The 2nd Ingredient That All Great Leaders Have (Part 1)

by | Feb 28, 2019 | Leadership

There is no “one size fits all” leader or leadership style. But there are characteristics or qualities that all great leaders have in common. Over the last few sessions, I’ve shared about how compassion is foundational to effective leadership. Today, I’m going to discuss how compassion must be coupled with trust in order to maximize our leadership. 

Leadership Training Session Video



Session Outline 

In this series, we are examining the ingredients that make up great leaders. Just as you have to pour the foundation before framing a house, we began this series talking about compassion. But compassion is ineffective without trust. If you truly care about someone but they don’t trust you, it’s going to be difficult to lead them. Compassion and trust must be coupled together in order to have effective influence.


Trust is confidence that someone or something will accomplish their intended purpose. We trust that a bridge will hold us up or we trust our doctor to diagnose us correctly. When it comes to leadership, many people think of trust as “all or nothing.” You either trust someone or you don’t. But trust is a little more complex.  There are different levels of trust.  You might trust someone to repair your car, but would you trust them to watch your kids?

Trust Account 

The best way to think about trust is like a bank account (I’ve adapted this from Stephen Covey’s Emotional Bank Account in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). We make deposits and withdrawals from our bank accounts when we earn or spend money. Similarly, we have a trust account with every person we come in contact with. Strangers probably have little to no currency in our account with them, whereas our closest friends have lots of currency in their account with us.

Trust can be earned or lost. Trustworthy people are reliable, honest, competent, and have conviction. When we meet or exceed an expectation, we make a deposit in the trust account. However, when we say we are going to do something and then don’t, we make a withdrawal. The goal in our relationships, especially leadership relationships, is to grow the trust account. Your trust account should never be overdrawn.

The amount of trust deposited and withdrawn varies with each interaction. Some actions, like keeping a secret, put more in the account than others (such as watering someone’s plants). Same with withdrawals. This is where the Encouragement Languages we discussed last session come into play. When we speak someone’s encouragement language, it makes a bigger deposit in their trust account. For example, one of my top encouragement languages is quality time. When people make an effort to spend intentional time with me, they make a greater deposit in my trust account than if they did something else, like give me a gift.

Speed of Trust

If we have trust accounts, how do we know the status of our trust account with a particular person?

Measuring a qualitative and partial aspect like trust is much more challenging than measuring a bank account. To make this easier, Franklin Covey created The Speed of Trust theory, which states there is a direct correlation between trust and speed. High trust equals high speed, while low trust correlates with low speed.

With that in mind, think about a family member or co-worker on your team. When you talk with them, how does the conversation go? Does it flow smoothly or does it feel like pulling teeth? Do they respond to the directions or advice you give with minimal pushback, or do they get defensive and ask lots of questions in an effort to pick it apart? Teams and families with high trust are able to speak honestly and clearly with each other. They can maneuver through difficult situations without getting bogged down. It doesn’t mean they don’t challenge each other at times. But when those moments come, everyone knows they have the best interest of the team or family at heart.

I once heard a story about Southwest Airlines’ founder Herb Kelleher. He was approached in the hallway by Gary Barron, the executive vice president of Southwest’s $700 million-dollar maintenance organization. He handed Kelleher a 3-page memo detailing plans for a complete reorganization. Kelleher read the memo on the spot and shared a single concern, which Barron acknowledged and said they were addressing. Then Kelleher said “Do it.” The whole conversation took 4 minutes. That’s high trust which created high speed.

If you want to know the status of your trust account with an individual, look at the speed or ease of your interactions with them.

Trust is a Two-Way Street

One final word on trust; it’s both earned and given. You must give people trust so they can earn more, and you must earn more trust to be given more. It’s up to you and not them to take the first step to “open” the trust account.

Game Plan 

  1. Review your influencing list.
  2. On a scale from 1-10 (where 10 is the highest), write down what you think your trust account is with each person on that list.

Next session, we’ll discuss how we can build or earn more trust in those accounts.

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