Building Higher Trust 17 Table stakes

April 16, 2021

Table StakesMy model for building Trust starts out with a group of leadership behaviors that I call “Table Stakes.” The name comes from the gambling industry. When you play poker in Las Vegas, you do not get dealt a hand unless you have the “ante” in the pot.

I believe the same kind of thing happens when leaders attempt to build trust. There is a set of behaviors that a leader must practice without fail or there is simply no chance to build trust. They are not even in the game. These behaviors I call “Table Stakes.”

Let’s look at some of the table stakes. Recognize this is only a partial list and that for different industries or different circumstances the table stakes may vary somewhat.

Be Open

A leader must believe in and practice behaviors of open communications. This does not mean absolute transparency, since there are situations where transparency is illegal, immoral, unkind, or just plain dumb. A general tendency to share what is possible to share and not withhold information is required to build trust.

Be Honest

People need to believe in what a leader says to earn their trust. This is why so few politicians garner high trust. Some politicians manufacture “facts” to suit their current purpose. We have become so used to our leaders lying to us, often in the face of ironclad proof, that the collective trust in these leaders is nonexistent.

Without integrity, a leader has no chance to create or maintain trust.

Be Ethical

If a leader does underhanded things to get out of tough spots, then trust will quickly be extinguished. Most people have a good nose to smell out unethical behavior. Once a leader is proven to have done something unethical, it is impossible to generate trust. The leader is locked out of the game for a very long time.

Honor Commitments

This is to simply not be duplicitous. Leaders who “talk the talk” but don’t “walk the walk” are simply shut out of the trust quest.

Some leaders pretend to communicate but really fail to keep their people in the know. They may make a lot of noise or talk a lot, but real communication means getting messages into the hearts of people. Communication is not a head game; it is a gut game.

Be Consistent

Leaders who are unpredictable and inconsistent have little chance to build high trust. People believe these leaders are just playing games with them. They be amused or frightened at times, but real trust will be lacking.

These are just six examples of leader behavior that constitute the table stakes required to build trust. In the next article I will share the second category of behaviors which I call “Enabling Actions.”

Bonus video

Here is a brief video about Trust and Table Stakes

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations

Trust Table Stakes

October 3, 2015

There are many models for improved leadership that are very complex. My “Leadergrow Trust Model” is simple.

It has only three parts.



  1. Table Stakes,
  2.  Enabling Actions, and
  3.  Reinforcing Candor.

I will tackle “Table Stakes” in this article. I’ll cover the other two in subsequent weeks.

In Las Vegas, if you play poker, you do not get dealt a hand unless you have an “ante” in the pot. You need some minimum investment before you can even play the game.

The same phenomenon happens in leadership. You must be able to have some minimum characteristics before you can even begin to build trust as a leader.

For example, if you are not honest, it disqualifies you from building trust as a leader. Likewise, if you cannot communicate, be open, care about people, honor your commitments, be consistent, and other minimum standards of leadership behavior, you have no chance of building trust, and you’re basically locked out of the game.

You might as well take off the uniform and hit the showers.

The “Table Stakes” are really prerequisites and act as the foundation upon which leaders build trust. “Table Stakes” are necessary, but not sufficient, to create trust.

Without the foundation, trust is impossible.

When I work with organizations, we discuss what the “Table Stakes” are for that particular group, because they may be different for different industries. For example, in a hospital setting the table stakes may be somewhat different from those in a manufacturing environment.

Each group should spend a few minutes creating a short list of example table stake behaviors for leaders in their organization.

The “Table Stakes” for a particular group may be difficult to discern. For example, what are the “Table Stakes” for political candidates where exaggeration, sensationalism, and rhetoric seem to be the expected behavior these days?

Exercise for you today. Spend some time thinking about the table stakes for your environment. As you lead your organization, what minimum standards of behavior are needed in order to have any chance of building trust within your group? Write down a list of the table stakes you identify and review it with your group to see what additional items they would recommend.

Naturally the next important step is to evaluate whether you actually abide by the “Table Stakes” at all times. This exercise is more difficult, because you must be brutally honest with yourself; no rationalizations. That is a tall order for any leader due to the immense pressure for performance on a continual basis.

If downplaying the impact of a customer issue creates a more favorable impression with the Board of Directors, does not the end justify the means? The answer is no; a lie is a lie.

Be careful when you create your list of “Table Stakes,” because these will be the standards by which you measure your worthiness as a leader. The expectation is simple; “Table Stakes” must be adhered to 100% of the time or you lose the ability to build trust.

The concept of having “Table Stakes” for leaders is a simple one, but it is very important to recognize this and identify what those minimum standards are. Without them, there is no basis or foundation for building trust.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to