By Stuart R. Levine
Published In, Forbes

Developing trust is a critical component of business success.  Its role in your personal achievement, your team’s ability to get results and your organization’s progress cannot be underestimated.  Trust, however, is very fragile and can be undermined quickly through behaviors and actions that do not reflect your values. Nothing strengthens your brand more than acting consistently and with integrity.  Your name is your brand in the marketplace and you trade on it every day.  It’s absolutely essential to your career and your organization’s success.

In order to be successful, others need to be able to have confidence in you and your ability to deliver on your brand.  However, your reputation cannot only be damaged by a single serious misstep, but by a series of small errors that erode your reputation over time. Through the following clear examples, you will see the impact of actions that you might be overlooking that are restricting your income, limiting your team’s success and inhibiting your company’s long-term sustainability.  These may seem obvious, but how many times do you encounter someone in the business world who does not follow these fundamental rules and thus loses your respect.

1. Earn Trust By Telling The Truth

You earn trust through your behaviors and actions. John Keats said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”  If you say you volunteer at an organization, you better actually be volunteering and not have worked at an event two years ago. When you commit to confidentiality, understand the consequences of failing to deliver. Share with people what’s on your mind, but keep things airtight.  Be clear about your lanes and don’t share information that is not appropriate for distribution.  One of the quickest ways to get colleagues to lose trust in you and destroy your reputation is to break personal and organizational confidentiality.  Your words and your actions are your honor and they create your reputation and build trust.  Hold them dear.  They are earned one day at a time over a lifetime. Trust is earned, not demanded.

2. Always Act Ethically

It goes without saying that you should never lie, cheat or steal.  However it is shocking how many do such things in corporate America.  Don’t violate company policy.  Submit only legitimate business expenses on your expense reports.  Make personal calls on your own time and send personal packages on your own dime.  Use your computer for company business and not for on-line shopping.  You will build your credibility when you behave ethically.  While interviewing a woman for a $1M job on one of our client’s company helicopters, she proceeded to dump all the candy provided for guests into her pocketbook saying she was going to bring it home for her children.  That one action disqualified her in my mind for any job position, ever.

3. Treat Others With Respect

There are many ways to reach someone and responding in a timely manner underscores the value of respect.  If a matter is important, don’t say it’s important and then not make the connection.  It reflects poorly upon your ability to decipher what’s important and close the loop effectively.  In today’s world of electronic communication and constant connectivity, there are expectations among professionals for predictable and timely responses. If you don’t follow up on important matters, your word is not respected and therefore you are not trusted.

4. Prepare

Preparation takes work.  Far too many people “wing it” today due to a lack of time or caring.  Slick improvisation can’t replace clear, concise communication that occurs when you are organized and prepared. For example, I recently attended a roundtable on Executive Compensation and Corporate Governance at the Harvard Law School.  You don’t go in there and fly by the seat of your pants.  Harvard took the responsibility seriously by providing 30 different articles on proxy access and CEO compensation in advance.  All participants had an opportunity to read and digest the materials in preparation for the meeting. I felt a responsibility to read them and think about the issues in advance, so that I could share focused insights and perspectives.

5. Share Only Relevant Information

Your word is your brand and you earn trust through your words. When you speak, know what you are talking about. Do your research and speak from a position of authority.  Share examples that have meaning to people.  Don’t pretend to know about something you really don’t know.  You will lose the trust of the smart people around you and once you lose it, it’s gone.