The Value of Trust

| | Personal Leadership

42-15136909When we don’t trust the people we work for, it can be very difficult to lead.  When trust is lacking we are more likely to try to figure out what “they” want and how we can play it safe than we are to speak up, step up or stand up in any noticeable way.

When we don’t trust our peers we are likely to build a virtual fortress around our particular silo of responsibilities.  Once again the focus is on protecting ourselves and our turf.

When trust is lacking, fear is present.

Protection is the typical strategy for dealing with people and situations in which our trust is weak. We may not even feel particularly afraid.  In fact the better we are at protecting ourselves, our people and/or our turf we may just experience an illusion of safety rather than the fear that is pressing on us to take protective action.  We may even experience the satisfaction of winning every time our protective maneuvers pay off.

Consider the real value of trust, however, is not ultimately that we feel safe to be where we are.

Effectively protecting ourselves from those we don’t trust can create the same effect, except in this circumstance fear is driving us to mitigate the perceived risks.  I use the qualifier “perceived” because whether real or imagined, the feeling of fear is very real.

The real value of being able to trust others is this:  trust creates a condition in which you are more likely to choose to face your fear to do something that matters even if it does scare you.

Mistrust puts our focus on mitigating risks.  Trust fortifies our courage to risk leading the way.

I was reminded recently of this when I had to choose whether to back down on an issue or continue to press on the the face of the resistance of someone with whom I was working.  I could have chosen keeping the peace over ensuring my concerns were fully addressed.

Everything inside of me wanted to back down and take the path of least resistance to keep everyone happy.  Yet it was because I trust this person and believe they trust me that the discomfort of the moment was less important than the achieving the best possible outcome.  It was difficult.  It was uncomfortable.  There were moments when I felt frustrated.

It was even a little scary since I seem to have been wired from a young age to keep the peace.  To this day challenging someone for any reason feels uncomfortable.  So far there is no amount of trust in anyone that has ever changed the way it feels for me.  The degree of trust, however, makes the difference in just how willing I am to press on to forward my commitments despite the discomfort.

I also had to choose to trust myself. I had to make sure in the process I was being trustworthy.

In this case it meant I had to check in with myself a few times along the way to make sure I was keeping my attention on doing what was best for the team rather than reacting when I was triggered or getting caught up in the all too human need to being right.

There were a lot of times along the way in this exchange where it didn’t feel very good.  There is a myth that when we work with people we trust it is always going to be easy and comfortable.

That may be true if we want to stay right where we are, but if we aspire to anything together there will be times we put our trust to the test.

And every time we do and we succeed, our foundation of trust grows that much stronger and ensures we will be ready for the next even bigger test.  Of course, sometimes we may fail.  In the wake of that failure we may have misunderstandings.  It may take some honest conversations to reestablish trust.  Yet this is not an indication that trust is permanently lost or broken, but rather an indication that we have more work to do to build the foundation of trust necessary to fulfill on our aspirations.

When we know someone has our back we are more likely to speak up, step up, and stand up for something that matters to us.

We are more likely to challenge the status quo for the sake a future possibility.   When we are surrounded by people we trust we actually believe the future we want is possible and that our willingness to take a risk serves more than just ourselves.

When we choose to trust the people around us, we are willing to risk feeling uncomfortable for the sake of a higher purpose.

What about you: Do you have sufficient trust in your relationships to face your fears for the sake of doing something remarkable?


Enter A Comment

Dion Johnson   |   07 November 2011   |   Reply

Wow Susan, This is another brilliant article and has struck a very personal chord in me. In the short time I have been reading your blog I have come to realise that I have arrived at a point in my life that requires me to stand up and step boldly into my role as leader:-)

In answer to your question; Do you have sufficient trust in your relationships to face your fears for the sake of doing something remarkable? I have to say that I have come to realise that I cannot trust that people won’t ever hurt me in some way, or that I will never hurt others, no matter how honorable our intentions.

However, I have become steadfast in the belief that Love works! Love is worth trusting in and love is worth suffering, persevering and contending for. And no matter what scrapes, no matter the challenges that presents as we work and live together, Love will always provide the way forward.

