create vulnerability in leadership

Trust is the Key to Healthy and High Performing Teams

A lack of trust in a relationship can be distressing – in teams it can be devastating. It can take a huge personal toll and in teams it can light the fuse of self-destruction. Relationships fracture, shaming and blaming are prevalent, productivity goes out the window, reputations are soiled, and people leave. While not all teams suffer from these extremes of course, the consequences of low or patchy trust severely reduce the work a team should produce and also impacts our own sense of engagement and energy.

Conversely, high trust organisations experience 32x greater risk-taking, 11x more innovation, and 6x higher performance (Edelman Trust Barometer). And at a human level, treating each other with respect and forming good relationships feels like the right thing to do. 

In this article we’ll discuss why trust may be the most important element that needs to be present in a team. In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we laid the foundation about why braver leadership and fostering more courageous cultures in our organisations matters. In Part 3, we explored vulnerability and in Part 4 we identified that values form the touchstone of who we are and how we show up. And sometimes, our values are all we have as we enter the arena. According to Brené Brown, brave leadership and courageous cultures require four kill sets: (1) Rumbling with Vulnerability; (2) Living into Our Values; (3) BRAVING Trust and (4) Learning to Rise. 

Why Saying ‘People Have to Earn My Trust’ is a Cop Out

Over the years I have heard repeatedly from leaders that people ‘have to earn my trust.’ The problem with this management credo is that it requires others to do the heavy lifting while the person who holds this belief sits back to assess whether they’re up to it. This isn’t how trust works except if we view trust in a transactional sense – you have a job to do or task to complete. Did you complete it successfully? If yes, transactional trust increases. If not, transactional trust goes down. If transactional trust is all you want, then go for it. But transactional trust is just that – it revolves around a task. Real trust, the type that propels a team’s performance, is much broader and deeper. Real trust requires vulnerability and vulnerability requires trust in a dynamic interplay. 

In this article, we will further explore trust – a topic that has been written about extensively, indicating its importance – and challenges. Trust is a big topic. Given that this series revolves around the work of Brené Brown and in particular her book Dare to Lead, we will focus on her framing of trust through the mnemonic BRAVING.


BRAVING Trust is a mnemonic formulated by Brené Brown (Dare to Lead) and it stands for:

Boundaries: You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no. Boundary management, as I like to call it, means that we establish our boundaries, communicate them, and then provide feedback if they’re not respected. An example for me is being clear about timeliness around meetings whether in a professional or personal context. For example, if I anticipate being any more than 1-2 minutes late for a dentist or hairdresser appointment, I will phone ahead to let them know. Sometimes they are surprised, but mostly they are grateful for the courtesy.

Reliability: You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities. This can sometimes be a challenge, but the question is ‘Do you deliver what you say you will deliver?’. Again, I see this as related to timeliness and keeping our promises and commitments. If you say the report will be done by Wednesday, to build your reliability muscle, it should be there on Wednesday before close of business.

Accountability: You own your mistakes, apologise, and make amends. In Part 4 (Values), several examples of value-destroying leadership were outlined or what I termed ‘Breakers’ (value-destruction) as opposed to ‘Builders’ (value-creation). All too often we hear and see ‘everyone was accountable and no-one was accountable’. We must strive for single points of accountability. This is different to responsibility, which is about who is actually performing the work. 

Vault: You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. We need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential. Brené Brown describes people who share information inappropriately as those who try to ‘hotwire connection’. It doesn’t work because people start to wonder what they might share about their conversations with you.

Integrity: You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them. This is similar to ethical leadership in that we need to determine what is right. Brave leadership is actually doing it, even if its hard. So we can be either ‘in integrity’ with a stated value or ‘out of integrity’. It’s about our behaviours, not our intentions. Someone once said that we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.

Nonjudgment: I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment. We can ask each other for help without judgment. Judgment is very easy and seductive. Our primitive brains, built to help us survive, are prone to judging others. We stereotype, put people in a box, or dismiss them based on our judgement. At the very least, it is likely our approach and behaviour will change around that person as result of our biases and judgment. usually in a negative way.

Generosity: You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others. Generosity is closely related to judgment and is in fact the opposite. If we are able to hold a positive interpretation of other’s behaviour, we will open our minds to other alternate explanations to why someone did what they did. Being generous with others allows them to grow, flourish and perform better. It is important to note that being generous in this way doesn’t mean that we don’t hold people accountable. On the contrary, the research suggests that the people who are the most generous are also the clearest about their boundaries – in other words what is okay and not okay. When boundaries are loose or non-existent, then the interplay or dance between two people can become muddied. When boundaries are clear, it is immediately apparent if someone has acted within our boundaries or not.

I recommend that you focus on one element of BRAVING Trust for others and for yourself for 21 days, then shift the focus. In terms of others, you could practice Reliability by being exactly on time for everything (and if you’re not going to be let people know well ahead of time). We incorporate the building of habits such as these via our online Habit Builder application, which helps people track their progress as well as make journal entries to help their learning. In terms of Reliability for yourself, you might set one personal goal around exercise or something else that is just about you – and then stick to it. 

Phil is the Managing Director of The Leadership Sphere, a firm that focusses exclusively on strategy, leadership and performance. He is a Certified Dare to Lead Facilitator, conducting public and in-house Dare to Lead programs for teams and organisations.

Trust is the Key to Healthy and High Performing Teams