Thoughts about trust 1

This is the first of a series of blogs about trust. Just like most of us, I imagine, I have always considered trust to be a concept with a clear meaning: I thought I knew what it signified in general, and what it meant to me on a personal level. However, over the last couple of months I have become increasingly aware of how much more there is to discover about the topic of trust. It all started with the development of Pengaruh, our new management game (Pengaruh flyer and article), which enables leaders to learn more about what makes others trust them, and what makes them trust others. In recent decades, a great deal has been written about trust in professional and leadership relationships. For example, already in 2000, David Maister et al  identified 4 key components of trustworthiness in their "Trust Equation" – credibility, reliability, intimacy and (the absence of) self-orientation ( Based on this, they described a 5 step 'trust building process'. Their thinking has been quite influential, especially in the area of professional consultancy. Some years later, Stephen Covey added his 13 behaviours/competences that trustworthy leaders have in common ( What both authors added particularly to our understanding of trust is that it is not merely a 'fluffy' concept that is impossible to manage and only relates to the human personality. Instead, both stressed that trust is an essential component in business relations, and that the consequences of possessing or not possessing trust can be quantified in hard currency. Also, according to Maister et al and Covey, trustworthiness is behavioural and can be learned, and is not limited to soft skills, but is definitely also driven by hard skills, such as competence.

However, in the years that followed after these and other insights were published, leaders did not behave in a more trustworthy manner – to say the least – and this behaviour tended to go unnoticed until quite late in the process, when the damage had already been done. This raises an interesting question: how did they manage to deceive everyone in their environment, to make people believe they were trustworthy? Maybe they paid close attention to the words of Covey and Maister et al and knew exactly what behaviours would make them at least appear trustworthy. Do we really see through fake behaviour all the time? I recently spoke on the subject to someone, who said "I actually hate it when people keep saying my name to make me trust them or even like them, but somehow it also works for me on another level that I can’t quite put my finger on".

In "The Speed of Trust", Covey argues that trusting others saves a lot of time, and therefore money. Indeed, by relying on simply trusting the companies they acquired, Imtech did not invest much in building reporting systems to integrate them securely into the holding company. At first, this sparked an incredibly fast rate of growth, but we now know what it finally led to.

Yes, being trustworthy is about behaviour and competence, but being trusted is something else. We usually decide quite quickly whether we trust someone or not, even when we have not yet observed any behaviour to back up our first impressions. While the ways in which we build first impressions have been researched thoroughly, we still do not know that much about how we update our initial impressions when we are confronted with new, and possibly inconsistent data. In the light of the recent trust crisis regarding leadership, I would say that knowledge of how this works seems to be highly relevant. This will be one of the topics I intend to write about.

Another interesting trust-related topic is: what do we generally focus on in leadership development when it comes to trust and trustworthiness? Or rather: how do companies deal with trust regarding their leaders?

I hope this post (and the resulting smart comments from my readers) will produce some additional insights into what I consider a fascinating area!

By: Carine Metselaar

Date: 2:40 pm on September 8th, 2014

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