How Leaders Can Build Trust
In this Wharton Leadership Nano Tools paper, Adam Galinsky (Columbia Business
School) and Maurice Schweitzer (Wharton School) say there are two misconceptions about
– It’s a long, slow process.
– As long as leaders are trustworthy, people will naturally trust them.
Not true, say Galinsky and Schweitzer: “New research shows that building trust doesn’t have to take years, and even the most trustworthy people don’t automatically win trust – especially from people they work with – no matter how much time is involved… In an age where it’s all too easy to get lured into a sense of false intimacy created through social media and e-mail, real trust can be a rare commodity.”
Leaders who inspire the most trust exhibit two distinct traits: warmth and competence. “We trust warm people, because we believe they care about us,” say the authors, “and we trust competent people because they are credible, effective, and efficient.” Some specific suggestions:
• Show genuine concern – Effective leaders project caring through a mixture of verbal and non-verbal cues with colleagues: walking around the workplace, having face-to-face talks, handshakes, eye contact, a pat on the back, asking about colleagues’ personal lives (loved ones, children, and vacation plans), remembering birthdays, sending flowers and a handwritten note to a team member who has experienced a loss. One CEO wrote letters to the parents of exceptional employees telling them what wonderful people their children were. Of course, genuinely listening to people’s responses is essential; without that, expressions of interest and concern come across as phony.
• Show competence – Convincingly projecting competence comes through effective actions, credentials, “talking the talk” (knowledgeably using professional language), and, ironically, admitting mistakes and conveying vulnerability – showing you’re only human and are still learning.
“Building Trust: A Leader’s Action Plan” by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer in Nano Tools: Wharton Leadership, October 29, 2015,