The Unseen Cornerstone: How Building Trust is the Key to Exercising Influence

Unlocking the Secrets to Becoming an Influential Leader While Building and Sustaining Trust

Key Takeaways:

  • Building trust is critical to exercising lasting influence as a leader or manager.
  • Trust is a multidimensional concept involving both character and competence.
  • Organizational success relies on the quality of interpersonal trust between managers and team members.
  • Consistency, openness, and a sense of purpose are the hallmarks of a trustworthy character.
  • Trust is not static; it is built and nurtured over time through both challenges and achievements.

Introduction: The Trust-Influence Nexus

Anyone in a leadership position knows the power of influence. Whether you’re a project manager, a department head, or a C-suite executive, you’ve undoubtedly seen the fruits of your influence, both good and bad. However, the most successful leaders know something that others often overlook—the key to exercising influence is building and sustaining trust.

The Paradox of the “Political Animal”

Let’s face it; we all know the archetype: the savvy, charismatic individual who seems to have a magnetic influence. These are often labeled as “political animals” or “jungle fighters.” They may get the project approved, the deal closed, or the promotion granted, but their way of wielding influence often leaves a lingering taste of mistrust. While they may win the battle, the war—the long-term endeavor—is often lost.

Why? Because people hesitate to commit fully to someone they do not trust. In the absence of trust, all influence is temporary and can even be counterproductive in the long run.

Understanding the Anatomy of Trust

Trust is an abstract, complex concept that is hard to define but easy to feel. When you trust someone, you’re willing to take risks with them, believe in their words, and rely on their actions. Conversely, a lack of trust leads to guarded behavior, skepticism, and, in organizational terms, inefficiency.

Stephen Covey, in his seminal work “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” talks about trust as a function of character and competence. While character lays the ethical foundation (the will to do right), competence is about the skills or capability to execute it (the skill to do it right).

Character: The Ethical Bedrock

If you’re guided by a core set of principles, your behavior becomes predictable, instilling a sense of reliability.

An open attitude makes you receptive to feedback and ideas, increasing your capability to build consensus and find middle ground.

Leaders with character are not solely motivated by personal gain. They strive for a higher purpose, usually centered on the welfare of the team or the organization.

Competence: The Skill Factor

Technical Competence
You need the know-how, the expertise to solve problems, and the ability to meet your commitments to build trust.

Interpersonal Skills
Listening, communicating effectively, and resolving conflicts are competencies that foster stronger, more trusting relationships.

Organizational Acumen
A true leader excels not just in individual tasks but also in organizational domains like effective meeting management, project planning, and social networking.

The Journeys of Two Managers: A Tale of Trust Built and Trust Broken

Consider two project managers—let’s call them Joe and Jack. Joe, initially greeted with enthusiasm, quickly lost his team’s trust by showing inconsistencies and manipulative behaviors. Jack, on the other hand, although unassuming in his management style, consistently demonstrated character and competence, earning the respect and trust of his team over time.

The stark difference in these two journeys underscores the role of trust in influencing outcomes and people’s willingness to be led.

The Long Game: Building Trust Over Time

Building trust is not an event but a process, especially for emerging leaders. While endorsements from credible sponsors may help, they are not a substitute for demonstrating competence and character over time, through thick and thin.

Overcoming Trust Deficits

If you have found yourself in a situation where trust has been eroded, all is not lost. Trust is dynamic and can be rebuilt, albeit with considerable effort. Open dialogue, taking responsibility for lapses, and showing demonstrable changes in behavior are key steps toward rebuilding trust.

The Role of Veteran Professionals

Veteran managers have the benefit of an established reputation, a track record of both character and competency. However, this should not lull them into complacency. Trust requires continuous effort to maintain. Even a single breach can cause irreparable damage.

Conclusion: The Heart of Sustainable Influence

If influence is the power to affect change, then trust is the strong, invisible thread that anchors this power. It’s more than just a “good-to-have” quality; it’s the cornerstone of sustainable leadership and organizational efficacy.

In the corporate labyrinth, where complex challenges and interpersonal dynamics abound, the ability to exercise lasting influence boils down to your ability to build and sustain trust. So, as you step into the arena to lead and influence, remember, it’s not just what you can do, but how reliably and ethically you can do it that will mark your legacy.

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