Build your Trustworthiness

Moving beyond credibility and reliability

Every relationship needs to be built on trust.  Professionally I can’t survive without it.  Personally I can’t thrive without it and I would argue I can’t survive either but that begets a long discussion on survival which I will avoid, sorry hair-splitters and nit pickers!

But how do you build real trusted relationships?  I find these core concepts around individual trustworthiness invaluable for self improvement.  Especially as an IT professional, where I’ve spent my life making problem solving a priority over relationships.  But as I work to become a better leader and to provide opportunities for others, I find these concepts have more weight and bearing on success.

From the work of David Maister and Charles Green in their works The Trusted Advisor and later Green’s The Trusted Advisor’s Fieldbook, an individual’s trustworthiness can be equated to the following

Trust = (reliability + credibility + intimacy) / (self orientation)

I contend that the formula actually should include character – the exercise of integrity over time from Gus Lee in his work Courage, but that can be a whole additional post.  It would look like the following.

 Trust = (reliability + credibility + intimacy + character) / (self orientation)

I have presented this concept during several presentations and it is always refreshing to see how engaged people suddenly become as this crystallizes a concept for them.  Let’s look at each of the elements of individual trust building.


Reliability is the easiest component to quantify. Simply put, do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it.   One of my colleagues, Ken Pedersen, has helped introduce valuable language around making and honoring commitments.  He explains we often end up in situations where we have commitments, best efforts and good intentions.  A commitment is something we do come heck or high water ‘I’ll get it done, no matter what’ and is vital and in our power to execute upon.  A best effort falls a little short of that, ‘It’s important;  I will do my best to get to it’ where maybe it is not as critical. And then good intentions where we don’t have complete control even though it may be really important ‘I strive, -but I don’t control the outcome’.


Are you qualified?  When working in software development do you have the education, approaches and track record to be credible to people? It is the area we most often work on as professionals by taking that course, this certification or working hard to build our track record and best practices.  This is also relatively easy to quantify so people gravitate to it.


This is not about physical intimacy but more about being a whole person and sharing of yourself, so that others will share with you. We have to risk and be vulnerable to build trust.  I like to use the Pinocchio analogy that we can often be wooden and not sharing of ourselves at work. This is off putting for people to get to know us and thereby share themselves.  Instead, I make the effort to be a ‘whole person’ as opposed to a ‘pure professional’ or to carry the analogy to conclusion, a real boy instead of a wooden one. It’s a risk we need to take in each new relationship.


I’ve introduced character to call it out specifically, though Maister and Green may have included this in credibility.  From Gus Lee, character is defined as integrity defended over time.  For me this is crucial to allow you to build up the good will you engender with people.  Without integrity you are never able to build good will that is enduring.  Integrity inconsistently defended seriously undermines your efforts while evidence of character can help correct for temporary imbalances in other areas.

Self Orientation

Self Orientation is the ultimate divisor of trust.  Everything we do in interacting with people can be undone if we are doing it for ourselves. We need to focus on others not ourselves in order to promote trust.  Even the most benevolent act is devalued if it is done for egotistical or selfish purposes.  As someone learning about business development this was a huge eye opener about how important something was to me, could shape and then derail my relationships and best efforts.

If you can focus on these areas in self reflection and then build a plan of action, you can build trust and even recoup trust.

Warning! You can’t fake it!

Make sure you understand your motivations for what you are doing and why; even why you are suddenly interested in building trust.  When in doubt as to your intent, if you are self aware enough (I keep trying. Luckily, I’ve been told it is a journey not a destination.) expose your motivations and intent.  This will engender honest and open engagement and allow you to work with other people to build trust even when you feel something is really important to you and maybe not the other person.

In my next post I want to explore a twist on this concept, Organizational Trust and the ramifications for IT organizations.

Credits and References

Friends, colleagues, clients and …

  • Ken Pedersen, COO Geneca and much more
  • Green C. H. & Howe A. P. (2012). The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
  • Maister D., Green C.H. & Galford R.M. (2000). The Trusted Advisor. New York, NY: Free Press
  • Lee G. & Elliot-Lee D. (2006). Courage the backbone of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass