Episode 126: The Hidden Pillar of Trust—Expertise

The 90th Percentile: An Unconventional Leadership Pocast

Published: November 21, 2023


There is a leadership behavior that ignites a lot of conversation. It is trust. Many people have observational theories and experiences that influence their views on how trust is earned and maintained. At Zenger Folkman, we wanted to strip away all of the emotions and biases and purely analyze what the data says about trust. Which leaders have it? How does it influence their work? And what behaviors affect it the most? In this episode, we explore the influence of expertise and good judgment that comes with it.

The Trifecta of Trust— Kindle Version
The Trifecta of Trust— Audiobook Version

Key Learnings

Here are some key learnings from the podcast:

  1. The Significance of Expertise in Trust: Joe Folkman emphasizes that among various leadership competencies, expertise stands out as a crucial pillar of trust. His research, first published in the Harvard Business Review, underlines the unexpected yet significant role of expertise in building trust.
  2. The Importance of Judgement and Experience: A historical example is given, where Stanislav Petrov’s judgement and experience prevented a potential nuclear disaster. This story illustrates how expertise, coupled with good judgement, is essential for trust, especially in high-stakes situations.
  3. Expertise Beyond Personal Knowledge: Folkman notes that it’s not necessary to know everything. Instead, a willingness to showcase and rely on the expertise of others is just as important. This approach helps in building trust even if an individual’s own expertise is limited.

Four Key Behaviors to Enhance Trust through Expertise:

  1. Being a Role Model: Demonstrating reliability and fostering a culture of trust and knowledge sharing. Example: Satya Nadella’s transformation of Microsoft’s culture.
  2. Anticipating Problems: The ability to foresee and plan for potential issues. Example: DoorDash’s strategy to focus on gamers for market retention.
  3. Connecting Work to a Vision: Understanding how tasks fit into the larger organizational goals. Example: KitKat’s tailored strategy for the Japanese market.
  4. Keeping Others Informed: Ensuring transparent and regular communication to build a collaborative and trusting team dynamic. Example: Buffer’s radical transparency approach.

Trust in Experts: Folkman concludes by reiterating the natural human tendency to trust experts, especially in complex situations. The integration of the four behaviors mentioned above not only enhances individual expertise but also contributes to a more trusting and effective work environment.

Connect with Joe Folkman


Zenger Folkman hosts an exclusive live webinar every month, where you can meet Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman and talk about their latest leadership development research. Find out more information and register here.


The Trifecta of Trust—Book by Joe Folkman
Buffer Transparency Case Study
Kit Kat In Japan