Trust Works! Distrust Kills.

But does it really? How do you measure and build trust?

Ken Blanchard is famous for his series of One Minute Manager books, which have sold over 15 million copies in 25 languages. His recent book, Trust Works! Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships outlines four key areas of trust for leaders. This post isn’t a discussion of his book so much as it is a reflection on his four categories of trust.

1. Ability

“Ability” = competence: can you actually do the job you’ve been asked to do? can you admit it when you can’t?

Problem areas could sound like:

  • “I can do this; no problem!” (When deep down you know you can’t do it well.)
  • “When you’ve had my experience, you’ll understand. This is a highly specialized project that only a select few can even begin to comprehend.” (An attempt to complicate an uncomplicated issue to impress people to the point where they won’t ask hard questions [kind of like when the emperor got his “new clothes”].)

Have you ever been around a leader who was incompetent but was blind to or refused to acknowledge his incompetence? As a leader, if you suspect you’re in over your head, it’s better to admit it and ask for help. This kind of humility builds trust. Feigning competence, when you’re incompetent, erodes trust.

2. Believability

“Believability” = integrity: do you walk your talk?

Problem areas could sound like:

  • “You’re the best at __. I’ve never met someone so good at what you do.” (Flattery, instead of honest feedback.)
  • “I’m going to ___.” (Blustering promises, instead of an outlook based on reality.)
  • “I think you’ve got a great idea,” or “That idea is worth some thought.” (When you really think the idea is a bad one or a threatening one.)

Have you ever spent much time around someone who spoke one way and acted another? Or perhaps spoke one way to you when you were present and another about you when you when you were absent? This kind of leader may also shy away from critical feedback—even when it’s true and helpful. Faithful communicationeven when it’s difficultbuilds trust. Duplicity erodes trust.

3. Connectedness

“Connectedness” = relationships: do you connect to people?

Problem areas could sound like:

  • “I’m sorry; my schedule is slammed.” (When the real reason is, “I don’t want to take the time.”)
  • “Call me, and we’ll work out a time to get together” (When the tactic is, “If I delay long enough, this will go away.”)
  • “I really value your feedback; please come talk to me” (When the endgame is, “I’ll intimidate you into accepting my point of view.”)

When people connect to a leader, they tend to trust him/her. When a leader struggles to connect relationally or handles insecurity by resorting to intimidation, people will tend to mistrusteven if the leader is competent. If a leader struggles with ability and believability, his difficulty with connectedness will be greatly exacerbated. Caring about people and making time for them builds trust. Feigning concern for people while failing to make time for them erodes trust.

4. Dependability

“Dependability” = reliability: can I count on your word?

Problem areas could sound like:

  • “Yes, I can do that.” (When you can’t make it happen or don’t have a plan to make it happen.)
  • “When we initiate this new program, nothing will really change. If you like the way things were, your world will stay the same.” (When you might be making a promise that you can’t guarantee.)

Do you know any leaders who make promises they can’t really guarantee? Ever spent time around someone who tells you what you want to hear, only to fail in follow-through time after time? When a leader straightforwardly commits to only what he can actually follow through on, this builds trust. When a leader makes promises and commitments that are outside of his control, this erodes trust.


The most dangerous thing about trust and distrust is that they can sound so much alike. When a leader breaks trust, his every word becomes questioned. Unfulfilled promises are reasons people can’t trust the promises of tomorrow. Speaking kind words to a person’s face and cutting words behind his/her back become reasons to question every kind word.

Trust works! Distrust kills. As my dad often used to say, “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only a moment to lose one.” The same is true of trust. Leader, if you’re trustworthy 75% of the time, eventually people will distrust you 100%! Be one person. Be true. Commit to the truth … even when it’s difficult.



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