The chicken versus egg of trust

Trust-Falling-BackwardsTrust is unquestionably the foundation upon which great relationships are built.  This is true of any relationship including those we develop at work.  As Stephen Covey said “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Without trust, the potential to have a positive influence on the development and success of other people is dramatically undermined.  The simple truth is that the extent to which we are able to influence the thoughts, feelings and actions of other people comes down to the extent to which they are willing to let us.  When trust is low the window of opportunity to influence is narrow if not altogether closed.

While the importance of earning trust is commonly understood, the need to give trust is less often spoken about.  Our willingness to give people a go, give them the benefit of the doubt and allow them to earn our trust is as important to the success of our relationships as being trusted.  Of course it remains important that people earn our trust, but unless we are willing to give it, our relationships will be broken

As Chinese philosopher and poet Lao Tzu put it “He who does not trust enough, Will not be trusted.”  Having faith in our team is what allows us to delegate roles and responsibilities with confidence.  Trusting other people is what allows us to be open to their point of view and shifting our own perspective when we need to.  Our trust in someone’s character and competence determines the extent to which they are able to influence our own thoughts, feelings and actions.

I was inspired to write this blog while working a few weeks ago with Bob the CEO of a struggling business.  Like many of the leaders we work with, the tough times Bob has faced have given him good reason not to trust. Over the last couple of years Bob has had endless challenges with senior leaders who have brought neither the character nor competence needed to succeed.  There has been a steady procession of leaders come and go, each of them leaving Bob feeling more and more disillusioned.

The problem is Bob’s inability to trust is standing in the way of turning his struggling business around.  We are working together to restructure his business and rebuild his senior leadership team however Bob is sive about the roles he needs let alone the right person for each.  Despite his hesitations and fears however unless Bob remains open to new people and approaches our efforts will fail.

Micro managementBob is far from alone; it is common for me to work with leaders who struggle to trust and in doing so undermine the success of their own team or business.  Micro management, indecisiveness, guardedness and skepticism are among the attitudes and behaviours I most often see holding leaders back from building great teams. If you are struggling to trust, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it the person’s character or competence that concerns you? Or is it both?
  • Do you have evidence to support your concerns or are you making unfounded assumptions?
  • Is your judgment clouded by past experiences of which you have no evidence will be repeated?
  • What indicators should you be looking for that will give you comfort someone can be trusted?
  • To what extent, if any, is your ego or emotional intelligence playing in your ability to trust?
  • What steps can you take to safeguard against risks that are holding you back from trusting?


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