Building Trust – Three Critical Components that Enable Trust


Trust is a critical foundation for effective leadership, employee engagement, and organizational success. Three key components of trust – integrity, competence, and compassion – are important to build and sustain trust within organizations. Strong relationships based on trust and mutual respect improve teamwork and morale. High-trust organizations outperform low-trust ones in innovation, employee engagement, and operational efficiency.


Everyone has the opportunity to take responsibility and action toward creating a workplace characterized by high trust and meaningful relationships.  When leaders exhibit integrity, competence, and compassion, they create an environment of trust that empowers employees to take risks, contribute ideas, and perform at their best. Conversely, a lack of trust can lead to disengagement, low morale, and decreased productivity. 


Trust is essential for creating and sustaining healthy working relationships, ensuring employee well-being, and driving organizational performance. It is a fundamental element of effective leadership and a key driver of employee engagement, commitment, and productivity. The three primary components of trust identified in research by Paul Martinez are:
  1. Integrity: Acting consistently with one's values, principles, and ethical standards. Integrity involves being honest, transparent, and following through on commitments. Integrity establishes credibility and reliability, serving as the foundation of trust. 
  2. Competence: Possessing the necessary skills, knowledge, and abilities to perform one's role effectively and deliver results consistently. Competence inspires confidence in an individual's capabilities and track record of success. 
  3. Compassion: Demonstrating genuine care and concern for others, seeking to understand their perspectives, and prioritizing collective interests over self-interest. Compassion fosters a sense of mutual understanding and shared purpose, promoting collaboration and cooperation.
"The Neuroscience of Trust" by Paul J. Zak in The Harvard Business Review explores trust from the understanding of biology: 
  • Trust is a biological reaction that allows humans to overcome skepticism and take risks. Brain imaging studies show that trust activates the same reward pathways as those involved with experiences of pleasure or winning money. Distrust activates brain regions associated with fear and anxiety.
  • There are two main forms of trust - calculative (based on incentives/penalties) and relational (based on socially shared norms and benevolence). Relational trust is more efficient and powerful than calculative trust. It enables more open communication, knowledge sharing, and collaboration.
  • Trust can be fragile. Breaches like dishonesty or unfair treatment activate the fear/anxiety response and make rebuilding trust difficult.
Leaders can build trust with intentional practices:
  • Take Personal Responsibility: Focus on how you present yourself in relationships, your intentions, and your commitment to monitoring your behaviors. Understand that everyone, including yourself, will occasionally break trust.
  • Share Information Broadly: Transparency is key to building trust. Sharing information openly reduces uncertainty and empowers people with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. 
  • Build Relationships: Building relationships intentionally involves making an effort to connect with others on a personal level. This can be achieved through regular one-on-one meetings, team-building activities, and open communication. 
  • Facilitate Whole-Person Growth: Supporting employees' personal and professional development shows that you value them beyond their current role. Offering opportunities for learning and growth, such as training programs and job challenges, helps them feel supported and engaged, enhancing trust.
  • Show Vulnerability: Leaders who show vulnerability by admitting mistakes, seeking feedback, and being open about their own challenges build trust with their teams. This authenticity demonstrates that it is safe to take risks and be honest, fostering a culture of trust and psychological safety.
  • Offer Compassion: When trust is broken, instead of withdrawing or becoming defensive, show compassion to both yourself and others. This helps move through disappointments and rebuild trust more effectively.

Sample Activity

In small groups, ask participants to reflect on and share an experience with trust in the workplace. Encourage them to share a time when they felt trusted or mistrusted by a leader or colleague, and how it impacted their motivation, engagement, and performance. Next, introduce the three components of trust (integrity, competence, and compassion) and have participants identify specific behaviors or actions that exemplify each component. Discuss the importance of cultivating all three components to build and maintain trust within teams and across the organization. Conclude by having participants journal actions they can take to strengthen trust, focusing on areas where they can improve their integrity, competence, or compassion.


The information in this knowledge asset draws on the research and literature review conducted for the dissertation titled "The Relationship Between Employee Engagement, Trust, and Intrinsic Motivation" by Paul Martinez, as well as additional insights from Harvard Business Review and Reina Trust Building.

Target Audience:

  • Leaders 
  • Employees
  • Facilitators

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