Leaders want people in their organisation to trust them. But creating that trust or, perhaps more importantly, re-establishing it when they’ve lost it isn’t always that straightforward, says the HBR.

A major study of 87,000 business leaders, however, identified three key elements that are associated with trust.

By understanding these behaviours, leaders are better able to elevate the level of trust that others feel toward them.

1. Positive relationships build trust 

Trust is in part based on the extent to which a leader is able to create positive relationships with other people and groups. To instil trust a leader must:

  • Stay in touch on the issues and concerns of others
  • Balance results with concern for others
  • Generate cooperation between others
  • Resolve conflict with others
  • Give honest feedback in a helpful way

2. Leaders with good judgement and expertise builds trust

Another factor in whether people trust a leader is the extent to which a leader is well-informed and knowledgeable. They must understand the technical aspects of the work as well as have a depth of experience. This means:

  • They use good judgement when making decisions
  • Others trust their ideas and opinions
  • Others seek after their opinions
  • Their knowledge and expertise make an important contribution to achieving results
  • Can anticipate and respond quickly to problems

3. Consistency builds trust

The final element of trust is the extent to which leaders walk their talk and do what they say they will do. People rate a leader high in trust if they:

  • Are a role model and set a good example?
  • Walk the talk
  • Honour commitments and keep promises
  • Follow through on commitments
  • Are willing to go above and beyond what needs to be done

Of course, people don’t need to be perfect to be an excellent leader. But when it comes to commanding trust, leaders need to excel in all of the three above qualities.


Effective leaders create trust by building positive relationships, showing good judgement and expertise, and by being consistent in word and example.