Trust isn’t just an idea; it’s a feeling down deep in us.
Trust is not some philosophical construct or a business strategy, but the measure of what people feel about us and our organizations.
In our interactions with people, it is an early warning system, alerting us to something being not quite right. It is that gut “feel” that we just can’t quite place that tells us to be a bit more skeptical.
Trust is the mission-critical measure of our life and work.
Without trust, nothing is sustainable; things begin to fail.
The simplest measure of trust that’s been told to me is, “You are a man of your word.” It means that our words and actions align, and trust becomes the measure of our competence to do what we say will do.
Trust is that feeling of confidence down deep within us that says yes or no to commitment, investment, vulnerability, and risk.
Do we measure trust more by its absence than by some tangible measure? Who would you list as a person or organization that is trustworthy? What criteria do you use to determine trustworthiness?
Measuring trust is more a relational art than it is a science.
Forbes 100 Most Trustworthy Companies list focuses on financial criteria, therefore is limited in scope. CNN/Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For is also inadequate. These lists represent the fragmentation of understanding of what it takes for a company, or for that matter, a person, to elicit trust.
That feeling of trust is an intuitive measure. We know more than we can say, and never fully prove that which we know. This awareness is what scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi calls tacit knowledge. It is the sense of something that comes from practice, like typing on a keyboard, riding a bike, or interacting with people. Our determination to trust comes from the millions of interactions that we have over our lifetime that gives us a sense of knowing when to trust and when not to do so.
It is for this reason that trust is slow to build and so easy to destroy.
4 Things Trust is Not
Trust is NOT something written on a piece of paper. You may have a trust account at the bank. You don’t place your trust in the document that is your trust agreement. You trust the people who are your bankers that they are honest and competent to handle your money.
Trust is about relationships.
Trust is NOT something one person can command another to give. We’ve all seen politicians or business leaders on television claim that they are trustworthy. I can’t help but think of Richard Nixon telling the American public, “I am not a crook.” Words and actions must align to be trusted.
Trust can’t be delegated either. It resides with the person regardless of their place within the organization.
Trust is the gift that we give in response to the character of a person.
Trust is NOT something that can be bought or sold. Trust can only be earned or squandered. Trust is hard to develop, harder to sustain, and easy to lose. It is more precious than anything money can buy.
It is priceless and is never possessed by the person who owns it. Hear that! Our trustworthiness is held by others, not by us. Therefore, it is fragile and relational.
Trust is an investment of respect and confidence in another person or organization.
3 Qualities that Create Trustworthiness
I’m not sure we adequately know what it means to be a trustworthy person. I’ve thought a lot about this over the years. So many of the leadership projects that I’ve done have had to address issues of trust.
Why is it that so many governing boards fail to understand that how they function, make decisions and communicate those decisions determine to their constituents whether they can be trusted?
We approach ethics similarly. It is about how to avoid embarrassment and illegality, rather than how to create strength and trust. It is a denial of ultimate responsibility. Only when we take that responsibility do we create the trust that matters.
I have identified three qualities or characteristics of people that create trustworthiness. They are Integrity, Openness, and Love.
Integrity. Integrity is what we have when we live each day with honesty, respect for others and a clear sense of our values and purpose in our life and work.
Integrity is what we see in people who are not fragmented by doubt or fear or a lack of self-knowledge. Instead, we see these people as strong, rather than arrogant, humble rather than weak, committed rather than ambitious.
Integrity functions in our relationships by respecting boundaries. By boundaries, I mean that we don’t find ourselves caught in situations where someone can manipulate us into doing something that goes against our values or principles. We can say no, knowing that we might lose an opportunity that we’ve longed for. Yet, in doing so, we preserve our self-respect and rise to see another day.
Often it is the “NO” decisions that determine our trustworthiness. When we are willing to sacrifice our own gratification to maintain our values, then we are becoming persons of integrity.
We don’t trust people who lack integrity. We are scared of them because they are not dependable.
For me, integrity is more important than any other value. Or rather without it, all other values are mere words. To preserve and strengthen my integrity means that I cannot live or work for the approval of others, and that I must be quite clear about what success means.
Openness is our willingness to listen, to be vulnerable, transparent, and try new ways of doing things.
Openness. Openness is freedom to be who we need to be in the moment. This isn’t the opposite of integrity, it is how integrity finds its place of strength and impact in our lives. A person of integrity who is closed remains untrustworthy because we see their integrity as self-serving and rigid, rather than as a strength.
Without openness, we get resistance and push back. We find people closed to us, shut off, hard to reach, and difficult to deal with. It is difficult to trust people who always must have things their way.
“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
Openness is the willingness to be vulnerable and engaged with the people and situations that we encounter socially and organizationally each day. When this openness joins with integrity, we find not only strength but a connection with people that truly matters. It is in that connection that trust is born, and where we learn how to be trustworthy.
Love. Love overcomes all sorts of obstacles to trust. But, what is love?
The ancient Greeks had four different words for love.
- Phileo – friendship
- Storge – affection
- Eros – embodied, sexual
- Agape – selfless, unconditional love
We live in such a fragmented world, our view of love is just this fragmented. These are not four loves, but four aspects of love. Meaning that we are not truly loving, except when all four of these loves are aligned.
How can we have friendship without affection? Erotic love that is only sexual is selfish and unsatisfying. It is embodied love, involving all of our physical being, touching all our five senses, which brings us to the fullness of the world in which live and work. These three loves can be fragmented, missing or corrupted. It is Agape, the self-less, unconditional love that creates an environment for the other three to find their fulfillment.
This love is not just about relationships. It is a holistic passion for our life and work. It is a love that is big enough to engage people to join us on our journey.
If I know what you are passionate about; what you’re committed to with your whole heart and life; what causes that you are willing to make a personal investment in to make a difference; then, I know almost all I need to know about you. I know what you believe in, what you hope for, and what you’ll give yourself to create that matters. From there we can form a relationship of integrity and openness that allows our shared passion to create the impact that we both seek to make.
Expressing yourself this way, with freedom and passion, with hope and determination, with a commitment to creating impact in your life and work, to be a person of integrity, you are laying yourself open to both criticism but also trust.
Trust Defines Leadership and Authenticity
Trust comes with the price of responsibility. It is a mantle of leadership to be trusted. Even if you are at mid-level in your organization, and you are trusted. You are trusted to lead.
Leadership in this sense is not a title or a role. It is our character, the performance of our attitude and behaviors in relation to other people in the social and organizational contexts of life and work. It is the alignment of our actions with our words.
Many people shrink away from such a responsibility. That is sad. Mostly because down deep inside of us is the desire to be trusted, to be appreciated and to make a difference in our lives and work.
What holds us back is the fear of shame and vulnerability that Brene’ Brown addresses. The whole shame thing that Brene’ Brown describes is really my issue. Shame, for me, is looking poorly prepared, without an answer, or just damn ineffective; or, it is looking out of touch, insensitive or just plain inadequate. As a result, I work on too many fronts to stay ahead of the learning curve and end up not being as impactful as I desire.
This behavior leads to weariness and a growing awareness that I can’t be a walking Wikipedia. I could be Brene’ Brown’s poster boy.
Being Vulnerable to be Trustworthy
To be trustworthy is not to be perfect or having it all together. It is to be real and authentic, out which the characteristics of integrity, openness and love flow.
If trust is an issue in your business, consider that the solution begins with you. It is not something you fix and move on. It is learning to be a trustworthy person each day. The place to start is with openness and vulnerability. Out of that learning experience, love and integrity will grow.
Ultimately, the desire to be a trustworthy person must become more important than the fear and the resistance that keeps us from making the changes that matter.