The Three C’s of Trust

by Philip Gift

There are many reasons that a person joins an organization. No matter the reason, that person should strive to make a positive difference to the organization and its members. This impact…the cohesion that comes from positively influencing others…is the foundation of trust. And gaining it can be boiled down to three fundamentals:  Competence, Caring, and Communication.


Personnel from the Air Transport Office, Post Office, and Supply Department unload mail and cargo from a MH-53E Sea Dragon assigned to the “Blackhawks” of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron One Five (HM-15) on the flight deck aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), Arabian Gulf. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Milosz Reterski.


First and foremost, a member of the organization needs to be competent. This does not mean he needs to be the best. It does mean that he has to be mentally, physically, and emotionally able to perform the tasks that are required of him in his role. If other members of the organization constantly have to help him or fix his mistakes then he will not be able to succeed.

TrustA competent worker will be able to learn and grasp the tasks that are required of him. The longer a worker is in the job, the better he should be at accomplishing his tasks. Supervisors should be competent in these tasks to be able to oversee the work and to teach the workers. To help facilitate teaching, supervisors also need to be competent in handling people.

Managers, on the other hand, need to be competent in understanding problems in a compressed amount of time and also organizing and presenting ideas. When managers are presented an issue, they need to be able to grasp the crux of the problem and know what questions to ask to find a solution. Also, since managers move the organization in their desired direction, they will be introducing new ideas.

For the other roles to willingly follow these ideas, they will need to have faith in the manager and the direction in which he is taking the organization. One of the steps in gaining this faith is presenting new ideas in a confident, well-organized, and clear manner. Since a leader is a mixture of a supervisor and a manager, he not only needs to be competent in the tasks and dealing with people, but he also needs to be competent in grasping and presenting ideas.


Caring is the next fundamental and it can be broken down into three separate levels:  self, others, and the organization. All individuals need to care about themselves and their personal growth. As a person progresses in his career, he needs to stay proficient and continue to learn. This learning will increase his competency, which will make him better at performing his tasks.

He also needs to care about other members of the organization. An organization is made up of people and very little in an organization can be accomplished without the help of others. A bond among employees needs to be forged to encourage people to work together. James Kouzes in The Truth about Leadership explains the primary way a boss shows he cares about his employees is by paying attention to them. Supervisors and leaders need “to reach out to others, listen to their words and emotions, be open to their experiences, ask them questions and express a willingness to learn from them.” (2010, Truth 10)

The third level of caring is to the organization. Caring for an organization means focusing on the organization’s mission and purpose. Every member should have some level of caring for the organization. Managers should have the highest level. Managers show they care by embodying the organizational culture and believing in and positively representing the organization. The decisions a manager makes should take into account what is best for the organization and not necessarily for the individual. If the focus is on the individual, then the organization will stagnate and fail.

When a leader makes a decision, he needs to focus on both the individual and the organization. At times the decision will be easy and both the individual and the organization will benefit. Other times a decision will only benefit one. These kinds of situations create the most difficult decisions a leader will have to make.


The third fundamental is communication. Since each person has a different perspective, potential problems and solutions can come from anyone. For this reason, supervisors, leaders, and managers need to encourage open communication with all of the roles. This open communication starts with respect. If both sides of the conversation have respect for each other, it will be easier to come to a resolution when there are disagreements. Respect will help keep the conversation professional and not personal. A person earns respect by following the other two fundamentals, competency and caring.

Conversely, good communication can help develop the other two fundamentals. Using training can increase the competency of the organization. Supervisors and leaders need to address training needs. Managers should leave the training decisions to the supervisors and leaders, since the supervisors and leaders have a better feel for the training requirements of the individuals in the workforce. With quality training the workforce will be better equipped for the problems they face now and in the future.

Supervisors, leaders and managers can further this endeavor with one-on-one conversations with their subordinates. During these conversations, they pass on their experience and education to help others “think in ways they never thought before.” (Bossidy, 2002, page 28) These one-on-one conversations will also help supervisors, leaders, and managers know their employees better and create a bond with them.

Communication is also used to motivate and demonstrate caring. Supervisors and leaders should know best when to motivate and who needs to be motivated, since they are embedded in the workforce. But that does not mean managers should not and cannot motivate. When a manager visits a location, he has an opportunity and an obligation to motivate his employees. With this motivation, the manager shows he cares about the group and that this group is important to the organization. However, a manager has to be aware that his presence is going to be disruptive and for this reason, he should not prolong his stay.

Another reason for communicating in an organization is to disseminate decisions and ideas. Before a decision can be disseminated, it needs to be made at the correct level. Decisions that should be made by a supervisor should not be shunted to a leader or a manager. This will waste valuable time and frustrate the work force.

Decisions also need to be made in a timely manner. A person who excessively delays a decision hoping for more information is not helping the organization. Part of being competent is to make the decision and move on. It is impossible to have all the information to make an ideal decision, but a decision still needs to be made.

After the decision is made, the decision needs to be communicated to the rest of the workforce. The type of decision and whom it affects will dictate what kind of communication method should be used. Once the decision is disseminated, the workforce will be able to voice their opinions and concerns. These ideas should be communicated to the decision maker so he can reassess the original decision and the cycle will repeat as needed.


Organizations are based on people and their relationships. It should thus come as no surprise that the ultimate goal of displaying Competence, Caring, and Communication are to build trusting relationships. An organization with competent employees that care and communicate with each other will foster an organization with trust.

It takes all three components to earn trust. If a person is not competent, then no matter what is promised, he will not be able to deliver. If he does not care about the other members of the workforce, then there is no guarantee that he will keep his word when a better deal arises. Lastly, communication is important because trust is about perception. No matter how competent a person is or how much he cares, if he cannot relay that information to other people, then trust will never grow.

Be aware that a person can trust someone in one environment but not in another. A person can be competent at work, care about the workforce and the organization and is good at communicating. However this person may not be trusted as a babysitter. The only thing that has changed in this scenario is the environment; he is no longer in the office setting. In this new environment the coworker may not be competent at taking care of kids and thus does not maintain other’s trust in this endeavor.

A Trust Self-Assessment

If you want to build trust in your organization, then you should look at your competence, caring, and communication. Take each component and honestly assess yourself. Are you competent in the job that you currently hold? Do you understand the tasks that are required of you and the random tasks that sometimes arise? If not, then take some time to learn your job. Ask other people in the organization or do some research about it online.

Do you care about the organization and your coworkers? If not, you may not be working in your area of passion. Look into another organization that makes you proud to work there. How well do you communicate your ideas and decisions? Do you find that people do not understand what you are trying to convey? Continue to hone your communication skills and try changing the way you deliver your ideas. For instance, schedule a face-to-face meeting instead of sending an e-mail.

Hopefully you are able to answer positively to this self-assessment. Even if you did, there is always room for improvement. If you are successful in your current role, it does not mean you will be successful in a new role. Since workers, supervisors, leaders, and managers each play a distinct part in the organization, building trust from each level requires a different take on the key components of Competence, Caring, and Communication.

This is a guest post by Philip Gift, a Naval Academy graduate and helicopter pilot who also wrote The Leadership Bottleneck for The Military Leader. Read that post for an in-depth analysis of the roles of Worker, Supervisor, Leader, and Manager.

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Bossidy, L. & Charan, R. (2002). Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. New York, Crown Business.

Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2010). The Truth About Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know. New Jersey, Wiley.

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