My relationship with Love really is where my focus is and what I’m trusting in and I’m honestly blown away by the impact this developing trust is having on my ability to press towards my dreams and visions while being authentic and honest in relationships .

Susan Mazza   |   07 November 2011   |   Reply

Thank you Dion!

Beautiful insight. Love most definitely works, and is perhaps the best foundation of all for building trust.

Gwyn Teatro   |   07 November 2011   |   Reply

Trust is something I think we all talk about and often blog about too. What strikes me as different about your post, Susan is that it points out just how much time and effort it takes to create safety when we fail to trust either ourselves, or others. The feeling I have now is that trust frees us dare. It opens up a whole big chunk of possibility. It also tells me that I have more work to do.
Thank you for your wisdom.

Susan Mazza   |   08 November 2011   |   Reply

I love how you said this Gwyn – “Trust frees us to dare”

Choosing to mindfully build trust and be trustworthy in the end takes a lot less time than the alternative as you point out.

Jay Forte   |   08 November 2011   |   Reply

Susan, Great thoughts. It answered something that has been nagging me for weeks. I am working with a client in a long term relationship. I have been wondering why I feel so uneasy most days with this client – only to realize that I don’t trust key management. Inconsistent and “convenient” messages have both their team and me always wondering what is coming next. Daily events are a struggle because employees keep watching over their shoulder. I see what I need to do – to coach this management to rebuild trust, become more consistent and more honest. Tough, strong personalities but they are unintentionally making their days more difficult than they need to be and alienating some very talented employees. Your post was so right on and so timely. Thank you.

Susan Mazza   |   08 November 2011   |   Reply

Thanks for sharing your experience Jay. Glad this was timely for you. As you point out the cost is high when trust is broken and it is usually unintentional. When we are “the” leader however, our intentions unfortunately don’t really matter – it is the interpretations of our intentions that we need to pay attention to and be responsible for.

They are lucky you are there to help take the blinders off!

Sonia Di Maulo   |   09 November 2011   |   Reply

Hi Susan,

Brilliant article. Creating safe environments is often my default position and mitigating risks and taking the easy route is part of my upbringing too. I love your use of the word courage. It’s exactly what is required to have rich meaningful conversations that are focused on people (and not process). Your experience and shared learnings are extremely relevant which is why you have received the incredible comments above.

I believe that creating a safe environment is a step towards creating the trust that is required to have these tough conversations. You mentioned that the trust was already established (in your story) and yet the conversation was still very difficult. Imagine if there was no trust, like in Jay’s situation.

How do you establish the trust needed to have a respectful conversation that cultivates collaboration towards successful outcomes? I continually challenge myself, my peers, and clients to have courage and to work at establishing trust. And am grateful to have you as a peer to learn and share in this incredibly important topic.


Susan Mazza   |   09 November 2011   |   Reply

Thanks so much Sonia for your kind words and for sharing your rich insights.

I agree with you that unless there is some level of safety in the relationship for difficult conversations to succeed. Responded to your great question in a separate comment.

Dion Johnson   |   09 November 2011   |   Reply

I’ve been thinking about this whole trust thing so much, and I too have been asking the question that Sonia has just raised “How do you establish the trust needed to have a respectful conversation that cultivates collaboration towards successful outcomes”?

Here is what I wrote in my journal about the challeges that I am facing as a result of mistrust.

Nov 7th 2011
[These people] need to know that I care about them, that I am not attacking them with my counter comments and suggestions. They need to hear me saying loud and clear, “We’re on the same side, I want what you want, my motives are pure.”
Has this been the message I am communicating? Definitely think so, at least I hope so. I have to search my own heart first and foremost. I guess this has to start with me.
I need to continue to find real ways to communicate this message and my motives in word and deed.
I’m going to stay committed to actively making significant meaningful contribution to [the mission]. I am going to work on my own trust issues; increase my own capacity to choose my response to defensive behaviour. I intend to respond to their mistrust of me with understanding and patience, not more defensiveness or passive retreat and grumbling.

