You want to be a leader who thrives. You can't thrive if people don't trust you.

While I'm in the trust business - and have been for 25 years - I'm not alone in placing a premium on trust. Harvard Business Review recently released results from its unprecedented 10-year leadership study. What did it find to be the #1 thing holding back second-best executives?

The inability to forge and maintain trusting relationships.

So, what's it really take to build trust - and sustain it?

I've talked with over a million people about what makes their leaders trustworthy. And, analyzed decades of data from statistically reliable and valid 360 trust assessments.

Here's what I know for certain.

If you as a leader want the most 'bang for your buck' to strengthen trust in your relationships, focus on these seven things first:

Ask what you can give.

Leadership's not about you. Stop focusing on the skills you need. The gaps in your knowledge. Your missing credential.

Your people are over there right now, bucking at the bit, waiting to set the world on fire.

Get in the trenches and help them. Take off your jacket. Roll up your sleeves. Ask what you can give.

Intense emotions get stirred when people are authentically supported to achieve their life's work. One of those emotions is trust.

Another is love.

Facilitate breakthrough conversations.

Help your people catch themselves.

Tune in to misalignment and mixed signals. Untangle situations where people are working at cross-purposes. Help unearth misconceptions and untested assumptions. Support people to gain clarity and course correct.

No one wants to waste their time and energy. Build trust through helping people conserve their most precious resources.

Let people know what they can count on.

No one actually expects you to have all the answers. Or, for things to stay the same as they always were. Change is the new norm and it's hard. There will be false starts and wrong turns. People know these things and for the most part accept them. What they don't accept?

Not knowing what's going on. Not understanding what's expected of them. Not being certain that you're in it, with them, whatever it brings.

Let your people know where things stand and what they can count on from you.

Provide whole person feedback.

Your poorest performer has poignant gifts to bring. Your highest performer has unproductive habits to address.

They both deserve your gratitude and acknowledgement for what they've contributed.

Use feedback to give your people gifts. Ground them in their value and help them see their ripest opportunities. Instead of wielding feedback as a weapon, use it to genuinely support steps forward.

Will everyone be willing do 'the work?' You won't know unless you offer the opportunity. For those who are willing, you'll become their trusted source of inspiration.

Draw the line against gossip.

Gossip is the most commonly practiced behavior in organizations. It's also the number one killer of trust. Calculus says you've got a leverage point here.

Draw the line against gossip. Don't participate in it. Don't let it slide. Don't consider it 'business as usual.' Listen for its root causes and step into the vulnerability. Help people learn to talk with - instead of about - one another when they have issues and concerns.

Forge safety in your workplace. People trust leaders who make it safe to stretch and make mistakes without fearing the brunt of office gossip.

Speaking of mistakes...embrace yours!

I've learned there are key trust building leaders feel they practice far more often than they actually do. #1 among those behaviors?

Admitting their own mistakes.

When was the last time you embraced a mistake as a ready-made opportunity to build trust? How did you leverage it - share it - for others' benefit?

Know thyself.

Trust is built behaviorally. Your best intentions aren't enough. You've got to back up those intentions with how you show up.

It's not surprising the most trustworthy leaders are acutely self-aware.

There's a joke I love to tell about self-awareness. It's about a guy who lost his keys outside a restaurant at night.

So, the guy spent an hour searching for the keys under a lamppost. Finally, the manager of the restaurant came out and asked him if he needed help.

'Yes,' the man said. 'I lost my keys, and I can't find them.'

'Did you lose them here, under this lamppost?'

'No. But this is the only place I can see.'

My advice? Step away from the lamppost.You've already covered that ground. It's time to search out your blind spot.

Your deepest deficit can be redirected to become the most trustworthy aspect of your leadership.

Yes, it takes courage.

But I promise I'll keep a light on for you.

Published on: Jul 20, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.