The Key to Building Trust is Developing Power

Trust Quotes

  • Trust is a “light switch” for leadership and influence
  • Trust is the product of developing and effectively leveraging power

The Benefits of Trust

If people trust you, you can lead others and get things done. If you are in a role where getting things done through others is a good thing, you quickly discover how valuable developing trust with others can be.

When you trust somebody, you often unconsciously find yourself striking a productive balance between skepticism and unfiltered compliance. This is the case in particular if you are being asked to do something you have never done before or when a personal challenge is affecting your performance. Trust is the lubricant that lets transparency flow in those circumstances. Unfiltered, you can say what is on your mind, get your challenge “on the table” and seek the guidance or support you need without fear of retribution.

Forms of Power That Develop Trust

In this context, trust is an outcome. It is the return leaders realize from consistently investing in the people they attempt to influence. In that regard, we think the most tangible way to “get your head around trust” is to recognize it as the product of effectively leveraged organizational power.

Legitimate Power

This is the formal power bestowed upon you by your organization. Among other things, it includes your decision-making authority, ability to administer sanctions as a mechanism of holding people accountable and your ability to reward people for outcomes achieved or tangible progress made against established goals

Trust is adversely impacted by leaders who over emphasize or routinely abandon the power of their position.

Referent Power

A categorization of informal power you earn on an ongoing basis with others. It includes the relative amount of respect others have for you as well as the degree to which they can depend upon you to act with high integrity.

Trust (in large part) is a function of a leader’s ability to consistently respond in a principled manner to adverse circumstances.

Expert Power

This is another categorization of informal power based on how much you know and how much you have accomplished. It includes degrees and certificates earned, transferable knowledge accumulated and skills developed. It also includes your ability to decipher information that “matters” from information that does not.

Trust is enhanced when a leader’s subject matter understanding and experience can be leveraged to solve a problem or exploit an opportunity.

So, if you seek to develop trust with others, focus on building and enhancing your organizational power!


  1. Identify a person you seek to influence:
    • What is one strategy you could employ that would establish or enhance your current level of Referent power?
    • What specific action could you take that would have a high probability of increasing your current level of Expert power?