Four steps to building trust in the C-suite and beyond

When trust is present, information will flow more readily, others will be more receptive to your guidance and you will receive more honest feedback

Trust is the foundation of successful relationships. As I prepared the series “Directions to the GC Chair,” trust emerged as the prevailing theme in developing relationships with board members and colleagues in the C-suite. When trust is present, information will flow more readily, others will be more receptive to your guidance and you will receive more honest feedback.

Developing trust is not difficult. One of my early coaching clients and colleagues is Charles H. Green, co-author of “The Trusted Advisor” and author of “The Trusted Advisor Field Book,” along with numerous articles and blogs. While trust is often an emotional response, in “The Trusted Advisor,” the authors share a formula (the Trust Equation) for people to create and maintain trust. In the Trust Equation, “T” is trustworthiness; the other elements are defined below:

Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy)/Self-Orientation

Credibility: We build credibility via our credentials and experience. For a general counsel or aspiring GC, examples include executive presence, solid business judgment, financial acumen and success at key positions. Also, you can demonstrate credibility by taking a lead role on a major acquisition, answering questions directly and giving your opinion succinctly.

Reliability: You can prove to the C-suite and board that they can count on you when you:

  • Make and keep commitments. If you can't keep a commitment, let others know right away.

  • Respond promptly to calls and emails.

  • Show consistency in your actions and attitudes.

Intimacy: Green and his co-authors use this word to mean connectedness, empathy and discretion. Intimacy can engender relationships where board members and colleagues in the C-suite share what is most important to them. You may hear their fears, career plans and relationship issues. Green also suggests ways to increase intimacy:

  • Show you are discreet. Treat conversations with each individual as confidential and let them know that you are doing so.

  • Don't listen to gossip—and don't gossip yourself.

  • Listen empathetically and deeply to more than the words themselves. Pay attention to tone and body language. If the words, body language or tone do not match, ask discreetly about it. Green says that listening earns you the right to give advice.

Self-Orientation: This element of the Trust Equation, being the denominator, works in reverse. It is about your focus. To trust you in business, people need to believe that you are motivated by the best interests of the company and employees. That means being unselfish, but it also means being calm, not preoccupied and self-secure. These qualities help you to be perceived as objective without raising questions as to whether you have a personal agenda. Here are some simple—yet essential—things to do:

  • While Green acknowledges the importance of preparation, it is equally important to demonstrate agility and flexibility, to listen and to adapt to the flow of conversation.

  • Don't hesitate to voice your opinion because you are concerned it won't be popular. Yes, you have to pick your fights, but when you hold back because of how you might look, that's about you and increases your self-orientation.

  • On the other hand, don't be overly vested in your solution.

  • When someone expresses an idea with which you agree, give credit where it is due.

Green also notes that the Trust Equation is only one side of the trust dynamic—the side of trustworthiness, the one being trusted. There is another side: The person doing the trusting and taking the risks. It may be obvious that others take risks in trusting us. It is less obvious that we have to show that we trust them as well. Try applying the Trust Equation to all your relationships, not just those in the C-suite. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Stewart Hirsch

Stewart Hirsch, Esq. Managing Director of Strategic Relationships LLC, is an executive and business relationship coach for general counsels, lawyers and other professionals. Formerly, Stewart was...

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