The Law of Trust




No matter the resume of a leader, we humans take turns leading and following – it’s built into the fabric of our ultrasocial human brains. Think of the hotshot vice president who is still the youngest child when she’s home with her family for the Holidays, or the tenured professor who sits in the pew like everyone else on Sunday morning and gives his minister his due respect when it’s his turn to lead. Or the colonel who commands an entire army base, but defers to generals when in their company.

Like everyone else, I also follow as a matter of course. I may have a tip or two to share on leadership in this blog, my keynotes, and my books, but there are dozens of situations in a typical week when I’m following, not leading. But what I’ve learned is there’s following for an hour here and there, and then there’s following a leader for a more meaningful, deeper commitment. When it comes to the latter, I’ve found these five rules – which together I call The Law of Trust – are absolutely indispensable. I hope you’ll find them helpful, too.

1. Is she a good person? This one’s a little vague, so I added the next one for clarity:

2. Will she be loyal to me, her follower? I’m talking mama bear loyalty, Liam Neeson in “Taken” loyalty; “Psycho Dad” loyalty. Will she put it all on the line if I need her to and if I’ve earned it?

3. Does she know what she’s doing? There are a lot of good and loyal people out there who just don’t have the know-how to get where they’d like to go. I won’t follow them until they’ve gained those skills.

4. Does she have the sense to adapt as needed? Leadership is all about changing course midstream, adjusting to a changing situation and finding – or making – a new way forward. Smart isn’t enough. Wise is also required to succeed as a leader. Of the two, I’ll take wisdom every time.

5. Is this worthy of my time and energy? Maybe you’re thinking I should have put this one first, but here’s why I didn’t: we humans are supremely apt at talking ourselves into some bad decisions if we want something badly enough. By looking at the worthiness of an endeavor only after checking the first four rules off, you’ll be more certain to give those first four rules all the weight they deserve.

Taken together, those five rules add up to one law: The Law of Trust. I use this law whenever I’m judging a leader to see if I should follow. But it’s entirely possible I’ve missed something – maybe something important. Will you let me know in the comments if I am? I don’t just write to teach. Much more importantly, blogging helps me learn from other leaders in the Switch and Shift community. Leaders like you!



Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Thanks Ted. Fantastic post. I just listened to a cd on Trust. Dave Horsager, “The Trust Edge” Check him out. He would be a great guest here.

    Luv ya man.


  • Hi Ted. Those are 5 great rules to use to evaluate the trustworthiness of an individual. They all fall in line with the four core elements of trust. In order for a leader to demonstrate trustworthiness, he/she needs to be:

    1. Able – have the skills, knowledge, expertise needed for their role

    2. Believable – act with integrity, have honorable values, walk the talk, honest

    3. Connected – value people and relationships, communicate well, recognize & reward people

    4. Dependable – follow through on commitments, dependable, responsible, accountable

    When a leader demonstrates the ABCD’s of trust, he/she builds strong, loyal, productive relationships with his/her followers.

    Take care,


  • I typically find myself evaluating new people I meet either in business or personal. Common theme is trust, trust, & trust. You have to trust them as a person, their intentions & actions.

    Great post.

  • As you say, trust is extremely important to building strong, loyal, productive relationships with followers.

    After all, 95% of all people are conformist/followers, some more and some less. They conform to or follow the value standards reflected in the actions of leaders. In the workplace, they use those standards as how to treat their work, their customers, each other, and their bosses.

    Most leaders don’t actually listen to their employees and when they do they rarely respond to what they hear. This treats employees with great disrespect and thus followers treat their work, etc with the same level of disrespect. The same disrespect emanates from trying to control employees by issuing orders or by not sharing information employees want to have. Employees don’t respect or trust anyone who treats them with disrespect.

    The answer to trust in the workplace is pretty well expressed in this short video.

    The real answer to high workplace performance is to convert conformists/followers into non-followers who stop wasting huge amounts of brainpower on following and start using 100% of their brainpower (thus 100% of their creativity, innovation, and productivity) on their work.

    Best regards, Ben

  • I am a big fan of guiding principles – they provide us with enough clarity and common language without overly constraining us. When I read the 5 laws I felt one thing could have a little more emphasis and it is touched on in Randy’s 4 core elements – the need for leaders to be authentic and display integrity. I don’t think we should expect perfection from leaders – or anyone – but we have a right to expect leaders to be very clear about what they stand for and to display this in their behaviours and the decisions that they make. We know they may not always achieve everything they commit to but it would be good to see that they are always mindful of failing and seeking to be better – and of course this is equally true of anyone.

  • All pertinent points you have emphasized. The need to observe, be patient, ponder, analysis, break down and utilize the criteria you have put forth.
    Listening with the intent to understand from a neutral place, observing and having a thermometer for sincerity and over a short period of time measuring the results Does this leader have their priorities on the pulse of the business and people? What do my instincts tell me?
    Things do change as stated, love that you mention the ability to adapt.
    Many thanks for taking this complex issues head on – enjoyed the read – Cheers

  • Gary Kidd

    I love point #4. Read once where most organizations fail for one of 3 reasons, 1. Failure to plan; 2. Failure to anticipate; and 3. Failure to adapt. We never get things “right” the first time, it takes a mature organization to be see the need to continually adapt and adjust.

