It All Comes Down to Trust

They say association becomes assimilation which worked out well for me at an early age. See, studying what made successful coaches such great leaders and how they got the most out of their team’s ability was just a way of life to me as my Dad was a successful high school basketball coach who is known more for the impact he had on his players than any of his 500 plus wins.

My childhood was literally a clinic on leadership between my Dad and his inner circle. They were giants in my life, mentors before I knew what that meant, and they showed me what it took to develop championship teams.

As my playing career evolved into my coaching career, I became very intentional about studying the habits, traits, behavior, and philosophies of those whom I consider to be great coaches and great leaders. I would do anything I could to learn as much as possible about what it took to get the most out of your players, to get buy-in, to have the ability to push your players outside of their comfort zone physically and mentally all the while your players knowing you care about them, how to get a team of high school superstars to operate as one and realize they were a part of something bigger than themselves, and how to create an environment that nurtured competitive greatness which resulted in a championship culture where everyone took joy in going to battle together.

Certain things became apparent to me. I realized that great coaches are able to see more in their people than they sometimes see in themselves. They believe in their people, want them to succeed, and are committed to helping each team member reach their potential. I do mean each and every team member as they understand that the value a person brings to the organization is how well they embrace and execute their role.

The great coaches get the most out of their people because they invest the most in their people. 

I want to share something else I learned which I believe is so key to our success in the business world as we work with leaders to shift from a manager’s mindset to a coach’s mindset. Coaching is not something you do…rather a coach is someone you become.

As I look back over my business career and coaching career, I realize that there is one cornerstone of every coaching relationship. It is what it all comes back to. This cornerstone is the key to developing people, building amazing relationships, experiencing sustained success, and increasing the level of positive influence you have on others.

The cornerstone of every coaching relationship is TRUST. Establishing a high level of trust allows you to establish expectations on your team, effectively coach them, and to establish accountability at an elite level.

When you earn the trust of your people…and trust is definitely earned not given…they are going to feel safe to get outside their comfort zones, take risks, learn from failure, grow through adversity, and they will make themselves vulnerable to you. They will be more open to your leadership and be coachable.

The coaches I trusted the most had an influence on me that will stay with me the rest of my life.

Earning trust is not complicated and it is not rocket science.

Trust starts with honesty. 

One of my all-time favorite coaches regardless of sport or level is Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. You want to talk about sustained success.

Pop has led the Spurs to a winning season in each of his 22 full seasons of coaching, five NBA Titles and has been named NBA Coach of the Year three times.

It is no secret that his guys love to play for him even though he can get after them a bit. The reason, they trust immensely and that all starts with his honesty. Business Insider asked Pop about his honesty with the players and he had this to say:

“They are different. I just try to be as honest with them as I can. I just think blowing smoke at guys and trying to manipulate guys or trick guys into thinking this or that, it doesn’t work. And it’s tiresome…if you are just brutally honest with guys, when they do well, love them and praise them and they do poorly, get on their butt and let them know it and let them know you care. And if a player knows that you really care and believes that you can make it better, you got the guy for life.”

The other part of being honest is keeping your word and doing what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it.

People will forgive a skill gap and even a knowledge gap, but they will never tolerate dishonesty as that causes the most difficult gap to close and that is the trust gap.

Four other ways you build trust:


Your behavior and execution have to be aligned with your stated values and beliefs. It is easy to fall prey to integrity slippage not only when we are dealing with adversity but when we are tempted by shortcuts as we are looking success in the eye.


People want to know they are valued and that what they think and do matters. As a leader, it is powerful when you stop thinking you are responsible for having all the answers and instead focusing on working toward the solutions with your team. By asking for input and assistance you are letting that person know that you value them, you value their opinions, and that you trust them because you are being vulnerable with them.


This is when they know you have their back! As a leader you help your people grow through adversity and celebrate each success. They need to know that your door truly is always open and that you genuinely care and are invested in them as a person. There is a comfort in that and it contributes to the safety factor in your culture. As your people open up to you they will share with you the information you need to know in order to make decisions based on where they are at in their head and what is going on in their world.


Your team needs to know what to expect from you on a daily basis and in different circumstances. They need to know they can count on you and that you walk the talk, which separates you from many other leaders. Your consistency is what supports, strengthens and elevates the level of trust your people have in you.

One of the challenges most companies are facing right now is recruiting in a tight labor market which also puts the focus on retaining your top talent and developing your “bench.”

When your people feel they can trust you because you are honest, operate with integrity, vulnerable, discrete, and consistent…they are not going to want to leave and the ones who are struggling are going to do everything they can to grow so that they can make a significant contribution in their role.

Take some time and visualize the vibe of the culture an unshakeable foundation of trust can create and the results we have talked about. Retention, developing talent, recruiting top talent, and joy.

The great coaches…great leaders…embrace the opportunity to make a positive impact on their people while building an elite team and program. They may not always like what the job entails, but they take great satisfaction in the work they are doing.

The cornerstone of all of this?


As a leader it would behoove you to sit down and be honest with yourself when you answer the questions:

Am I consistently operating with integrity?

Do I make myself vulnerable when appropriate?

Am I discrete and does my team know they can talk to me about anything, that I am truly here for them?

Can my team predict how I will respond in a given situation?

Check out Episode 52 of The Athletics of Business podcast where I discuss the topic of trust along with the DNA of a Great Coach!


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