Food for thought

A fresh perspective on Trust for leaders part 2

A short series of articles sharing insights and experience regarding the factors that allow leaders to significantly increase their effectiveness – just by doing a few key things differently and NOT by putting in more hours


Individual levers – an overview

This article is written with a deep respect for your valuable time – it is meant to be read in less than 8 minutes, and to hopefully spark some good reflection and action.

Welcome back! As already mentioned in the first article, this piece will focus on providing an overview of the four levers that have a significant impact on the trust profile of a leader, i.e. their ability to trust others and be considered trustworthy in their environment. Why is this important? Because it allows leaders to achieve more with less effort for themselves as well as for the people who work in their environment.

To remind ourselves, these four levers are:


Let’s study them from the angle of a situation that will be familiar to most of you. 

A leader convenes their management team for an offsite meeting to review how things have gone so far this year and how to approach best what lies ahead. As executive coaches, our job is often to attend business meetings and offsites as facilitators, to contribute to optimized meeting outcomes. This is a huge privilege, as it provides us with a first-hand opportunity to observe a group of people in their usual modus operandi, which can be revealing in terms of the four levers introduced earlier. Without the opportunity to observe what happens, there is no easy way to propose solutions that can help to improve relationships, collaboration, effectiveness, and results.

Perhaps you want to look back at your most recent (offsite) team meeting experience. Most likely you will have seen, among your fellow team mates, one or more of the following: Some …

  • … seem to have more intense and easy-going relationships than others
  • … are more easily able to meet their commitments and achieve results
  • … focus more on achieving common objectives than others
  • … communicate differently across employee groups. 


These factors, among others, are part of the “interpersonal relationships” lever.

During discussions and group work we, as observers, can get a feel for how people really collaborate. Sometimes they will talk about how they work with “their” teams. Maybe you will recognize yourself in the following questions, that should be addressed before every such meeting. 

  • How do you ensure that the big picture is known and understood? 
  • How do you ensure that goals are common goals, shared by many? 
  • How well do you communicate successes, or don’t you, since you are afraid of complacency? 
  • Do you identify those that share the same enthusiasm and provide an environment that lets them thrive? 
  • Can you effectively move people from working “alongside each other” to “with each other”?

Perhaps not surprisingly, these are all key ingredients of proper team collaboration.

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”. I am sure that most of you will agree with this statement by Franklin D. Roosevelt. In any demanding business situation, when it comes to decision making, there will be challenging moments when some initiatives will be voted “in” and others “out”. At this point, you will benefit from asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you deal with these situations head-on? 
  • How do you ensure that difficult interpersonal relations don’t stop your team from doing what they believe is the right thing to do? 
  • Do you have the courage to admit your mistakes? 
  • How do you deal with decision-making and priority-setting when the development of the environment is uncertain? 
  • Do you react to early warning signs, when it is still difficult to tell the signal from the noise?

Steering successfully through rough waters is strongly connected with the leader’s self-confidence, which is an idea that most leaders are willing to accept. Here’s where the appropriate dose of humility – a characteristic often cited when describing successful leaders – comes into play. Other key elements of this lever are: 

  • Knowing well what’s really important for you
  • Spending enough time per week in this “really important for me”-zone
  • Knowing what you stand for, in the eyes of your relevant environment
  • Staying the course, even through adversity
  • Having a life balance that make sense to you and that allows you to engage sufficiently outside of work with all those people and activities that are important to you

This is just a glimpse of the essential elements of the individual trust profile of a leader, i.e. their ability to trust others and be seen as trustworthy in their environment. The next four articles are going to examine the four levers: 


by diving deeper into their component parts, which will allow you to get a better feel for how you are currently doing. 

Should you be interested in more of a quick deep dive, there is a questionnaire available that provides you with a thorough understanding of how you’re performing as a leader of your team. For the more courageous among you, the questionnaire has a multi-rater version, which enables you to ask the key people in your environment for their perspective on you. Drop me a line if you are interested in this insightful evaluation.

The content of the article relies predominantly on three sources: 

  • The work by the Trust Management Institute, mostly by Tom Sommerlatte and Jean-Luc Fallou, as laid out in their book “Quintessenz der Vertrauensbildung” (Springer, Heidelberg, 2012)
  • Several thousands of hours of working with senior executives and teams in their quest to improve individual and team effectiveness and reduce effort needed to achieve desired results
  • Many conversations with like-minded professionals who share the same interest

Happy reading – and please do let me know your reactions and questions. Always willing and happy to engage in a conversation!

You can reach me at


Rolf Pfeiffer is a Germany-based executive coach. He is one of the original founders of Leadership Choices, a professional services firm dedicated to leadership development - with European roots and global reach. His clients often say that Rolf effectively helps them to achieve outstanding results by taking on new perspectives on their activities and impact. Rolf has worked as an executive coach and facilitator since 2003, his assignments have taken him to many European countries, the Middle East, the USA and South Africa. He works in senior faculty and coach roles for the Center for Creative Leadership and is member of the executive education faculty of HEC Paris in Qatar. In his coaching work, he draws upon his consulting and business experience (from senior roles with leading firms in their respective fields) and helps his clients to navigate the dynamics of their organisational environment effectively.

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