You’re Thinking About Trust All Wrong (Here’s How To Correct That)

You’re Thinking About Trust All Wrong (Here’s How To Correct That)

Author: Bruce Weinstein

Trust may be the most commonly used word in corporate values statements. It’s great that companies are increasingly recognizing the value of trust, but there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what trust is. Let’s take a closer look.

Why Trust Is So Important

“Trust, not money, is the currency of business and life,” says David Horsager, CEO of the Trust Edge Leadership Institute.“Everything of value is built on trust, from financial systems to relationships.”

It is in a business’s interest to take trust seriously. Trust is valuable for how it strengthens valued relationships, and it’s the key to financial success. Ignoring its supreme importance, as Horsager notes, is self-defeating.

Trust Is Not A Value

One of the most common mistakes I see when I look at a company’s values statement is that trust is listed as one value among many. This is how many businesses express their values on their websites and in their codes of conduct for employees:

Our company is founded on the following core values:

1.     Honesty

2.     Accountability

3.     Courage

4.     Fairness

5.     Trust

This is fine, as far is it goes, which is not far enough.

That’s because trust is not a singular value. If I hire you to be one of the trainers in my company, it’s because I trust you. The reason I trust you is that you have demonstrated you care deeply about the truth, you keep your promises, you consider the consequences of your actions, you take responsibility for your mistakes, and you stand up to injustice.

In other words, my trust in you is based on your honesty, accountability, courage, and fairness. Trust is an umbrella concept. It encompasses the crucial qualities of high-character leadership, including the four just mentioned.

A Better Way To Talk About Trust

If I were consulting with a company that wrote a values statement like the one above, I would suggest the following revision:

We take the trust that clients place in us seriously. That’s why we hire and promote only those people who are:

1.     Honest: they care deeply about the truth

2.     Accountable: they keep their promises, and they take responsibility for all they do

3.     Courageous: they stand up for what is right

4.     Fair: they treat everyone with respect and give to others their due

Companies whose employees and managers do these four things consistently earn the trust of their clients, and deservedly so.

A Simple Way To Promote Trustworthiness In Your Team: Ask “How?”

David Horsager makes a compelling case that clarity is an essential component of trust. “People trust the clear and mistrust the ambiguous,” he writes in The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line. A straightforward way to gain clarity in your team members, David notes, is to ask “How?” when a member proposes a solution to a problem.

“The answer to the ‘how’ question’ should be something that the team member is prepared to put in place today or tomorrow,” David told me. “It has to be immediately actionable.”

For example, David talks about how he struggled for a long time with losing weight. Over and over he promised himself to change his eating habits, but it never worked out.

Using the “How?” approach turned things around for him. It wasn’t enough for him to say, “I’m going to take in fewer calories.” That’s too vague. How did he plan to do that?  “I’ll be more mindful of what I eat and drink,” he thought. Nope, still unclear.

It was only when he came up with a specific and actionable proposition that he began to notice results: “I’m not going to drink any calories.” He didn’t consume much alcohol to begin with, but a zero-tolerance policy on drinking calories meant no more sugary sodas or even fruit juice.

That, and a few other actionable items led to his losing 52 pounds in five-and-a-half months.

David notes that he isn’t a weight-loss expert and that what happened to him can’t be generalized. But what is broadly applicable is his idea that if you’re going to earn people’s trust, you have to be clear about what you’re promising and what steps you’ll take to make that happen.

“Without a clear plan, employees are confused and become ineffective,” David says. “Without a clear product choice, prospects won’t buy. A clear vision unifies and motivates. ”

David Horsager’s TedXUMN talk, “What’s Trust Got To Do With It?”

Bruce Weinstein is the CEO of the New York-based Institute for High-Character Leadership. Through the Institute’s high-content and engaging training programs for C-suite executives, hiring managers, and employers, Bruce and his team inspire people to do the right thing every time, everywhere. More information about Bruce and his services can be found at or he can be reached at 646.649.4501. 

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