Leadership Skills #1: Great Leaders are Trustworthy

By Dr. Mary Kay

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Trustworthy leaders are some of the best bosses to work for. That said, the most common phrase I hear when working with managers is, “We have a leadership skills deficit here!” Most of the time, people say this is because they feel the manager may not be trustworthy.

So what are the “Top 10 Leadership Skills” that separate great leaders from average leaders?

To get started, we’ll talk about being trustworthy. There is a pattern to what constitutes an effective leader: First, getting things done through others; second, mutually accomplishing goals by influencing others with integrity.

Leaders that understand and act with integrity are more likely to succeed by engaging the hearts and minds of those they lead.

This “Top 10” series is like following a recipe to make the best pie ever – you need all 10 ingredients, but we will add one ingredient at a time. I want to clarify – everyone is a leader. We all influence and teach others daily, so this series is for everyone!

Great Leaders are Trustworthy

What makes one leader trustworthy and another not? We’ve asked people from all walks of life this question and have found five specific qualities that let you know this person will have your back and you can tell them anything.

1. Take a Look at Yourself

This may be a surprise, but the first ingredient of being trustworthy is looking at your own behavior before judging others. Knowing oneself, or increasing self-awareness, is a primary quality to being viewed as trustworthy.

When leaders are willing to look inwardly, they become vulnerable and uncover qualities that may impact their ability to lead. By looking inwardly, a leader is more effective at leading outwardly.

2. Increase Your “Flex” Ability

A necessary ingredient for being trustworthy is being adaptable and flexible to change.  When leaders are not flexible, they spend more time and resources avoiding change instead of doing the change work.

“Flex” ability allows leaders to become more adaptable to unknown situations and display a consistent reaction that people can trust. In other words, rather than flying off the handle, a trustworthy leader adapts and controls his reactions.

3. Tell It Like It Is

Trustworthy leaders know how to communicate with those they lead. Keeping team members informed is critical. Listening and really understanding what others have to say before telling, giving advice, or providing direction makes a huge difference in results.

Do you delay having tough conversations that allow people to keep doing the same thing over and over? A good rule of thumb is to have a tough conversation within 24 hours. This keeps you from procrastinating and enhances your credibility.

4. People Need Someone to Believe in Them

A trustworthy leader is a person that believes the best in people. This means the leader operates on the premise that most people want to do the right thing. They give people room to succeed rather than “being skeptical” that it just isn’t going to happen. Trustworthy leaders expect the best in others and enjoy being around people.

These leaders are approachable, accept responsibility for their actions, and are mutually supportive of everyone, not just the people that they like. This leadership quality is an essential ingredient. Without it, a leader will not be viewed as ethical or having integrity.

5. Firm and Fair

Last but not least, trustworthy leaders know how to be firm and fair. This allows them to stay true to their convictions. The reason this quality promotes trust is you know where you stand with this leader – no walking on eggshells.

No guessing what will happen next. When leaders practice this daily, they instill the expectation that each person is responsible for achieving success.

Trustworthy leaders create leaders that are better than they are. Staying true to your convictions means holding tough discussions, clarifying expectations, and letting those that choose not to contribute know they are no longer a match for the organization’s purpose and mission.

A leader can become more self-aware and adaptable, belief in others, and communicate clearly, but without holding others accountable, the leader quickly loses trust.

Leadership Skills Action Plan

Great Leader Action Plan

6. Recognize Your Dark Side

The first step to becoming more self-aware is to be in touch and reflect on what characteristics, traits, or habits exist that may not contribute to leadership success. This action requires courage, honesty, and the willingness to recognize that the dark side itself is not negative. It is only when the dark side is suppressed, ignored, and avoided that leadership tendencies may become untrustworthy.

7. Reinvent Yourself

Encourage change. For fun, take a journey into the unknown by acting on a personal goal or dream that you feel may be unattainable. Upon taking this leap of faith, your level of confidence will ignite you to take actions you may have only imagined doing.  This level of personal change creates a new beginning which causes higher levels of thinking, motivation, inspiration, and discipline.

8. Live Your Core Values

With continual change and leadership being closely associated, it is imperative to identify personal core values to live by. Leading with clear and firm values is not only a priority

9. Find a Confidant

Find someone you can “debrief with,” a thinking partner. A confidant is an individual that will help you uncover your blind spots, be candid about areas to improve in, and propose actions for enhancing leadership ability. A confidant is not an individual that agrees with a leader’s thinking or tells the leader what she may want to hear.

10. Be You

Your core values create a foundation for being you. Trustworthy leadership gives leaders a high sense of awareness, an understanding of self, and a platform in which to operate. It is through this level of introspection and honesty that a leader creates a blueprint by which to live and lead.

Leadership Skills – How Can a Leader Be Trustworthy?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Would you like to contribute a post?

Dr. Mary Kay on FacebookDr. Mary Kay on Twitter
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and co-founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained over 30,000 leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Masterclass helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders.
  • I think quality #4 is key: to be trustworthy one must first trust.

    Also, the comment that the dark side is not negative: why then is it dark?


  • Dr. Mary Kay Whitaker says:

    Hi Allen,

    Thanks for your point about trust and your question on the dark side. The dark side are those habits and tendencies that all of us have that we call our weaknesses. It’s called our dark side because we may not make it known (keep it under the radar) to others or self that we have tendencies that do not serve us well. For example, some people are unaware they are too selfish or greedy because they don’t explore or work on being more aware of their leadership flaws. Here is an excellent book on the dark side of leadership if you are interested:

    McIntosh, G. L. & Rima, S. D. (2007). Overcoming the dark side of leadership: How to become an effective leader by confronting potential failures. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
    Brilliant Leadership Logo

    Improve Yourself & Your Team

    Get The Training Proven By 40,000+ Leaders