Yesterday, I wrote about how great leaders walk the higher road of integrity when making any and all decisions because they have character -- a non-negotiable requirement for anyone wearing the badge of "leadership."

Seems logical to operate within this principle, right? Truth is, it's rare commodity and in short supple, nowadays. Without character as your internal GPS system navigating you through life, you're going to eventually fail. Ask Martin Winterkorn, former chief executive of Volkswagen.

But here's where character does its best work. It gives you an undisputed competitive advantage that is the secret weapon of great leaders: trust

Why trust matters

Does it matter? You decide. In low trust organizations, you'll find high employee turnover, customer churn, slow speed of execution and increased costs for getting things done.

Many of the exit interview reports I've seen you can trace resignations back to an employee's low trust level. This is costly, as replacing an employee can cost upwards of 2 or 3 times their annual salary, depending on the position.

Traditional management can no longer depend on positional authority alone to get things done at the cost of losing their people. Work environments are now flatter, decentralized, dispersed, and virtual. In today's social economy, business challenges call for higher levels of innovation, collaboration, knowledge and, yes, soft skills -- the stuff that develops trust!

Here's why trust is so important, then I'll hop off my soap box and give you some practical tools. When leaders operate from unquestionable character and integrity, they gain the trust of their people faster. Employees, peers, and stakeholders see them as dependable and accountable for their actions. Charles Green, Forbes contributor, writes, "Leaders can no longer trust in power; instead they rely on the power of trust."

What it truly takes to develop trust

Sorry, no magic pill here, as trust comes from the long and winding journey of character development first -- doing things right and doing the right thing. Over and over again. But if you're genuinely seeking growth, I'll leave you with a starter's kit for learning to build the power of trust.

1. Empathy leads to trust

Several studies have already determined that empathy drives performance. Great leaders who meet the needs of others before their own attempt to understand and empathize with others--to put themselves in others' shoes. This means listening without judgment. As empathetic leaders, workers are considered not only as employees, but as people who need respect and appreciation for their personal and professional development. This builds immense trust. 

2. Listening to feedback leads to trust.

Many leaders don't want to listen to ideas, opinions, and constructive feedback from others about their own leadership. For such leaders, cutting themselves off means that they operate in an ego-system, not an ecosystem. A leader who listens well, on the other hand, is open and accountable; they respond appropriately to serve the needs of others; they probe and ask questions until they get clarification; and they listen to understand--with a focus on the future, not on a rehash of the past. This generates trust at high speed.

3. Being willing to give up positional authority and power leads to trust.

You will find that many successful leaders give up power and entrust it to their team. They do this because they are confident in their team's ability, since trust is freely given as a gift even before it's earned. By giving up their power and pushing their authority down, they empower others to own decisions, thus creating a proactive leader-leader culture of success, rather than a reactive leader-follower culture.