“Who do you trust?”

When I grew up in the 50s, there was a TV program known as “To Tell the Truth.” It featured four celebrities attempting to correctly identify a described contestant with an unusual occupation. This central character is accompanied by two impostors who pretend to be the central character. The impostors are allowed to lie, but the central character is sworn “to tell the truth.”

In the past 15 years, traveling 250+ days per year, I’ve talked with several thousand leaders at all levels. Trust is a major issue in almost every conversation. Most people do not feel their leader is an impostor. But they feel their leader struggles with communicating in a style and at a level they understand.

Great leaders don’t invest heavily in marketing their product or services to the public without investing substantially in their internal customers (core team) building trust. They don’t make the fatal assumption that their key leaders know everything they need to know. You can give too much information, but you can never over-communicate.

The experienced and emotionally mature leader knows that the “grapevine” is more powerful than any official channel. However, they don’t use the grapevine as an excuse for poor or inadequate communication. Good communication skills, personally and organizationally, is the number one trust-building tool of all great leaders.

When trust is present, you can’t contain it. It overflows to every part of the organization. Without trust, you have to have more corporate policemen manning the grapevine. Leaders who want to build more trust and sustain it must be visible to the stakeholders and available and accountable to their core leaders. Absentee leaders or leaders insulated by an assistant who also functions part-time as a Prussian guard, erodes team spirit and with it, mutual trust.

Building trust most often requires sharing inside information and including core leaders in decision-making, especially the significant decisions affecting their personal future. Caution, trusting unproven or inexperienced people can be tantamount to pinning a “kick me” sign on your back. On the other hand, not trusting your proven core leaders diminishes their trust in you and their passion for the mission.

Breaking trust should be addressed immediately and a clear path to restoration established sooner rather than later. These things never get better with age. Trust broken the second time should bring an immediate release.

The best way to confirm and affirm those whom you trust is their ability to keep a confidence. The best time to assess their trustworthiness is before a situation arises for the need “to tell the truth.” Never risk your leadership with people you don’t trust or with people who don’t trust you.