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The One Thing That Determines Your Success as a Leader

Leadership is a complex endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

We tend to make things more complicated than they need to be and that’s definitely true in the field of leadership. To prove my point, go to Amazon.com and search their book listings for the word “leadership” and see how many returns you get (but wait until you finish reading this article!). What did you find? It was 138,611 as of the writing of this post.

Browsing the titles of some popular best-sellers would lead you to believe that in order to be a successful leader you just need to find the magical keys, take the right steps, follow the proper laws, figure out the dysfunctions, embrace the challenge, ascend the levels, look within yourself, look outside yourself, form a tribe, develop the right habits, know the rules, break the rules, be obsessed, learn the new science, or discover the ancient wisdom. Did I say we like to over-complicate things?

What if successful leadership isn’t really that complicated? What if I told you there was one thing…not a title, power, or position…that determined whether people followed your lead? What if you understood there was one aspect of your leadership that was a non-negotiable, must-have characteristic that must be in place for people to pledge you their loyalty and commitment? What if you knew there was one element that defined how people experienced you as a leader? Would you be interested? Can it really be as simple as one thing?


That one thing is trust. It’s the foundation of any successful, healthy, thriving relationship. Without it, your leadership is doomed. Creativity is stifled, innovation grinds to a halt, and reasoned risk-taking is abandoned. People check their hearts and minds at the door, leaving you with a staff who has quit mentally and emotionally but stayed on the payroll, sucking precious resources from your organization.

However, with trust, all things are possible. Energy, progress, productivity, and ingenuity flourish. Commitment, engagement, loyalty, and excellence become more than empty words in a company mission statement; they become reality. Trust has been called the “magic” ingredient of organizational life. It simultaneously acts as the bonding agent that keeps everything together as well as the lubricant that keeps things moving smoothly. Stephen M.R. Covey likes to say that while high trust won’t necessarily rescue a poor strategy, low trust will almost always derail a good one. Trust is essential to your success as a leader.

But trust doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t happen by accident. It’s advanced leadership and requires you to work at it each and every day. It starts by you being trustworthy. The ABCD Trust Model is a helpful tool to help you understand the four elements of being a trustworthy leader.

Leaders build trust when they are:

Able – Being Able is about demonstrating competence. One way leaders demonstrate their competence is having the expertise needed to do their jobs. Expertise comes from possessing the right skills, education, or credentials that establish credibility with others. Leaders also demonstrate their competence through achieving results. Consistently achieving goals and having a track record of success builds trust with others and inspires confidence in your ability. Able leaders are also skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems, and processes that help team members accomplish their goals.

Believable – A Believable leader acts with integrity. Dealing with people in an honest fashion by keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth, and not gossiping are ways to demonstrate integrity. Believable leaders also have a clear set of values that have been articulated to their direct reports and they behave consistently with those values – they walk the talk. Finally, treating people fairly and equitably are key components to being a believable leader. Being fair doesn’t necessarily mean treating people the same in all circumstances, but it does mean that people are treated appropriately and justly based on their own unique situation.

Connected – Connected leaders show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps to create an engaging work environment. Leaders create a sense of connection by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and trusting employees to use that information responsibly. Leaders also build trust by having a “people first” mentality and building rapport with those they lead. Taking an interest in people as individuals and not just as nameless workers shows that leaders value and respect their team members. Recognition is a vital component of being a connected leader, and praising and rewarding the contributions of people and their work builds trust and goodwill.

Dependable – Being Dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trustworthiness. One of the quickest ways to erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, leaders who do what they say they’re going to do earn a reputation as being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires leaders to be organized in such a way that they are able to follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable leaders also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for the outcomes of their work.

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