Building Trust, One Marble at a Time

Trust, in the most basic sense, is placing confidence in another person, and in return, them placing confidence in you.

In Brené Brown’s novel Daring Greatly, she shares a story of her young daughter losing trust in her best friends and her subsequent decision to never trust anyone again. Brené uses the analogy of a marble jar to help her daughter understand how trust is built. As people share stories about themselves, marbles are added to their trust jar. The more stories they share, and the deeper those stories are, the more marbles you are able to add to their jar. It is easy to trust someone whose jar is overflowing.


It is important to note the aspect of reciprocity, as oftentimes this isn’t necessarily the case in today’s society. Trust either is given very freely, or oftentimes, not at all. It would be simple to state that I can’t trust someone if they haven’t filled up their jar of marbles, but if someone were looking to share something meaningful and difficult with me and the marble jar they have for me is empty, it’s natural for there to be a lack of reciprocal trust.

Why is this important in leadership?

Trust in our culture is declining. Research shows that even in 2009 only 49% of employees trusted their senior management, and only 28% believed CEOs were a credible source of information. With financial difficulties in our economy and turmoil in the political world, people are putting less and less trust in those who hold positions of power. In discussing leadership, oftentimes our conversations ask whether or not it is necessary to have followers in order to be a leader. If your answer is that you do in fact need followers of some sort, then finding ways to develop trust with those individuals is critical, particularly in today’s society.

As a leader looking to build trust, here are a few tips to work towards adding marbles to others’ jars: hold yourself accountable and prove your reliability; be clear and honest in your communications, but make sure to hold in confidence that which should not be shared publicly; choose what’s right over what’s comfortable – practice your values, not just profess your values; and come at situations with a non-judgmental and open mind. As stated before, trust is about give and take over a period of time. Be comfortable with being patient. Give a little to get a little. If you are brave, generous, and honest in your actions, people will start to trust you in return. It’s the small steps that will get you there.

Trust is not some big, monumental, life-altering action. Trust is a jar of marbles. What are you doing to fill other people’s jars?


Emily Pearson, Outdoor Leadership Programs Graduate Assistant, Higher Education and Student Affairs master’s program ’17