The four pillars of trust

Jan Kuipers

Robert Walters sat down with experts from FranklinCovey to give you advice on the most pressing topics that executive leaders are currently dealing with. In this edition: how to win the trust of the board and shareholders when starting in a new c-suite role.



An old Dutch proverb states that trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback, meaning it’s hard to gain and easy to lose. So, when starting in a c-level role, how do you gain and retain the trust of the board and the shareholders?
Robert Walters spoke to Jan Kuipers, founder and director of FranklinCovey Benelux, who boils it down to four main pillars.


Jan: “The first crucial question you need to ask yourself when joining the c-suite is: am I congruent?

Now, this is not only about your actions being in line with what you say you will do, it is also about synchronizing your thoughts and your actions, and your feelings and your actions. The moment you join the board and you are insecure about certain aspects, do not pretend as if you have no doubts. Because rest assured, other executives will see right through you.

Be transparent about any doubts you might have, but strike a balance between these doubts and self-assurance. If you do not doubt yourself at all, your peers will have second thoughts. Likewise, if you keep doubting yourself, they will wonder why you took up this position.”


“Check in with yourself about your true agenda and examine whether you are honest and upfront about your intentions.  

It is possible you join the c-suite while having multiple interests. You might have worked for a major shareholder in the past, for example, or be a shareholder yourself. It is no more than logical that people then might question your true intentions: are you committed to growing the company or ensuring it is future-proof, or are you making decisions in the interest of the shareholder or yourself? 

Wearing two hats doesn’t have to be a problem, as long as you are transparent about what it is you are trying to achieve and make sure your actions are in accordance with your statements. When people question your integrity, be open to their criticism and initiate an open conversation.  

Don’t forget, though, to also look in the mirror and ask yourself what your true intentions are. If you yourself already notice certain contradictions, you can be sure your peers and colleagues will notice them as well.” 


“Do I find myself relevant? In a c-level role you constantly have to ask yourself this question. Do I understand enough about the developments in my field and the strategy we have chosen? Will I be complementary to the board? You might have been marketing manager for years in the past, but do you know enough about current developments in online marketing? 

Play into your strength and belief in yourself, without it turning into arrogance. If you know there are certain aspects where you need to develop yourself, work on them.”  


“In the end, the most effective way to build trust is still by showing results. Whether you have climbed the internal corporate ladder, or whether you were hired externally, you will have to start delivering results in your c-suite role.  

This does not mean that results are absolute. If you took up a CEO position two weeks prior to the outbreak of a pandemic, the board and shareholders will understand if results are not in line with prior expectations. But you can still gain trust by being congruent, by having transparent intentions and by being relevant. The same is true for the other way around: you might achieve great results, but when people doubt your congruence and intent, trust might still be minimal.” 

Four questions 

“The beauty of these four pillars is that during your working day you can always ask yourself four questions:

  • Am I congruent?
  • What is my true intent?
  • Am I relevant?
  • What is the track record I am building? 

When aspiring a c-suite role, answering these four questions helps you to decide whether you believe you are credible and up for the job, or whether you still need to develop yourself before making the final jump.” 

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