Leading with Trust: How to Build High-Performing Teams

Last Updated: January 30, 2024 | by Paul Harstrom

Leadership transcends the realm of knowledge and skill; it’s an art that revolves around the capacity to understand and direct the individuals who make up your team. Leading with trust is essential for building high-performing teams.

It is a dance of building connections, navigating challenges, and steering towards shared successes. At the core of this art is creating an environment rich in vulnerability-based trust—a space where team members can openly admit and recognize their limitations, and seek assistance without the fear of negative repercussions.

Why Trust is Crucial in Building High-Performing Teams

The absence of trust breeds fear of conflict, stifling the healthy debates essential for the rigorous examination of ideas. It’s within the crucible of conflict that the best decisions are forged, as every perspective is weighed and considered.

This process is instrumental in engendering a more substantial commitment to team decisions. However, commitment should never be a passive act of acquiescence. It must be active and informed, born from a culture where every voice is valued and every concern is heard.

Genuine commitment paves the way for accountability, ideally extending beyond the traditional top-down approach. The most potent form of accountability is peer-to-peer, where team members hold each other to high standards and achievement of goals.

Yet, leaders often find this aspect challenging, particularly when confronting uncomfortable behaviors rather than just crunching numbers.

Leaders must have the courage to “enter the danger,” addressing issues head-on with candor and empathy. This is not just about correcting course but showing genuine care for team members’ growth and well-being.

Furthermore, a high-performing team must prioritize team results over personal ambitions or departmental priorities, leading with the speed of trust. This results-oriented mindset necessitates clear, measurable goals that galvanize the team toward collective achievement.

To weave these principles into the fabric of your team begins with leadership that exemplifies these values.

A Leader Must:

  • Demonstrate vulnerability, setting the stage for trust.
  • Encourage and mediate conflict, ensuring it drives growth and innovation.
  • Foster active commitment, ensuring the whole team backs decisions.
  • Model and promote accountability, creating a culture of mutual respect and responsibility.
  • Direct focus towards results, ensuring that personal and departmental goals align with the team’s objectives.

Leaders who embody these behaviors, such as leading with trust, propel their teams to new heights and create an environment where every team member can flourish and fully contribute.

Leading with Trust: How to Build High-Performing Teams

This is not a one-off endeavor but a continuous process that requires diligence, introspection, and a steadfast commitment to nurturing the potential within each individual and the team.

Read: The One Thing and the Astonishing Power of Focus

How to Build a High-Performing Team

Building a high-performing team centers around five core principles: Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability, and Results. These are interconnected elements that shape the dynamics of team management and leadership.

The foundation of a strong team is vulnerability-based trust. This is not just about reliability but about the courage to be open with one another.

This vulnerability is a strength that fosters a deeper connection and trustworthiness among team members, enabling a more cohesive and supportive environment.

Read: Traits of Disciplined Leadership – Jim Collins

Conflict is often viewed negatively, but in the context of a team, it is necessary for growth. Conflict arises from diversity of thought and perspective. The leader must ensure that this conflict is constructive and focused on ideas and strategies, not individuals.

When trust is established, team members can engage in passionate debate and unfiltered discussion without fear, leading to better, more robust decision-making.

Read: Leadership Principles: 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Commitment follows naturally from well-managed conflict. When team members have had the opportunity to express their opinions and engage in healthy debate, they are more likely to commit to decisions, even if there is initial disagreement.

Commitment here means a collective buy-in to decisions and plans of action, where everyone moves forward with a shared goal, even without consensus.

Read: Clarity and Resolve in Leadership

Effective teams practice peer-to-peer accountability. This is the willingness of team members to call out peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team.

This creates a self-regulating team where accountability is maintained without heavy-handed leadership intervention.

Read: 5 Key Takeaways from the Oz Principle Book

The ultimate measure of a team’s effectiveness is the results it achieves. Leaders must steer the team away from ego and personal goals to focus on collective success.

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Setting clear objectives and outcomes aligns the team, as each member understands what they are working towards and why it matters. Celebrating these results reinforces the team’s purpose and the importance of their collaborative effort.

Read: “The Goal: A Process for Ongoing Improvement”

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How does a focus on results benefit the team over emphasizing individual achievements?

A focus on results aligns the team towards a common objective, ensuring that every member’s efforts contribute to the team’s collective success.

This approach minimizes siloed work and personal agendas that can detract from the team’s goals.

By emphasizing results, the team can celebrate shared victories, which reinforces unity and a sense of shared purpose, ultimately leading to more significant achievements than individual efforts could yield.

Why is vulnerability-based trust important in team dynamics?

Vulnerability-based trust is critical because it creates a safe space for team members to openly share their challenges, admit mistakes, and request help without judgment.

This type of trust fosters deeper connections and encourages a supportive environment where members are willing to take risks and innovate. It lays the groundwork for healthy conflict, stronger commitment, and mutual accountability, which are essential for a team’s success.

What steps can leaders take to effectively cultivate a results-focused team?

Leaders can cultivate a results-focused team by first setting clear and quantifiable goals that reflect the team’s purpose.

They should model the behaviors they want to see, such as showing vulnerability, engaging in and mediating constructive conflict, committing to decisions, and holding themselves and others accountable.

Leaders should also recognize and celebrate the team’s achievements, reinforcing the importance of collective efforts and maintaining a focus on the team’s overarching objectives.

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