Building Your Strategic Partnership with the Trust Triangle

For visionary leaders and growth-minded, business-savvy Force Multipliers, a strategic partnership is the Holy Grail. There is no hierarchical, superior/subordinate relationship here, just a purely powerful partnership where together, both individuals achieve more.

What is a strategic partnership?

A strategic partnership is a mutually beneficial relationship where both parties are working towards a common goal. The ideal strategic partnership is a business relationship where each party is dedicating their time and resources to the partnership, rooted in their strengths. For leaders and Force Multipliers, this means that they are business partners and they need each other to survive and thrive! Furthermore, each party is accountable for their contribution and deliverables. In a strategic partnership, there is exceptionally clear and consistent communication, as well as mutual respect and trust. Check out this post to learn how to build a strategic partnership with your assistant.

You can see now why a strategic partnership is such a highly sought-after business relationship for both leaders and their right hands, right? Great Force Multipliers want to work with a leader who is going to challenge them, trust them, and treat them as equals. (First, find out are you working with the right leader?) Great leaders want to work with an EA or Chief of Staff who is also going to challenge them, trust them, and work with them to achieve something bigger than they could have achieved on their own.

The Trust Triangle

One barrier to this partnership that we are going to explore today is trust. Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. Trust is an integral ingredient in a strategic partnership and when building leadership capital. Trust means that you do what you say you are going to do, it means that you show up as your authentic self and you allow others to do the same.

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “Begin with Trust” by Frances X. Frei and Anne Morriss, “… trust has three core drivers: authenticity, logic, and empathy. People tend to trust you when they believe they are interacting with the real you (authenticity), when they have faith in your judgment and competence (logic), and when they feel that you care about them (empathy). When trust is lost, it can almost always be traced back to a breakdown in one of these three drivers.”

Build Your Strategic Partnership with the Trust Triangle

These three drivers make up the Trust Triangle. As a Force Multiplier in a strategic partnership, it isn’t just about whether or not I trust my leader, it’s equally important that I show up as someone my leader can trust. Trust is a two-way street. Let’s dive into each point on the Trust Triangle.


I experience the real you. AND, I am showing you the real me.

There is no doubt that there can be a risk in showing up as the real you at work. Not all environments foster a safe space where you can bring your whole, unique self to work. However, if that is an important part of the culture you want to work in, it is worth taking the time and effort to find a business (and leader) that will foster that type of environment. Now, more than ever, I think that people are craving authenticity in their lives. They want to be the real them at home and at the office. And they want to work with a leader (or team member) who isn’t afraid to do the same.

I believe that the primary reason people do not practice authenticity is that they are afraid of the outcome. They are afraid of saying the wrong thing, looking ignorant, being judged, being disliked, being fired, being seen as a fraud, (insert other fears here), etc. It is scary not to know how someone may react or what their perception of you might be. But the conversations, connection, and fulfillment you receive when you can let go of the outcome and just be you is worth it.

It may take time, but when you can find this level of authenticity in your strategic partnership, you will be unstoppable. Read more about having tough, authentic conversations.


I believe you care about me and my success. AND, I care about you and your success.

This might be the most important component of the trust triangle for leaders and Force Multipliers. When you are working as closely together as this pair does, you can not be apathetic to each other’s feelings or needs. It just won’t work for long if you don’t actually care about each other and about each other’s success. Sure, you may show it in different ways, but you’re still empathetic towards each other. For example, I show I care about Adam by making sure I do my job well and ensure he has the space, clarity, and information he needs to lead our organization. Adam shows me that he cares by helping me prioritize and leverage my work, and supporting my growth both personally and professionally.

A strategic partnership can not survive without mutual empathy.


I know you can do it; your reasoning and judgment are sound. AND, I can do it; I will show you that my reasoning and judgment are sound.

Logic is a bit easier to measure than empathy and authenticity. The effects of poor judgment are more tangible and often have real consequences on the business or on the partnership. This is also where we can point to whether or not the leader or Force Multiplier are actually good at their jobs. Can they do the work required of them in their roles? For a leader, this means casting the vision, providing clarity, removing roadblocks, and exhibiting strong and resolute decision-making skills, even in the midst of uncertainty. For Force Multipliers, this means confidently providing leverage for your leader and working with them to accomplish their agenda for their position and the organization. Leaders want a strategic partner who is going to be confident, resourceful, smart, and discerning, and ultimately who will just get the job done. In turn, Force Multipliers want a leader who will have their back, teach them how to be a great leader, and who leads with authenticity, empathy, and integrity.

In a leader/Force Multiplier strategic partnership, we’re really talking about one high-impact role, that simply takes two people, focused on their strengths, to get it done. They have to be able to rely on each other to be competent in their roles and to pull their own weight for the strategic partnership to thrive.

When Trust is Lost

When there is a breakdown in one of these three components, trust falters and can be lost. In the HBR article, authors Frei and Morriss, call this the “trust wobble.” Think back to a time where you lost trust in your leader or your leader lost trust in you. Can you pinpoint which area of the triangle you wobbled in? Perhaps you failed to speak up on a matter that was important to your values (authenticity), maybe your leader made a quick decision without sufficiently weighing the consequences (logic), or your leader threw you under the bus at a board meeting (empathy).

In the past, I have wobbled in all three of these areas. However, logic tends to be the strongest part of my triangle, while Adam excels with authenticity. I have had to flex my empathy muscle from time to time, less with Adam, and more so with other members of our team – especially when logic wants to take over.

Like with any area in which you want to see growth and change, awareness is the first step. If you can identify your trust wobbles, then you can get to work rebuilding trust with your strategic partner or other relationships.

Building Trust in Your Strategic Partnership

Because you can only control yourself, building back trust or even just building trust in general, comes down to working on yourself. If you trust yourself and are a trustworthy individual, it opens up space for others to be authentic, logical, and empathetic too.

What about you? Where do you tend to wobble? Do you trust your leader or Force Multiplier? Are you a trustworthy individual? How can you use this information to build more trust with your leader or Force Multiplier?

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