One of the fastest ways to restore trust is to make and keep committments-even very small committments-to ourselves and to others – Steven M.R.Covey

Trust is something we all want to have in others and hope that others have in us. We want people to trust us, to trust our word and to trust our actions. Our whole reputation with others (and with ourselves) hinges on whether or not we are trustworthy and whether people see as someone they can trust.

Trust is also a rare commodity in today’s world of “me first”.  Priorities get skewed and such things as accountability and commitment fall way below on the scale of what is important “now”.  People say one thing while not really meaning what they say or have no plans to stick by what they say. They make empty promises in order to purchase peace and avoid confrontation or having to resolve issues.  These kinds of attitudes erode confidence and relationships, both personally and professionally.

Steven Covey’s book The Speed of Trust has as its subtitle: The One Thing that Changes Everything. Right away, we can see how crucial this quality of trust is. Without trust, there is no foundation and nothing of any significance can happen. Without trust, there is backbiting, fear, mistrust, abuse and much more.  No business or personal relationship can flourish without it.

What Are the Enemies of Trust?

Never interrupt ypur enemy when he is making  mistake – Napoleaon Bonoparte

The Harvard Business Review article entitled Enemies of Trust (February 2003) listed the following “enemies” to trust. They are in a business context, but could just as easily be applied to other environments as well.

Messaging that Is Incomplete

Expectations are built up and then changes in plans are made. The initial message may anticipation and excitement and then the canceling or the project or plans creates mistrust. Participants have less belief in the person or organization.

 Standards that Are Inconsistent

In an organization, some people are held to looser standards than others. Some are permitted to “bend” the rules where others are expected to toe the line. This situation breeds an environment of bitterness and jealousy. People resent this favoritism. When the standards are not clear or inconsistent, no one knows where they stand.

Tolerance of Subpar Behavior

This weakness is a failure to confront negative behaviors and attitudes within an organization such as stealing, “cutting corners, cheating, and abusive behavior. Also, laziness and incompetence are not dealt with which leads to resentment in employees who do work hard and are professional in what they do. This tolerance of negative behavior fails to hold people accountable for their actions and lack of commitment to the organization.

Dishonest Feedback

Giving false feedback on employee performance not only is dishonest to the employee in question regarding his performance, but it also undermines the value of the other employees who may be performing well. They see that performance does not matter at the end of the day. Failing to give accurate feedback is simply failing to have the courage, to be honest.

Lack of Trust 

This situation is the classic weakness of the micromanager who believes that if he or she doesn’t do it, it won’t get done or it won’t be done right. There is too much managing and not enough delegating and freeing people up to grow. The micromanager does not trust others to do a good job and this, of course, will not give people the space to grow professionally and personally.

Ignoring the Elephant In the Room

This is the well-worn avoidance routine. Everyone knows the situation exists; it is there but no one will discuss it. The tendency is to pretend that a difficult or painful problem will just disappear if it is ignored.  This situation leaves everyone walking on eggshells, so to speak because no one wants to be the one to bring up the subject out of fear of what people will say.


When specific and important information is not given regarding such things as changes to happen, new projects or directions, rumors begin to circulate. Everyone wants to know what is happening and everyone knows someone who has “inside information”.  Like the classic telephone game, tidbits of information get twisted and distorted. Rumors fly around without any solid evidence as to what is true.

Core Values

Author Gus Lee, in his book Courage (2006), talks about core values (low core values, middle core values, and high core values) as being foundational for our actions, decisions, and relationships.

Low Core Values

Low core values are common habits, things we do without too much reflection (favoritism, gossip, control, cliques, etc.)

Middle Core Values

Middle core values are considered “best business” practices ( ethics, teamwork, customer service, education, respect, etc.)

High Core Values

High core values go above and beyond the other two. these are: courage, integrity, and character

It is these high core values or rather the absence of them that is responsible for the Enemies of trust listed above.  If they are present, there will be no avoidance of issues; transparency and clarity will be the rule. There will be standards set and standards respected. With these three values, performance will be valued and incompetence and negative behaviors will not be tolerated. Everyone will know exactly where they stand.

In his book, Gus Lee illustrates that there are good practices such as good ethics, honesty, and morals. He places these qualities on one side of a river (p. 118) called FEAR. On the other side of the river, Fear, are the noble qualities of courage, integrity, and character. It is these latter qualities that bring an organization from good to great. These qualities are the framework for establishing a Trust environment.

What Is in the River of Fear and on the Banks?

The river of Fear is a river filled with feelings and emotions. It is filled with rumors and speculation. It is filled with past failures and fear of what will happen. The river of Fear immobilizes, paralyzes people within organizations and problems grow and fester.

On one side of the river, it is safe. Gus Lee illustrates that on this side we can be “good people” – we don’t do what is wrong, we are honest, we don’t cheat or steal. We follow the rules, but we will not take a stand on anything or risk our reputation.

