. How could your comment about leadership indicate that you may not be responsive to learning new things?”


Do you see how specific behaviors that Stan is doing are reducing his reliability and intimacy with some of his employees? There are also indicators that could cause the employees to think that his motives are more self-oriented than focused on the employees. So Stan is running the risk of not experiencing the most trusting relationship as possible with his employees. And if Stan is leaving trust on the table, he is not enjoying the highest quality relationships with his employees and missing out on other benefits of being a humble leader.

As humble leaders, we must spend time introspecting into our behaviors and considering how our behaviors could be perceived by those we lead. Being a humble leader means we are willing to consider new ways of behaving that will enhance the relationships that we have with our employees. And strong relationships mean positive organizational results as well as high morale for the employees. There are many benefits to becoming a more humble leader!

Continue reading Schein’s book Humble Leadership and keep looking for ways to apply what you are learning!

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