Sunday, January 29, 2012

How Does One Define Trust at Work?

Akram Boutros and Claire Joseph mention that “the root cause of most failed personal and business relationships is the inability to build, maintain and recover trust. A cohesive team working in an environment of reciprocal trust is paramount to success during times of extreme change. When people trust their leaders, they willingly get on board with a strategy, thereby harnessing tremendous speed and agility to help navigate times of great change,” (p.38).

They go on to remind us that trust is a product of choice: one chooses to entrust another with something important. Trust is visceral and is reinforced by shared experiences over time, kept promises and understanding of the motives underlying sacrifices. We must not confuse trust with credibility. Credibility is an intellectual attribute that is based on past performance.

Yet in the business arena is ‘trust’ a subject that is spoken about openly or is it simply assumed that people do or don’t trust each other – having a macro impact of the culture of the organisation. I mean, has any one ever asked you in your organisation; ‘do you trust me?’ and if they did, what would your answer be.

Robert Solomon and Fernando Flores, in their seminal book Building Trust in Business, Politics, Relationships and Life, advance the concept that “distrust is not so much the opposite, as it is the other side of trust. They go on to differentiate basic, simple, blind, and conditional trust from “authentic trust.” Where authentic trust contemplates distrust and moves beyond it, sometimes in a steady march and at other times through leaps of faith.

Patrick Lencioni, in Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable states that in his opinion trust is the basis of the remaining four attributes of effective teams (engagement, commitment, accountability and focus). Trust leads to engagement, which he defines as “the productive ideological conflict that has as its only purpose the attainment of the best possible solutions in the shortest possible time.”

What’s genuine about authentic trust is that it has a built-in reservoir that tolerates mistakes and setbacks without diminution of trust. Consequently, authentic trust will bounce back of its own accord, making it a precious insurance policy against loss of trust.

Yet how often is this true in your organisation; where there are these ‘built-in reservoirs that tolerate mistakes and setbacks without diminution of trust’; as this is one of the key factors that distinguishes the good from the bad organisations.

Boutros and Joseph highlight how recovering trust requires three separate actions that when combined act as a restorative intercession that can heal the relationship. They are:
1. Sincere apologies
2. Permitting the affected person to influence you
3. Fulfilling the promise

In his book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Dr. Stephen Covey writes, “the power of choice means that we are not merely a product of our past or our genes; we are not a product of how other people treat us. They unquestionably influence us, but they do not determine us. We are self-determining through our choices. If we have given away our present to the past, do we need to give away our future also?”

So as Boutros and Joseph mention that “one must be mindful that, as with a house, trust must be carefully built, lovingly maintained and steadfastly renovated as needed.” So trust needs to incorporate three major elements - it must be:
1. Built on a strong foundation
2. Deliberately planned
3. Structurally reinforced

Though we must ask ourselves in today’s society, whether trust is a dying ‘art form’, where maybe the majority of people prefer to actively ‘distrust’ rather than trust and in this scenario we should consider the impact this has on our own potential for real success and the potential success of the organisation.

But even in the 21st century we should remember that “trust is the most basic and essential element of both personal and business success. It requires courage, determination and sacrifice. It is optimistic, full of promise, fair and supportive. It helps us negotiate troubled waters and beseeches us to build lasting relationships. It helps us to value each other as individual humans, not as components of a large machine,” (Boutros and Joseph, 2007, p.41).

As Solomon and Flores concluded, “to survive and thrive, we must count on each other and find leaders to follow. Like it or not, we are all in the process of creating a new way of life, and no one knows just what it will be. That is the domain of leadership, authentic trust, and history making,” (Boutros and Joseph, 2007, p.41).


Boutros, A, and Joseph, C.B. (2007). Building, Maintaining and Recovering Trust: A Core Leadership Competency. The Physician Executive, Jan:Feb, p.38 -41.

Covey, Stephen R. The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. New York: Free Press, 2004.

Lencioni, Patrick M. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.

Solomon, R.C. and Flores, F. Building Trust in Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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