Building Trust on a Board

How to build trust on a board of directors

Recently I wrote that trust was the number one thing that every board needed to be high functioning and effective.

As I said in that article, trust is the foundation of all relationships, so today I’m going to give you some ideas on how you can build trust in the boardroom.

The important thing to remember is that trust does not come instantly with the badge of ‘company director’. It takes time to build and takes work to maintain.

Much of the literature available on building trust covers four main areas: demonstrating competence, acting with integrity, demonstrating genuine care for other people, and following through on promises.

Writing for Forbes, David Horsager suggests using eight areas to build and maintain trust as a leader:

· Clarity: be crystal clear on the organisation’s mission, purpose, expectations, and priorities.

· Compassion: demonstrate care beyond yourself. Keep in mind the mantra “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

· Character: always chose to do what is right ahead of what is easy. Consistently.

· Contribution: deliver the results that you have promised.

· Competency: Stay fresh, relevant, and capable. Be teachable and a “forever-learner”. Being arrogant and having a “been there done that” attitude holds you back from growing and developing, and it compromises others’ confidence in you.

· Connection: Be someone who people want to follow, buy from, and be around. Build connections with people by asking questions, listening, and showing gratitude.

· Commitment: Stand strong through adversity. Make sacrifices for the greater good.

· Consistency: Little things—done consistently—make a big difference. Consistently do the small but most important things first.

Liz Ryan, also a Forbes contributor, suggests that simply having regular one-to-ones can return positive benefits to the team and organisation.

These are simple actions and practices that all board members can adopt individually as leaders of the organisation. Collectively, consider scheduling regular time that the board can spend together as a group away from the boardroom. I write more about dating your board here.

What can you do as a board member to build trust?

From my experience, the most important things you can do is work to incorporate the four main trust-building practices into your regular routine:

· Demonstrate competence: stay fresh and up-to-date in your area of expertise and in your role as a company director. I share what and how you can be an effective company director in a post here.

· Act with integrity: as it said above, always do what is right over what is easy. In a board environment, this means being sure to state any conflicts of interest you may have (or that could be perceived), not using your position for personal gain (it’s also a breach of your legal duties if you do that), asking the difficult or confrontational question, holding people – and yourself – accountable for doing/not doing something, being prepared to lose your position as director if needed, and acting in the best long-term interest of the organisation as a whole (legally you need to do this).

· Demonstrate genuine care for other people: come from a place of concern and understanding; be firm but flexible when holding people to account, not throwing people under the bus if they have confided in you (unless it’s absolutely life-or-death vital to do so), and talking to your fellow board members about things other than board matters.

· Follow-through on promises: simply do what you say you’re going to do. You’re going to draft a board paper? Draft it. You promised to follow-up with someone? Follow up. You commit to a board committee? Show up to the meetings. I think you get my drift.


As a board member I like to approach my boards and fellow board members with an assumed cautious level of trust, and then work from that point (either increased or decreased) trust based on experiences and behaviours of the board.

How do you build trust on your board or in your team at work?

Image:  Flickr | Hernán Piñera

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