I will remember that I love these people, I love myself and that I believe that we can achieve what we have set out to achieve. I also know that my contribution is an equally important element of our progress so I will continue to have courage in my conviction and a steadfast committment to press on.

Thanks for your comments everyone, Fab food for thought. This is the stuff that growth and progress is made of:-)

Susan Mazza   |   09 November 2011   |   Reply

Thanks so much for sharing and engaging her Dion. This is becoming a very rich conversation! What you describe in your journal entry is a wonderful context to think and act from in both building and repairing trust. Until someone knows you care, they won’t care very much about what you have to say.

I responded more fully to both you and Sonia in a separate comment.

Susan Mazza   |   09 November 2011   |   Reply

Thanks for the great question Sonia and your follow on to that question Dion: “How do you establish the trust needed to have a respectful conversation that cultivates collaboration towards successful outcomes?”

I believe the essential building blocks of creating trusting relationships are a shared commitment and clearly negotiated agreements. Our assessments about trust of another are based on how well they lived up to their agreements with us. However, those agreements are all too often not agreements at all, but rather expectations. By learning to make our agreements with each other explicit we create a clear foundation for those courageous conversations to be successful when we or others fail to honor those agreements. The kind of trust we are talking about cannot be created based on natural affinity. it must be mindfully created and begins with establishing our shared commitments. We execute on those commitments via our agreements.

This belief is why I created The Art of Accountability because it provides an essential yet often missing framework for establishing shared commitments and negotiating agreements. Without a foundation for establishing accountable relationships trust is at best built on the fragile and inherently limiting foundation of natural affinity, in other words whether I like you or not, feel comfortable with you, etc.

Interested in your thoughts on my response…

Susan Mazza Murnane   |   14 November 2011   |   Reply

I found your article extremely interesting and timely with my job. I found your web site, ironically by seeing if I typed my name in what would appear and you came up. I enjoyed your article. I do have to say that fear can also be justified. I have a few players in senior management that there is a reason I do not trust them. Unfortunately not everyone has the same agenda which is where the fear begins. With that said, I still found the article quite useful for in the past some peers were difficult to deal with because they were so against my views that I did not engage them, but with the right attitude it could prove to be far more useful to myself and the company that I work for.

Susan Mazza   |   14 November 2011   |   Reply

Funny how you found me! Glad your name guided you here 🙂

There is no doubt that the fear can be justified. It is understandable for people to feel fear when they are challenging the status quo, especially one that is being protected by someone who has power over them in some way. There are a lot of very good and justifiable reasons not to put trust to the test. To take the risk you have to want change bad enough. For most of us the future we want has to be more compelling than whatever is happening now or our reasons will too easily squash our willingness to take the risk.

Thanks for stopping by Susan. I hope to see you here again!

Susan Mazza Murnane   |   14 November 2011   |   Reply

It did not give me a chance to edit my response, I am sorry for so many typos.

Susan Mazza   |   14 November 2011   |   Reply

It happens. I corrected them for you. Thanks again for your comment.

Dan Oestreich   |   15 November 2011   |   Reply

What I like most about this post is your emphasis on trust as a choice. In my coaching and training work, I often find people talking about trust as simply a matter of reaction. In doing so, I believe, we inadvertently reduce our own power. For myself, the language is about “reaching out” to create trust — words that also emphasize the capacity to take action. For some reason this helps me de-emphasize the need for enormous amounts of uphill courage. Perhaps it is that we know something about that process of reaching out to be of help or to serve some goal larger than ourselves, and this makes the “trustworthy” part easier. Thanks for this fine piece of work!

Susan Mazza   |   15 November 2011   |   Reply

Fantastic Dan! You make many excellent points here.

I’ll pick up on one of them in particular. There is a tendency to treat trust as a “matter of reaction” rather than choice – well said. In doing so we both give away our own power and dis-empower others.

Thanks for building on the conversation and for your kind words!

  • The Value of Trust | digitalNow | Scoop.it 20 December 2011, 20 December 2011

    […] jQuery("#errors*").hide(); window.location= data.themeInternalUrl; } }); } randomactsofleadership.com – December 18, 1:57 […]