As I prepare to lead a workshop with a Top 100 CPA Firm next week entitled, “I Trust You (Sort Of).  Do You Trust Me?”, I’m asking myself:  Why are we talking about trust?  Is this simply the latest business “fad” or a concept that deserves our serious attention? 

In our work helping CPA and IT firms achieve success, we have observed that trust is the critical success factor in high performing and successful organizations, and fundamental to achieving sustained success in business and life. We have concluded that something of such central and enduring importance must be studied and better understood.

Any serious study of trust will start with Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, in which he states, “Simply put, trust means confidence.  The opposite of trust – distrust – is suspicion.”  Mr. Covey’s intensive study of trust concludes that the lack of trust has a serious economic impact, because without trust everything takes longer and costs more.  The lack of trust is like an additional tax burden on the organization, while an increased trust level is like a dividend.

Most encouraging are Mr. Covey’s “13 Behaviors,” which if seriously studied and practiced can build and restore trust where it is absent or lacking. The 13 Behaviors include: talk straight, demonstrate respect, create transparency, right wrongs, show loyalty, deliver results, get better, confront reality, clarify expectations, practice accountability, listen first, keep commitments and extend trust.

Each of these trust building behaviors is important and deserves deeper study, discussion and comparison.  However, since I’m writing a blog I will be selective and take a “deeper dive” on only one --  “extend trust.” 

It seems intuitive that extending trust to others will encourage them to reciprocate and extend trust to you.  When you trust another person, it draws out the best in them and inspires them to greater performance.  As American statesman, Henry Stimson, said, “The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.”

There is risk in trusting another person, because they might take advantage of you or let you down.  But there is also risk in not trusting them. As a leader, if you don’t trust your people how can you expect them to trust you? The downside of “withholding trust” is the loss of enthusiasm, engagement and collaboration which, if fostered instead, will drive a high performance culture in your organization.

In The Speed of Trust, Mr. Covey cautions against extending two types of counterfeit trust.  The first is “false trust,” which gives people responsibility without the authority or resources to accomplish the assignment. The second is “fake trust” – acting like you trust someone when you really don’t.  Fake trust shows up when you “hover” over the person, or take the assignment back and do it yourself.

So how do you extend trust in a way that is “real” and results in trust dividends – enthusiasm, engagement and collaboration –  yet manages the risk the person will not respond in the positive way you expect?  Mr. Covey calls this extending “Smart Trust” which combines both good business judgment and good “people” judgment.   When working with a person the first time –

  • You may need to extend trust in a way that allows you to test their competence to handle the assignment (confront reality)
  •  In defining the assignment, be sure to include clear measures of success or specifics on the deliverables expected, by-when dates, and a reasonable “return and report” structure (clarify expectations)
  • Express your desire and intention to trust and empower them more fully in future assignments, by confirming your judgment about their capabilities in handling the first assignment (talk straight)

As a final inspiration on the behavior of extending trust, I’ll close with the words of American educator, writer,  and political leader, Booker T. Washington, who observed that, “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him [or her].”

We will continue to help our clients succeed by building high trust organizations.  In the meantime, if you have ideas or experiences on this subject, please post them so others can benefit.  Thank you!

Best regards,


P.S. – Trust is an important topic for us at ConvergenceCoaching LLC. To continue learning, please read what my colleague, Sylvia Lane, had to say about trust in her blog Building Trust - What It Really Takes.