On the other side of the river, courage boldly stands for values and does not play favorites. Courage is not afraid to confront whenever necessary and courage will stop what is wrong in himself and in others. Integrity will act for what is right in spite of the risks (what others will say or do) and discerns right from wrong. Character will sustain integrity and courage even in the face of opposition.

All three of these: Courage, integrity, and character have crossed over their feelings and fears. They have not listened to rumors and got straight to the issues to correct them. The three of them can be wrapped up into one: character.

The Solution is Character

In each case of the Enemies of Trust, the missing element of the puzzle is the character (integrity + courage). Each situational case highlights a weakness in character resulting in the failure to establish clear standards and carry through with them.

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are – Coach John Wooden

The first thing for any leader is to inspire trust – Doug Conant CEO Campbell soup Company

So why does character matter? Stephen Covey wrote in The Speed of Trust,

“Trust is a function of two things: character and competence. Character includes integrity, your motive, your intent with people. competence includes your capabilities, your skills, your results, your track record. Both are vital”.

Crucial Behaviors to Establish Trust


Courage…. willingly sacrificing personal gains to advance one’s highest principals – Orrin Woodward (Resolved)

Exhibiting courage means doing things or making decisions, even when it is uncomfortable to do so and even when the stakes and emotions are high. It means having the courage to speak up, to say the right thing or having the courage to bite your tongue and listen. Courage can mean standing firm and not taking offense when it is easy to do so. It can also mean having the courage to expose our vulnerability and the courage to pick up and try again. It can mean apologizing and forgiving.

Having courage means to be human and authentic willing to take the risks and do what is right.


Communication leads to commnity, that is to understanding, intamacy and mutual valuing – Rollo May

Learn to communicate with honor for everyone regardless and to value each one no matter how you may feel. Even if they are opposed to you on every account, even if they are polar opposites, be ethical. supportive and encouraging (Gus Lee).

Be clear and consistent with all communication. Make sure that everyone is on board in terms of understanding. There is no place for passive-aggressive communication patterns such as the silent treatment, gossiping and spreading of rumors. Communication should keep all the lines open and be transparent.

Crucial conversations are necessary and should not be avoided. We can’t leave the elephant standing in the room. When problems are not addressed in a clear and forthright manner, misunderstandings happen and the problems are allowed to continue.

A Have-Your-Back Attitude

Most good relationships are built on mutual trust and respect – Mona sutphen

An adversarial environment benefits no one. In any organization, everyone is on the same team and should be willing to stand up for each other and support them. If there are problems, disagreements or negative attitudes, these need to go from the bottom to the top of the organization quickly so that they can be dealt with at an organizational level.

There is no room for individual ego games, only team spirit. Individual egos get in the way of progress and community. Everyone wins when everyone is playing on the same team. Support and encouragement rather than backbiting and gossip will build a healthy environment.


One of the greatest difficulties as you rise up through an organization is that your prior competencies are exploded and broken by the new territory you’ve been promoted into: human identity – David Whyte

People will only trust and follow someone who does what they say they will do and has a proven track record of results. They will not trust or follow someone who says “do this”, but doesn’t do or hasn’t done it himself. They are not interested in lip service. When a leader of an organization at any level inspires people with confidence, it is because his results convey that he is able to get a job done.

An incompetent individual will, more than likely, ask others to do what he can not do and expect them to produce results. Not only does this incompetence not inspire trust, but it is also dishonest. Incompetency reveals character weaknesses such as avoidance, lack of clarity, lack of vision and lack of integrity.

The Three Acts of Courageous Leadership

In his book, Courage (2006), Gus Lee lists three acts of courageous leadership, all of which are crucial to building trust in an organization (pages 125-143)

1. Honoring and Respecting All Persons

He calls it UPR or unconditional positive respect. What does it look like?

  • Being wholly and positively present with the other person
  • Correct and respectful body language
  • Careful, respectful. thoughtful listening

2. Encouraging and Supporting Others

  • Be relational and approving
  • Reinforce the positive
  • Affirm others
  • Be there in good and bad times

3. Challenging Wrongs

  • Stops wrongs in oneself and challenge wrongs in others
  • Discern right from wrong
  • Act for what is right regardless of risk
  • Follow through so that wrongs are not repeated

The Takeaway

Trust is very complex, as we have seen. It is at the core of many organizational problems highlighted by its absence. It is not just a matter of people trusting this person and not trusting the other one. There are components of trust and it has to be earned. Without solid character (integrity and courage), without a genuine desire to see people grow and inspire them, there can be no trust in the organization. The result will be all the negative behaviors and attitudes that bring about internal conflicts, absenteeism, and people leaving.

I hope that this information has been helpful to you. Please leave a comment below.

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Diana Lynne’s passions are family, travel, self-improvement, living a debt-free/financially free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and being with her dog Skye. You can connect with her through