Is trust really a must? What’s all the fuss about? Why is the notion of trust so integral to the THINKspiration approach?

Who do you really trust? Why? And who trusts you? How have you earned this trust? Have you ever trusted someone, and later regretted it? No doubt like me you have experienced the exhilaration of being trusted. It’s the ultimate currency or commodity of progress - at home and at work. As a parent, few things compare with the thrill and privilege (and responsibility!) of maintaining the trust of my children. I will always go the distance to maintain it. Conversely, with my background in counselling, I have regularly experienced the angst of watching two sincere, wonderful people miss each other completely due to the spectre of mistrust. It’s tangible. And costly. It drains the life from conversations and clouds even the most carefully chosen words with suspicion.


Work environments (or even work ‘seasons’ or time periods) characterized by low trust are prohibitive in so many ways. Team cohesion and collaboration is diminished, vulnerability disappears, and engagement plummets. Loss in productivity is inevitable and others are blamed. Everyone feels it, and everyone pays. However, work environments and work seasons of high trust are a different animal. There is optimism, accountability, and a commitment to make things happen - no matter the cost. Physical and creative energy are poured into productivity, and problems or mistakes are quickly resolved. High-trust organisations unquestionably outperform those with low levels of trust. People ‘get’ each other and love being part of the team. Sound familiar? I think Stephen Covey’s book title “The Speed of Trust” rings true. He introduces an interesting equation, saying that if you extend trust to someone, their response is an increase in trust towards you. However, if they sense that you are reluctant to trust them, their response is not just a withholding of trust, but an increase in mistrust. Night and day, right?

Trust levels in relationships, homes and organisations aren’t a given. They tend to ebb and flow based on experiences over time. Trust is not necessarily visible, but it’s distinctly quantifiable! If the trust barometer is low in one of these spheres of my life, I probably can’t turn it around overnight. I need to re-earn, (and re-extend) trust, by seizing opportunities – again and again – to cultivate it. And here’s the kicker: as with so many other leadership competencies - it is ludicrous to expect it from others if I am not practising it myself first. To quote Covey: “You may not be able to control everything, but you can influence certain things. Trust starts with you.”

The foundation of trust for me is authenticity: it’s an inside job. If I know that I am not being real, I can be pretty sure that you know I am not being real! Furthermore, if my words are not congruent with my feelings, I am more likely to be feeling suspicious about you too: crazy but true! It’s always worth the personal inner work required to achieve genuineness in how I interact with others. Am I consistent in what I stand for? Do those around me know what I really want and why?

The next building blocks of trust for me are consistent behaviour and communication. I am so aware that people believe what I do more than they believe what I ‘spin.’ Covey introduces 13 trust-building behaviours, among them: clear communication, transparency, giving of credit, clarifying of expectations, listening, and the keeping of commitments. Ouch! This means that in our workplaces, genuineness and vulnerability should be a given. Intent and expectations should be communicated in an unambiguous manner; and time should be invested to hear and acknowledge feedback from colleagues and subordinates. Rules, regulations and compliance measures should never be issued without respectfully providing context, and rationale. In fact, as Tracey Swanepoel articulates in “The Leadership Riptide and How to Escape” - where possible, compliance should indeed give way to trust!

Trust (or the lack thereof) profoundly influence every relationship and sphere of our lives. There is far too much at stake for us to be lukewarm in our attitudes and actions toward extending and earning it. As Warren Buffet once said: “Trust is like the air we breathe, we don’t notice it until it’s gone.”

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