Trust Is Personal and Here’s How Leaders Can Build It

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I’ve spoken and written many times about the importance of trust in the workplace. But the truth is, trust is also very much personal as it is organizational.

Every day we are inundated with countless decision points and it is our choices that reflect what we trust.

For example, when you key in the destination in your GPS, you trust its science and systems. You believe that whatever route it provides is correct and the best possible option. When you grab your favorite meal, you trust the chef’s capacity to cook up the same, great taste you keep coming back for.

We are Biologically Wired to Trust

What’s interesting to also note is that we, humans, are biologically wired to trust since infanthood. Case in point: When babies breastfeed, they trust and accept their mother’s milk without hesitation. This instinct is innate in all of us because of powerful bonding chemicals, specifically oxytocins, that drive us to trust.

What is beautiful is that when this trust is followed by satisfaction, it replicates itself in ways that add to our human experience. Trust forms into unbreakable dyadic bonds — just like that of parent and child in my first example — and a perpetual feeling of security from those meaningful relationships. 

If there’s anything that our chemical makeup makes clear, it is that bonding with and trusting others are intrinsic human desires. We are designed to depend on others and forge deep connections.

But We’ve All Been Burned

However inherent trust is in our neurological compositions, what truly shapes our ability to trust are our experiences from when we trust.

The reality is we don’t always end up with the outcome we desire. As ½ of the famous quote by English Poet Alexander Pope goes, “To err is human…” The people we trust, including ourselves, naturally sometimes fall short of our expectations. We’ve all been burned one way or another by the trust we have let others be stewards of.

What’s important is to rise above such setbacks with deeper discernment on who to trust. Such as us leaders, are we worth the trust of our people?

Are We Leaders Worth Trusting?

I think I no longer have to delve into and emphasize the benefits of having a high-trust culture. Numerous research, including Great Place To Work’s, reflect time and time again the advantages of trust in workplaces.


Alt text: Data showing that improved employee well-being is a benefit of having a high-trust workplace culture.

We have also established earlier trust’s personal benefits. The question now is, if trust is personal, how then can we be a more credible leader? Better yet, how can we be a more trustworthy person?

Essentials of Trust

A book I’ve had my nose buried in lately is Dr. Henry Cloud’s latest release, “Trust: Knowing When to Give It, When to Withhold It, How to Earn It, and How to Fix It When It Gets Broken”. In this self-help publication, Dr. Cloud shares the 5 foundational aspects to understand and manage trust.

I find that this trusty list below (that’s lifted directly from the book) helps identify who is worth trusting and if we ourselves are, too. In light of the latter, it’s good to once in a while check if we’re positively contributing to building high-trust environments — ones not only limited to our workplaces.

🟥 “You can trust someone when you feel your needs are understood, felt, and cared about.

Great Place To Work’s research shows that 91% of employees in 2023 Philippine Best Workplaces say “Management shows a sincere interest in me as a person, not just an employee” versus a stark comparison of 81% in other organizations.

The data speaks for itself. In high-trust cultures, management treats employees as human beings and not just cogs part of a bigger machine. Simply put, people want to be treated as…people. Hence, trust deepens when leaders keep their overall well-being, needs included, at heart and in mind.

🟥 “You can trust someone when you feel their motive is for you, not just for themselves.

Great leaders always have your back. Trust in this specific bullet says, “Your intent is for me as much as it is for yourself.”

Employees feel that your motive is authentically for them when integrity is also involved. Meaning, regardless of their presence or the cost it may entail, they can trust that you will do everything in your power to ensure what’s best for them.

As Dr. Cloud said, “They are ‘for’ you.”

🟥 “You can trust someone when you feel they have the ability to guard and deliver the results for what you have entrusted to them.

Management may understand and have the right motive for their employees, but do they have the ability to deliver on what will build your trust?

After all, without competencies and skills, how can a leader be effective? It is simply impossible.

🟥 “You can trust someone who has the character or personal makeup needed for what you entrust them with.

With over a 10% difference, 95% of employees from 2023 Philippine Best Workplaces feel that, “Executives fully embody the best characteristics of our company” compared to only 85% from other organizations.

In the 2023 Edelman Trust Report, data shows that globally, the social fabric continues to weaken with people looking to business leaders and their co-workers as the most reliable sources of truth.

This means that there is a heightened importance for leaders to role model foundational values such as credibility and honesty.

Trust cannot exist without character. Truly, personal makeup matters because it is the foundation of trustworthiness.

🟥 “You can trust someone who has a track record of performing the ways you need them to perform.

Our data reflects that for 2023 Philippine Best Workplaces over 91% of employees conclude that “Management delivers on its promises” versus only merely 83% in other organizations.

There’s a wise quote from the book that stuck with me, “Trust followed by satisfaction builds more trust.” This bullet deals with the same logic.

When management displays consistency in delivering their promises and fulfilling the needs of their people, employees’ trust inevitably deepens.

However, trust is a double-edged sword. So when leaders’ track record is tainted with repeated failures and a pattern of setbacks, the level of trust of employees also inevitably diminishes or eventually becomes broken beyond repair. 

Do We Really Care?

Among the five “trust essentials” shared by Dr. Cloud, what struck me the most was the point about one’s motive.

Have you ever interacted with someone where the entire conversation was smooth and amicable, yet you felt heavy and discombobulated on what exactly went wrong afterwards?

In his book, Dr. Cloud explained that this experience is most likely because deep inside you felt unsure if the person truly cared for you and your needs.

Our 2023 Philippines Best Workplaces study shows that one of the key drivers of trust in Philippine workplaces is having a caring culture where leaders model fairness and respect. This happens when leaders show sincere interest in who their employees are even beyond the workplace.

There are many ways to demonstrate such. I’m sure a seasoned executive or manager would have been through leadership workshops where these behaviors are taught. However, it’s important to know that authentic and sustainable trust-building doesn’t activate in training sessions, but rather when you truly care for others.

95% of employees in 2023 Philippine Best Workplaces say, “People care about each other here,” versus 86% in other organizations.

Somehow it seems that as we, humans, are wired to trust, there is also something within us that raises the red flag – that uneasy yet often undefined feeling – when something is wrong. My point is: Just like you, your employees can sense when your intentions are truly for them and not just for yourself or the business’s bottom line.

With the correct motivation, your employees’ sentiments should most likely resonate with those mentioned in Dr. Cloud’s book:

👉 “She cares about me.”

👉 “With him, it’s always about the mission or the cause.”

👉 “He never thinks about himself. He thinks of others.”

Trust Must Happen Now

Did you know that one of the 9 key findings in PwC’s 2023 Trust Survey is that business executives overestimate how much they’re trusted? There is a notable 14-point gap between how much leaders feel they are trusted by their people (79%) versus the actual percentage from their employees (65%).

It is very crystal clear: Trust-building must be present in today’s workplaces. Trust must happen NOW and it must start from none other than you.

Antoniette Mendoza-Talosig

Antoniette Talosig is the Managing Partner of Great Place to Work® Philippines and the Lead Consultant for Singapore.  Driven by her passion to help people be the best that they can be, Toni started Great Place to Work® in the Philippines with a vision to create a high-trust workplace experience for every Filipino.  She has close to two decades of partnership with some government agencies, SMEs, MNCs and some Fortune 100 companies across industries and geographies. Toni believes being a mother is the greatest adventure of her life and she enjoys seeing the world with her family. 

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.