Building Trust: Six Building Blocks

This video takes a close look at one of the basic building blocks and most essential element of Leadership: Trust. Using rockets as a metaphor, we explore the six critical components of trust, understand why building trust is important, and introduce some ideas about how you can work to build on these components to become a better leader.


[Watch the video above, or read the transcript below]

Like a Rocket Engine

Being a leader and leading a team is a lot like a rocket ship.   Doesn’t that sound kind of cool?   I was playing around with other metaphors, like buildings with columns, and intersecting circles and stair steps and line and box charts, and they were all fine, but frankly a little boring, and didn’t convey to me the idea of the tremendous possibility of achievement quite the way a rocket does, plus rockets are kind of cool, so we’ll go with that.

Now you know a rocket has a payload to deliver – it’s crew headed to a space station, or a satellite to put into orbit, or drop a rover onto Mars or something; these are like the purpose of an organization – what it’s supposed to do.

Then you have the structure of the rocket itself, which is basically a lot oxidizer and fuel  – those are like the people and resources that when combined,  propel the rocket; you have the engine, where all the magic happens, and then you have the structure and systems that hold the whole thing together

Today, we’re going to talk about the engine, because without a good engine, we’re not going anywhere. To me, the engine is like the leadership environment in an organization. It is in the engine that the fuel and the oxidizer are combined with a spark to create thrust, and that thrust is directed out through rocket nozzles to make the rocket fly.

But to work right, the nozzles have to be pointed in the right direction, they have to be properly aligned and balanced.

What is it that aligns the rocket nozzles in an organization?  One word:  Trust.

If people trust one another, they can work in confidence, focus on the task to be done, and get the ship underway.

Without trust, you have the opposite:  distrust, suspicion, paranoia.  And now the energies of the team are focused not on delivering the payload, but on watching their backs, covering their tracks, maneuvering for personal advantage; they are not fully focused on the mission; the nozzles get cockeyed and the rocket flies in crazy directions if it flies at all.

If there’s no Trust, there’s no Thrust.

Without trust in the leader, there's no thrust in the team. Click To Tweet

How does a leader establish trust within his organization?   By setting the example, by being Trust-worthy himself.  Trust, then, is the greatest single thing the leader must have in order to be effective.

OK, you say, great, I’ve heard of trust.  It’s even the first of the twelve Boy Scout Laws, probably not by mistake.  But what is it exactly?  How do I get some?  What do I need to do?

Well, here’s the thing:  trust has to be earned.  You can’t demand it, or order it, or go buy a 12 pound bag of trust and stick it on your desk or load it into your backpack – it doesn’t work that way.  People give trust.  And only to other people that they think are Trust-worthy.

Building Trust – The Six Elements

OK, so what does it take to be Trust-worthy as a leader?  I think it boils down to six things, which conveniently all start with the letter C.  We can think of these as the six engine nozzles on our organizational rocket ship.

Candor.  I think one of the names of those rocket nozzles is CANDOR.  Just like the nozzle needs to be pointed straight down so that the rocket will fly, my leader needs to be straight with me.   He needs to tell it like it is.  I hope he’ll tell me the truth when I’m doing well, and I especially hope he’ll let me know when I am not.

Someone who is not honest and truthful with me, someone who is deceptive, hides facts, or distorts the truth does not earn my respect and I’m not interested in following him.   If he is willing to be open with me and share the truth with me and the other members of my team, he is trusting me with that knowledge, and in turn I may trust him more.

The leader also needs to be open to hearing candor from others – he has to be willing to consider differing viewpoints and not live in his own little bubble.  If he is willing to squarely face the world around  him, see it as it is, and deal with it accordingly, he might earn a little of my trust.  Sometimes when I’m in a quandary about what to do in a situation, I think the best guidance is to “start with the truth, and go from there.”

Not sure what to do? Start with the truth and go from there. Click To Tweet

Commitment.  A trustworthy leader is also COMMITTED.  Whatever thing we’re supposed to be doing, I have to believe that my leader is at least as committed to it as I am.  If he’s all in and willing to make the effort, I’m more likely to be, too.  If he has a track record of folding up the tent and moving on the minute the weather changes, I’ll start to wonder what I was working so hard for.  He has to have the courage to stick it out, to fight for the goals, because he is committed to them and he is committed to the team.

But if I see that he is committed, willing to sacrifice for the team, and work to accomplish the goals, then count me in.  That rocket nozzle needs to stay pointed the correct direction at all times.  If it starts wandering around, there’s no telling where this rocket will end up, and I don’t want to be on board to find out.

