The Business Case for Trust: How Leaders Can Unlock the Full Power of Trust


Trust Pays Off

The business case for trust is straightforward and continues to grow. Each year, the data shows that companies with a culture of trust are more profitable than those without it. A culture of trust is not just a “nice-to-have.” It’s good business. Trust culture companies have outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of three, and high-trust companies “are more than 2½ times more likely to be high performing revenue organizations” than lower-trust companies.


It turns out we come with an evolutionary hard-wired attraction to people we can trust and a visceral aversion to those we don’t.

People are drawn to and prefer to do business with organizations that have earned their trust, which results in greater productivity, higher sales and wider margins. Trust attracts and engages people, says David Rock who focuses on applying neuroscience insights to management. In SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others published by the NeuroLeadership Journal, he lays out not just the benefits of trust within an organization but a framework for establishing and building it:

“Indeed, the ability to intentionally address the social brain in the service of optimal performance will be a distinguishing leadership capability in the years ahead…

The impact of this neural dynamic is often visible in organizations. For example, when leaders trigger a threat response, employees’ brains become much less efficient. But when leaders make people feel good about themselves, clearly communicate their expectations, give employees latitude to make decisions, support people’s efforts to build good relationships, and treat the whole organization fairly, it prompts a reward response.

Others in the organization become more effective, more open to ideas and more creative. They notice the kind of information that passes them by when fear or resentment makes it difficult to focus their attention. They are less susceptible to burnout because they are able to manage their stress. The feel intrinsically rewarded…If you are a leader, every action you take and every decision you make either supports or undermines the perceived levels of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness in your enterprise. In fact, this is why leading is so difficult.”

Building Trust Starts with Behavior

In business, leadership behavior is what matters. The actions of leaders shape expectations. Each decision and action either reduces or builds trust.

We’ve consolidated the factors that build trust from a review of management literature. Through our analysis we found a consistent set of behaviors that trusted leaders demonstrate.

Clarity and transparency: People trust the clear, and mistrust or doubt unnecessary complexity. Be crystal clear about your purpose, expectations, and priorities. Tell the truth in a way people can verify. Be authentic and lean in on disclosure.

Empower with empathy: People learn to trust those that operate beyond their own self-interest; that show respect for others’ points of view, skills and expertise. People want to be great. Tune in to their abilities. Be the leader that lets others be great.

Consistently demonstrate integrity: People notice those who do the right thing for the right reason. Be true to yourself, your purpose, and your values.

Keep commitments and contribute: Few things build trust quicker than actual results. At the end of the day, people need to see outcomes. Empathy and integrity aren’t enough, unless combined with delivering on commitments. Be the most useful person in the room. Be consistent delivering results.

Keep current: People have confidence in those who stay up to date, relevant, and sharp. Stay curious and keep learning. Be an enthusiastic teacher and learner. Be known for seeking out new ways of doing things, ideas, and trends.

Be open and cultivate connection: Trust requires a relationship, and it is through its relationship with you that your team expresses its trust. Openness is essential to build these relationships. If people can’t get to know you, then they probably can’t get to trust you, either. With openness comes the requirement for a certain vulnerability.  Be available and present. Be the type of leader that ‘puts yourself out there’ and make the first move to make a connection.

Trust Takes Time

“Every action you take and every decision you make either supports or undermines the perceived levels of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness in your enterprise.” – David Rock

So take it one moment at a time. Trust can’t be built overnight. It requires time, effort, focus, and consistency. Inspiring trust requires authenticity and effort. But if you think of these elements as skills to work on and challenge yourself to think of every action or decision as an opportunity to demonstrate one or more, you will be on your way to building trust that will drive results and improve both the top and bottom lines.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy agency.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *