3 Intentional Ways to Build Trust

Throughout my years as an executive coach, I’ve discovered a hard truth—one that has only been exacerbated by the rise of artificial intelligence: If you don’t acknowledge the elephant in the room—for starters, the disruptive, if not transformational, impact of generative AI—you erode trust. 

Trust is in short supply within our organizations these days. 

Why do we spend such little time talking about trust and building it intentionally? And why are so many leaders struggling with it right now?

Several years ago, I remember constantly running late to meetings. I always said, “I’m so sorry I’m late!”

Finally, someone pulled me aside and said: “You’re always apologizing. But you’re not really sorry because you keep doing this over and over. How can we trust you as a leader if you don’t show up for meetings on time? If you don’t hold yourself accountable to the rules?”

I was so grateful for that feedback because it made me realize how my actions were a hindrance to trust.

And the reality is, if you're trying to create change, transformation, and disruption, you need trust…and trust scaffolding to support it. Trust isn’t built by luck or never making any mistakes. We can make intentional choices in our organizations and relationships to consistently build and nurture the four Cs of trust.

  • Competency: You have the necessary skills and expertise.

  • Communication: You are truly heard and understood.

  • Consistency: You are reliable and available when needed.

  • Compassion: You have integrity and care deeply.

So what can you do in your organization to foster these crucial facets of trust? How can you intentionally build trust and the scaffolding necessary to support it?

  1. Transparency: When I ask people what they really want in their leader, two things come up again and again: They want leaders to be honest, and they want them to be fair. You do those two things, and people will trust you. So make openness and transparency part of your culture! And, just as importantly, be clear about what you can’t be open about  and why. Give access to information they need to get their work done—because informational power builds trust.

  1. Accountability: Clear rules and boundaries are meaningless unless they’re reinforced fairly. When you reinforce the rules, it creates psychological safety. Imagine someone speaking over you while you’re presenting, and a colleague says, “Wait” and lets you say your piece. Consistent enforcement of rules like “we don’t interrupt each other” makes all the difference in building psychological safety—and trust. 

  1. Allyship: Being an ally means I will speak up on your behalf when you don't have power. I love this because you can always be on the lookout for opportunities to be an ally for somebody, whether as a leader, a peer, or a friend or family member. Practicing allyship builds deep trust—it shows that you’re here to support others at vulnerable points in their lives. This is always impactful, but especially when leaders with privilege exercise their power on someone else’s behalf. 

It can take decades to build trust, but seconds to destroy it. However, suppose you bake transparency, accountability, and allyship into the fabric of your organization (and your personal life!). In that case, you will have the trust scaffolding you need to recover from mistakes and steer your team with deep integrity and trust.

I’m curious: How are you building trust? Are there any ways you’re hurting it? Hit reply and let me know!

— Charlene

What I Can’t Stop Talking About: 

  • Dave Hersh’s upcoming book, Reignition. Nine out of ten startups fail, and if you want to be the one that succeeds, I implore you to order Dave’s book, which is essentially a user’s manual for operating a lean, disciplined, purpose-led organization into breakout success. 

  • My theme song. If I could have my own theme song, I’d pick one that serves as a reminder that sometimes, if I just let things be, the answer will come—and that the more I try, the harder it is to find. Can you guess? Find out here!

  • The “we can have it all” lie. Hot take: There’s absolutely no such thing as balance. There’s just a series of less-than-optimal compromises you have to make. Agree or disagree?

  • The greatest coach of all time, Socrates. He never told people what the answer was—he just kept asking them questions. I think about this often when people aren’t sure if they want me to serve as an advisor or a coach: When I advise leaders, I’m there to provide answers. When I’m their coach, I’m there to ask questions. 

My Latest: 

  • Join my upcoming FREE webinar! On Wed. May 8 at 10 a.m. PT, I’m hosting a webinar, “Developing a Winning Generative AI Strategy for Competitive Advantage.” It focuses on the steps needed to create a cohesive strategy. I hope you can join me! Register here: https://bit.ly/3J1YZ6D

  • Catch the webinar you missed. My most recent webinar, “Unlocking The Power of Generative AI,” is also available as a recording. I walk through how to set up a generative AI “playground,” three ways to elevate your leadership with step-by-step instructions, and the broad outlines of creating a strategy. Get the recording and slides here. 

  • The strategy audit. Much like a doctor diagnoses a patient, today’s executives need to be ready to check the vitals and run the lab work on their generative AI strategies. Because the last thing you want is for your long-awaited strategic plan to be DOA.Watch my latest livestream or read my LinkedIn newsletter to learn how to conduct an audit of your organization’s generative AI strategy—no stethoscope required.

  • How to build your AI dream team. No single leader can steer the ship in the rocky waters of generative AI. It takes a small but nimble team to chart a course and get things moving. In Leading Disruption, I show you how to form yours. 

  • It’s time to take a six-quarter walk. However you slice it—18 months, 72 weeks, 504 days—the “six-quarter walk” is essential to an agile transformation strategy. Tune in to my livestream tomorrow, April 30, at 9 a.m. PT / 12 p.m. ET on LinkedIn and Facebook Live when I deep dive into what it should entail and how it will enable you and your teams to contribute to the transformations ahead. 

My Upcoming Appearances:

If you want me to speak at an upcoming event or conduct a workshop with your executive team, please drop me a note at [email protected]

Thank you for subscribing to The Big Gulp Newsletter, which goes out to thousands of disruptors every other week to help you on your disruption journey—plus a curated recommendation list of the things I can’t stop talking about. 

Want more? Check out my weekly publication, Leading Disruption, on LinkedIn.

If you found this note helpful, please forward and share it with someone who needs the inspiration today. If you were forwarded this, please consider subscribing.

Charlene Li

If you found this note helpful, please forward and share it with someone who needs the inspiration today. If you were forwarded this, please consider subscribing.