Trust: The Broken Oath of Executive Teams


In a bustling corner of Silicon Valley, a young start-up was taking the tech world by storm. Their groundbreaking innovation had garnered the attention of top-tier investors, and a dynamic leadership team was propelling them to new heights.

Mike, the company’s brilliant CTO, and Jamie, the savvy COO, had a relationship that was the envy of other startups. Their respective teams often said, “If Mike dreams it, Jamie can execute it.” Their professional bond was deepened by mutual respect and a shared vision.

But as TechSphere began to gain traction, the pressures of rapid scaling started revealing cracks. Mike, ever the perfectionist, felt that the speed of implementation was compromising the quality of their product. Jamie, on the other hand, was under pressure to deliver results, meet timelines, and maintain the company’s momentum.

One evening, after a particularly grueling day, Mike overheard a conversation between Jamie and a few board members. They discussed the possibility of bypassing some of his technical recommendations to expedite product launches. Jamie’s voice carried clear words, “We might need to make some decisions without involving him, to stay on track.”

The overheard conversation broke something inside Mike. He felt betrayed. Instead of addressing the issue directly, he withdrew, becoming less communicative and increasingly resistant to Jamie’s efforts.

Maybe something like this has happened to you. 

Trust, once broken, isn’t easily mended.

In the tale above, we witnessed the rapid crumbling of an executive relationship once anchored in deep trust. This narrative is far more common than one might think in the bustling boardrooms of businesses worldwide. Executive teams, after all, are the fulcrums upon which strategic decisions pivot, decisions that have overarching implications for the organization. 

The keystone for these pivotal decisions? Trust.

When trust is firmly embedded among executives, it paves the way for confident, bold choices. It ensures that there is:

  • Uninhibited sharing of crucial information
  • The willingness to debate and challenge prevailing assumptions
  • The pooling of diverse expertise

Such a collaboration yields decisions that are not only well-informed but also holistic, factoring in diverse viewpoints and potential pitfalls. 

The resultant outcome? Enhanced organizational success.

Trust is the Essence of Thriving Relationships

In a recent podcast I hosted with Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, the topic of psychological safety was explored in depth. Trust cultivates such safety, where executives can candidly expose vulnerabilities, own up to mistakes, and continually seek both feedback and support. This transparency in turn nurtures a culture that thrives on perpetual learning, fearless experimentation, and agile adaptability.

In my book, The Deeply Human Workplace, I discuss a model termed the Human Workplace Needs. At the forefront of this model is ‘Connection’ – the profound need to belong and to establish meaningful relationships with other team members.

Trust is not just the bedrock of these connections but also the essence of thriving personal and professional relationships. It’s the conduit for pivotal discussions, opening the doors for the most impactful dialogues.

Common Pitfalls in Trust-Building

Yet, as crucial as it is, trust is alarmingly fragile.

Building trust in the executive realm can be labyrinthine, fraught with pitfalls. Consider the following challenges:

  • Lack of Communication: An absence of open and transparent dialogue is the quickest route to eroding trust. Misinterpretations flourish in this vacuum, sowing seeds of suspicion and exclusion.
  • Lack of Vulnerability: Authenticity, a cornerstone of trust, is birthed from vulnerability. Masked emotions or withheld thoughts create barriers, making genuine connection difficult.
  • Competitiveness and Ego: When individual ambitions eclipse collective success, trust is the first casualty.
  • Lack of Accountability: Trust and accountability are two sides of the same coin. Evading responsibility tarnishes trust, fostering a blame culture.
  • Past Betrayals or Misconduct: Such transgressions carve deep scars that require time, patience, and sustained effort to heal.
  • Lack of Diversity and Inclusion: A homogenous executive board risks stifling unique voices, fueling perceptions of bias.
  • Organizational Politics: Internal power plays and personal agendas can swiftly erode the foundation of trust, engendering an atmosphere of cynicism.

How to Cultivate Trustworthiness on Your Executive Team

Trust is a journey, one that demands unwavering dedication. At its core lies trustworthiness – the emblem of reliability, honesty, and capability. It’s this quality that ensures robust interpersonal bonds, organizational harmony, and societal cohesion.

Based on our executive trust model, here are five pillars that underpin trustworthiness:



  • Competence: Showcasing adeptness and delivering results.
  • Integrity: Aligning words with actions, rooted in ethical principles.
  • Positive Intent: Offering the benefit of doubt, viewing actions through a benevolent lens.
  • Connection: Fostering profound bonds and mutual understanding.
  • Respect: Embodying the platinum rule – valuing others as they wish to be valued.

Trust is the Foundation for Teams

In wrapping up, the centrality of trust for executive teams is indisputable. It’s the glue binding collaboration, psychological safety, informed decision-making, and vibrant organizational culture. In the end, it’s trust that steers the collective ship of an organization towards the horizons of success.

Want to learn more about how we can help transform your people into confident and action-oriented leaders? Schedule a complimentary insight session with us here.

(1) Comment

  • Jay Bass October 15, 2023 @ 9:07 am

    Trust as the “glue” resonates with me. The most rewarding and effective leadership teams I’ve been a part of have undoubtedly flourished around Trust.

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