This is the 2nd part in the 3-part series looking at leadership and trust. You can start the series HERE with part 1.

If I asked every reader to write down their definition of trust and to list its critical components in less than 30-seconds, I imagine many of us would start with a blank stare at a blank piece of paper.

That is the case because trust is a complex, “soft-skill” topic that involves so many emotionally driven and intangible qualities. I often consider so many leaders’ view of trust to boil down to something to the effect of “I don’t know much about this thing called trust, but I do know I want more of it.” That mentality does not give me great confidence that such a leader is deliberate in earning, maintaining, and cultivating a culture of trust within their team.

So, after addressing why trust is important in part 1, it’s important to look at what trust is. While there is a high level of art required in the application and earning of trust, there are concrete foundations that establish the science of it, which leaders need to understand. But like in almost all things relating to leadership, there is no objectively right answer, but models available to help us structure our thinking and behavior around it. I would like to offer a simple model to help us define the basic components of trust, ultimately better equipping us to earn and maintain our peoples’ trust in us as leaders. This model is “the three Cs of trust: competence, character, and care.”

Three Cs of Trust

The three Cs of trust model is represented as: Trust = Competence x Character x Care.

Let’s briefly explore each component.

  • Competence: This means that for our people to fully trust us, they must have confidence in our abilities to do our job and that we have the necessary knowledge and skills in what the team does; we have to know what we are doing. While research varies on the degree of technical knowledge necessary to be a successful leader in a chosen industry, it is commonly agreed on that some level of technical knowledge and skill in the team’s particular field is necessary.
  • Character: Merely trying to define character itself may seem like another Pandora’s Box to open, but it’s a critical component to trust. A way we will view character for this series is, “doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, all the time.” Our people must know that we are thinking, deciding, and behaving with sound integrity, morality, and selfless service. I encourage readers to refer back to Todd Henry’s quote about trust offered in part 1 or to read more on character here. As one leader I respect once put it: we can’t be a leader with a caveat.
  • Care: Leaders must have genuine care and concern for their people; there should be an element of love for those that we lead. Care does not simply mean coddling. Love for others also requires “tough” love and accountability. But we must have a sincere interest in, regard for, and investment into those we are charged with leading. This Linked In article is always a default and inspiring go-to for me on this topic.

It’s A Multiplicative Equation – All Three Variables Required

In assessing the equation for trust above, ensure you notice that it is a multiplicative equation – competence multiplied by character multiplied by care. This is essential to address because, as such, if one of the variables is zero, then trust is zero. For leaders to earn the full trust of our people, we must honestly and carefully demonstrate all three components through our intentions and behavior.

If one of the components is missing from our leadership, this is what can happen:

  • Leader Without Competence: Is more of a friend or drinking partner, not a leader who I know can and will make sound decisions in complex environments to lead our team through challenges.
  • Leader Without Character: Will always have their intentions questioned by others. If I see a leader make questionable compromises in one area, that doubt will instinctively bleed over into other areas of their leadership. Leadership without character relies on authority to achieve compliance from others due to the lack of ability to influence and earn their commitment.
  • Leader Without Care: Does not inspire others. Leaders can demonstrate exceptional character while drastically improving the team (competence), but none of that will resonate with people on the team if the leader does not legitimately pour into and care for those they are charged to lead. Caring attends to the deep emotional side of leadership and is often the component that impacts us the most, especially years down the road.

The Enemies of Trust

Finally, looking at what destroys trust is just as important as defining what builds trust. We may be deliberate in trying to build trust, but we must be aware if we are unintentionally ruins it.

I think author, Rachal Botsman, articulates it best in her Trust Issues podcast in saying that the biggest threats to trust are bad character and wrong information. Together, both address the loss of leader credibility and the emotional side of trust (empathy, feeling valued and respected, belonging, etc.). Wrong information can either be intentional (disinformation) or not (misinformation).

I Definitely Want More of This Trust; How Do I Get It?

After touching on why trust is important and a simple model for defining it, I think it is important to look at how leaders go about earning and maintaining trust. In the upcoming final part to the series, we will highlight key approaches that leaders can integrate and adapt to their daily behaviors to deliberately improve the sense and culture of trust within their teams.


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