The Trifecta of Trust by Joe Folkman

Trust is the currency of leadership. Like money, leaders can earn it, squander it, or leverage it for a high return on investment. Leaders, teams, and organizations have highly variable trust accounts. Some are rich with trust, some are getting by, and some are bankrupt.

Trust is easy to talk about. But it’s tough to define, tough to build, and even tougher to restore. Like communication, quality, or beauty, trust is often in the eye of the beholder.

Joe Folkman’s new book, The Trifecta of Trust: The Proven Formula for Building and Restoring Trust, cuts to the heart of a critical leadership issue. Drawing on his extensive experience and Zenger Folkman’s large database of 360 assessments, Joe crisply defines and simplifies the key components of trust. He combines powerful and compelling “color commentary” of personal experiences, examples, and stories with his solid base of data and evidence.

Joe went deep into Zenger Folkman’s 360 database of over 1.5 million ratings of over one hundred thousand leaders to define the key elements of trust. He found,

“While there could be hundreds of behaviors that impact trust, just three can account for the vast difference in the impact of individuals with high levels of trust and those who are not trusted at all. These are the core behaviors that create and reinforce trust from others:

– displaying expertise and the good judgment that comes with it,

– demonstrating consistency, and

– building relationships.

These three pillars support the foundation of trust, regardless of culture, industry, race, or gender.”

Joe provides detailed definitions and a chapter for each of the three pillars and weaves the “trifecta of trust” throughout the book. With charts, examples, data, and implementation steps, the book is brimming with details on how to understand, strengthen, and rebuild trust. Short, pithy chapters address how trust is entwined with speed, employee engagement, age, COVID-19 pandemic, teams, confidence, and feedback. Chapters also address how to lose and rebuild trust.

My copy is full of yellow highlights. A few key points especially stood out:

  • Many leaders don’t know how effective or ineffective they are and don’t understand the impact their behavior has on others.
  • Raters are 3.2 times better at predicting a leader’s trust levels than the leader is him or herself.
  • Leaders who overrated their trust effectiveness had worse relationships, lower collaboration, and communications. They were seen as less technically skilled, poorer problem solvers, and less able to develop others.
  • Trust and communication skills boosted employee engagement from a low of the 27th up to the 76th percentile.
  • Trust and a leader’s overall effectiveness sink or soar in tandem. “You can easily conclude that a leader’s overall effectiveness is driven by the extent they are trusted.”
  • By working on increasing their leadership effectiveness, less trusted leaders were able to make dramatic improvements in trust levels when rated again in 18 to 24 months.
  • Less effective leaders are often arrogant know-it-alls who feel they need to have all the answers and be the smartest person in the room versus more effective leaders who are humble experts. Know-it-alls have very low trust ratings.
  • Zenger Folkman has built a database of companion behaviors that have the greatest leverage on each leadership competency. For example, Joe describes the companion behaviors for building expertise: being a role model, anticipating problems, connecting your work to a vision, and keeping others informed.
  • Highly trusted leaders were rated much higher in speed. They moved faster. Speed bumps that slow leaders down and erode trust include resisting feedback, allowing conflict to fester, forcing people to deliver results, inability to adapt to a different situation, a culture not open to debate, ignoring individual impact, and working independently/avoiding collaboration.
  • Just one team member with lower trust ratings lowered overall trust ratings by 32 percentile points and engagement by 14 percentile points.
  • Since 2015, trust for leaders under 40 years of age has risen significantly higher than older groups of leaders.
  • Leaders giving a balance of positive and negative feedback had higher trust and overall leadership effectiveness ratings. Most people want both — when delivered effectively.
  • The main factors leading to loss of trust are damaged relationships, saying one thing and doing another, claiming expertise without the knowledge, the one-person show, resisting and rejecting feedback, and the pushy driver for results.
  • Joe’s research shows strong evidence for leaders being able to rebuild trust. Among the twelve actions for rebuilding trust: be a role model, encourage cooperation, resolve conflicts, strengthen communications, give honest feedback, coach and mentor, be open to new ideas, and stay focused on the big picture.
  • Rebuilding trust starts by identifying the causes of mistrust and knowing your strengths. Then communicate your intention to change and apologize. Create a plan for change with follow up dates and accountability to someone you trust to support you.

Learn more about Joe’s new book, trust assessments, and watch a video of Joe telling “Bill’s Story” at You can also watch a 3-minute video with Joe explaining how Trust Changes Everything. On June 22 you can join a webinar on The Trifecta of Trust. Click here for info and complimentary registration.

Highly readable, The Trifecta of Trust provides many “aha” insights and practical how-to-improve applications on strengthening or rebuilding trust.

Joe concludes, “Trust can be felt, trust can be measured, trust can be built, and trust can be repaired. To truly understand trust in its most simplistic form, it comes down to expertise, consistency, and positive relationships: the trifecta of trust.”

What’s the balance in your trust account? How do you know?