Food for thought

A fresh perspective on Trust for leaders part 6

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

Focus on self-confidence

This article is written with a deep respect for your valuable time – it is meant to be read in less than 5 minutes, and to hopefully spark some good reflection and action.


Welcome back! So far, the first five articles of this series have given an overview of the individual trust/trustworthiness levers, and have more closely inspected the “individual relationships”, “team collaboration”, and the “leading in demanding situations” levers of the trust profile of a leader. Now this piece, in conclusion of this series, will provide a quick deep dive into the “self-confidence” lever of the trust profile of a leader.

The trustworthiness of a leader, and the leader’s ability to trust others, as described by the quality of interpersonal relationships, their focus on team collaboration, and their leadership quality in demanding situations, is rooted in the leader’s self-confidence. This is one area where the difference between self-evaluation and multi-rater feedback differs surprisingly often. It is a fact that can be observed in many 360° feedback reports that senior leaders evaluate their performance more highly than their environment, based on their self-confidence. Often, the degree to which this happens comes as a surprise to them. Don’t get me wrong: A healthy dose of self-confidence, even slightly above and beyond what you believe you can do, is often useful. The gap between what you think you can do and what you are really doing should just not become too big.

We propose to break down self-confidence – for the sake of our objective – into three elements: 

  • Your life balance
  • The stability of your ethical compass and values
  • The consistency of observed behaviours across the usual range of situations that you will find yourself in

Life balance is a huge topic for many, and a lot of people haven’t yet recognized the immediate connection with their trustworthiness. It is linked to appropriateness, i.e. the ability to meet the demands of and enjoy your life overall, which consists of much more than their job for most leaders. It is linked to the ability to define and connect people to a purpose. It helps to create meaning, and start conversations with people in your environment on what else is important for you, thereby creating proximity – and we don’t doubt that this relates to trust, do we? Also, it answers the question whether you can switch off and reload your batteries. 

Looking at the ethical compass and its stability can be a tricky one. This is more about how well you know and articulate your convictions, than about agreeing to the very same ethical norms. It is where “the rubber hits the road” when times get a bit tougher. To define/determine your own ethical compass, it can be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you sell this project to the client who doesn’t enjoy a good reputation, particularly if this transaction helped you make your numbers towards the end of the year? 
  • How willing are you to sacrifice what you believe is right for a short-term gain when you need this most? 
  • How open are you about things that don’t work according to your plan? 

Finally, consistency of behaviour – ideally meaning that you can be relied upon no matter what. Another way to look at this dimension is the often-quoted ability and readiness to “walk the talk”. It’s about striking the appropriate balance, more often than not, between “putting your flag in the wind” and stubbornness. This is also supported by properly thinking through your decisions so that you don’t have to call them back, without falling prey to analysis paralysis.

As with most interpersonal phenomena, what works for some might not work for others. If I believe that something works in my interaction with you, and you tell me that it doesn’t work for you – then it doesn’t work. The ideas set out in this series of articles should, however, generally provide good guidance to those who wish to understand how they can increase their leadership effectiveness by more consciously paying attention to how they build their trustworthiness and trust others. 

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

And 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 doing. For the more courageous, the questionnaire even has a multi-rater version – so that you can ask the key people in your environment for their perspective on you. Drop me a line if you are interested.

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 This series of articles is now complete. It is likely going to be followed by two other series of articles, on the climate of trust in an organisation, and on the psychological (or unwritten) contract that connects employees with their organisation, respectively.

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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