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Presidents Column: Four Factors That Make a Trusted Leader
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Four FactorsThe best leaders enjoy the trust of their subordinates, peers, and superiors. However, others may not understand how they earn and maintain that trust.

There is a framework that may help you understand it, which proposes a person’s trustworthiness is a function of four factors: honesty, reliability, competence, and compassion.

Knowing these four factors helps explain why people trust some people more than others.

Honesty. It is the foundation of trust, whether in the workplace, in a relationship, or in the family. Lies are a deal breaker. No one trusts a liar. Honesty, however, is more than simply not telling lies. Truly honest people are careful not to deceive others or allow others to be deceived. They do not quibble, equivocate, or engage in half truths. Instead, they treat others with a deep respect marked by truthfulness and transparency of motives.

Reliability. This is more closely related to honesty than previously believed. Honesty and reliability are two sides to the same coin. Honesty is saying what you do; reliability is doing what you say. Reliability is sometimes viewed as a boring virtue, which is unfair. In practice, reliability requires a courageous faithfulness to commitments and a strong determination to overcome obstacles and never quit. Honesty and reliability are important to building trust in all relationships. Competence and compassion are especially important trustworthiness factors for leaders.

Competence. This is the ability to accomplish your responsibilities, and it’s a function of knowledge, skills, attitudes, relationships, and practical judgement. You can trust less-than-competent subordinates; after all, it’s your responsibility to train them. But it’s very difficult to trust an incompetent boss, especially in a profession where a leader’s incompetence can put subordinates’ lives at risk.

Compassion. This is often overlooked as a factor of trust. Compassionate leaders recognize and respond to their subordinates’ humanity. Due to the natural power differential between leaders and subordinates, subordinates feel vulnerable and often won’t give fully of themselves to the unit’s mission unless they know their leaders care for them. Compassion breaks down those barriers and builds trust. Trust is both the foundation and the fruit of healthy relationships and effective organizations. One way to build trust is to focus on being honest, reliable, competent, and compassionate.

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