  • Yes I like the way you have developed these because they are a process rather than a list which adds the dynamism required by human beings. Another key understanding regarding trust is its relativity to circumstances, relationship and character. People have a tendancy to think you either trust or do not trust someone but in my experience there are many aspects to any situation and it is essential we know where to trust someone and where not to trust the same person. Not always easy – leader or not!

  • Ted, It’s really not that complex, is it? You’ve taken Trust down to its simple truth. I love the second point about Loyalty.

    Loyalty is one trait I work hard to exemplify in my life and leadership. The other evening a saw a story about a momma dog who rescued her pups from a burning house. She took them to the safest place she could find…the firetruck.

  • Ted – great post and timely given the whole Lance Armstrong test of what trust means. I want to add just one point on the “is she a good person” question. It’s a big net of a question. For me, the behavior that tells me someone is a good person, and therefore someone I can trust, is pretty simple: Did they do what they said they would do. It’s a black-and-white way of looking at someone’s likelihood of being trusted. Keep up the good work. @RonRicciCisco

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  • Thanks for this, Ted. At Chicago Title and Trust Company, where I served as President and CEO of Chicago Title Credit Services, T.R.U.S.T. was our acronym for: Truth. Our relationships with our customers and each other will be based on truth. Respect. We will respect the property rights of our customers, the company, and our fellow employees. Understanding. We will endeavor to understand the needs of our customers and to try to meet those needs. Service. We will provide the best service possible consistent with company policies and applicable laws and regulations governing our business. Trust. We will work to earn the trust placed in us. T.R.U.S.T. Best thoughts, John

  • Guillaume

    Seek to understand before you making sure others understand you.

  • Ted,

    Thanks for the excellent post. I couldn’t agree more. Here are seven imperatives of trust that I believe are essential for good leadership — Accountability, Authenticity, Credibility, Honesty, Integrity, Respect and Transparency. Also, communication is a key element. Following are 10 tips to improve trust through communication:

    Tell people what you know and don’t know.
    Explain why.
    Be consistent.
    Don’t “spin.”
    Communicate, communicate, communicate.
    Be realistic. Don’t overpromise.
    Be open. Engage in honest conversations.
    Be accountable to the same standards you establish for others.
    Acknowledge and honor people’s feelings and concerns.
    Bring words and actions into alignment.

    Trust is the most important currency in business. By opening up to what is true and creating a vision for the highest good, leaders can build a culture of trust and enhance the bottom line.

    Thanks for your thought leadership and for opening up the conversation.

    Best regards,

  • Ted, this is coming at Trust from how to build it, but I really have appreciated the work of Dr. Paul Zak, who references a formula for creating trust in ‘Neuroeconomics and the Firm’ called PAD-TEAA. In short, these stand for Praise, Anticipation, Delegation, Transparency, Empathy, Autonomy and Authenticity. We aren’t likely to follow or go the extra mile for someone we don’t trust. And trust is chemical, when we trust, it frees us to have feelings of empathy, compassion, cooperation. Unfortunately, there is a trust deficit. A recent Maritz Research engagement poll found only 12 percent ‘strongly agree’ their company’s leaders are ethical and honest. Here’s a link to more on that poll if interested:

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  • Dennispeevy

    I enjoyed your post. 

  • Ted,

    I so appreciate your question about whether there is another aspect.There is.

    We all come with guidance that will give us information that we cannot obtain from a rational brain analysis.  This guidance communicates via our emotions.  We feel it in our gut and sometimes in the hairs on the back of our neck.Science is finally beginning to take a look at the purpose of emotions from a standpoint that makes sense and have found that our emotions are designed to guide us away from threats and towards thriving.Long before I understood the emotional guidance system I referred to it as “my creep alert” because I had learned, the hard way, that it was very accurate and should be followed.  The lesson came from talking myself out of a very strong emotional indication not to trust for PC reasons.  From that point on I trusted those intuitions and feelings whole heartedly.  Over the years I have spoken to many indiviuals who overrode their gut feelings for a variety of reasons, being PC, not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, not wanting to be disrespectful, honoring a person’s position of authority over their own reaction, etc.  All the stories were of regret for not listening to the inner guidance/wisdom and part of a story of an undesired outcome.Anyone who looks at their own life experiences or reads stories by people who have had bad experiences will see a very common theme of not listening to that inner guidance.The language of our emotions is not the same as the common interpretations which has made society view it as less than reliable but when an individual understands how to understand the communications they find it infailable.  I had a long career that was very analytical but have learned that I fare far better when I listen to my gut first and then use my rational mind to come up with ideas for solutions which I then use both my rational mind and my emotional response to evaluate.

    ? Jeanine

  • RandyPennington

    Excellent article, Ted.

    A few years back we did a research project on what causes mistrust and creates trust. Your five questions connect very well to the results we received from almost 1,100 responses.

    Our five categories were:
    Character – are they honest and trustworthy?
    Competence – do they know what they are doing?
    Consistency – do they do what they said they would do and can I rely on their response/behavior?
    Communication – do they share information in an open, transparent manner; are they respectful and not demeaning?
    Courage – will they do what is right when it is not convenient or advantageous to them? This is a special form of character, but the respondents told us that this is important enough to deserve specific mention.

    Keep up the great work.


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