Competence.  Another way for a leader to earn my trust is to be COMPETENT –  to know his job and do it.  That doesn’t necessarily mean he knows everything about everything, in fact if I think that he thought that he did, I’d be worried, because no one is that good.  But he needs to be good at what he does, do it when it needs to be done, and always be striving to get better at whatever it is he’s supposed to be doing.

If the rocket nozzle is not competent enough to withstand the forces coming from the engine, it’s going to fail and let the whole system down – that’s a problem!

Caring.  A trustworthy leader also CARES, and I’m not talking about himself, I’m talking about the opposite of that – he cares about others and he cares about the vision and purpose of the team.  He cares about them MORE than he cares about himself.  He’s not the first in line for chow; he puts himself last, to make sure everyone else is taken care of before him.  Care means he makes the effort to know his people by name, what their needs and skills and abilities are – he seeks to understand them; he listens carefully and attentively.  He finds ways to help them get better, he trains them to be leaders, gets them the resources they need, passes on the credit to them when things go right.  He also cares enough to take the time to correct them when they need correcting.  Really, it comes down to the golden rule – do unto others the way you want them to do unto you.

Consistent.  A trustworthy leader also needs to be CONSISTENT  –

First, that means he walks the talk; his actions are consistent with his words, he does what he says he’s going to do, and acts the way he expects others to act.

The leader's actions must be consistent with his words to build trust. Click To Tweet

But he’s also consistent by taking care of what needs to be done every time – he only promises what he can deliver, and he delivers it every time without fail.  I know I can depend on him.

Consistency also means treating people fairly, and applying discipline and rewards  evenly.  He’s going to be a predictable force I can count on to follow through….That rocket nozzle doesn’t need to be working just once in a while, when the conditions are right; it needs to be fully functional all of the time, without interruption, even when it’s maybe a little inconvenient; in fact, ESPECIALLY when it’s inconvenient!  If I know you are always going to be there, maybe I’ll be there for you, too.

If you are there for your people, your people will be there for you. Click To Tweet

Of Good Character.  And finally, a trustworthy leader has to be of good CHARACTER.  I have to know that he is going to make the right decisions for the right reason all the time, whether or not someone is watching, whether or not he thinks he can get away with it, because it is the morally and ethically right thing to do, regardless of what everyone else is doing.

Leaders make the right decision for the right reasons regardless of who is watching. Click To Tweet

That rocket nozzle might be a good strong one, but if it’s pointing in the wrong direction, it’s just going to powerfully push us off course – not a ride I want to find myself on.

Building Trust – The Takeaway

So there are the six components of Trust that will steer your organizational rocket straight and true.

If your people recognize that you as their leader speak and listen with CANDOR, are COMMITTED to the mission, COMPETENT in your job, CARE about your team mates, are CONSISTENT in your actions, and have the good CHARACTER to make choices based on what is right, not what is easy, then you will be well on your way to earning their trust.

And remember, just like that rocket ship doesn’t immediately leave the launch pad at Mach 3, it takes time to build up trust between people and their leader.

If you are a new leader, the time to start building that trust is today, and every day from now on.  For every action you take, or choose not to take, you are either adding or subtracting to the level of trust you share with everyone around you.

The good news is that trust is something you can work on and improve, and in future videos I’ll share some specific ideas and examples of how you can become a better leader by improving Trust.

If you want to be my leader, and you show me that this is the kind of person you are, then all I want to know is, where are we going, because I’m coming with you.

Thanks for watching!


Money Bag
Train coal car
Leadership vin diagram
Circular Leadership model
Meta=leadership model
Strategic Management model
Vroom Decision model
Stair step chart
Proton Rocket
Balancing Rock
Confidence Thermometer
Tower of Pisa
Guy with Glasses
Suspicious Water fountain
Shifty eyes
Dull Sign,_Perth_and_Kinross
Rocket Nozzle
Liftoff video Orion
Launch video Spacex-3
Launch video spacex falcon 9
Launch video MMS
Firemen with hose
Draco Rocket
Orion Heavy lift closeup
Trust me meme
Surprised Baby
Hear no Evil
Model Rocket
Comic “Thanks for Asking…”
Man with Binoculars
Proton rocket nozzles
Rock Climbing
Marine Reenlistment
Mountaineers roped and summiting
Pilot with checklist
UC Davis Engineers
Fort Sam chow line
Golden Rule Stained Glass
Grail Launch


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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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