by Carol Anderson, Featured Contributor
I trust you because you have shown me over time that you can be trusted. At one point, you betray my trust. Do I dip into my “trust bank” and give you the benefit of the doubt, or does that event drill a big hole in my trust bucket for the past trust to leak through?
My recent post on trust sparked some really good conversation. One thread went like this….trust takes a long time to build….trust can be lost quickly….however you can “bank” trust over time so no one event completely destroys the trust. I’ve been thinking about that one, and posed it to my husband who said it was too early on a Saturday morning to think that deep.
One commenter talked about how he “trusted until shown otherwise” – starting out with the assumption of trust. Another said “trust is like virginity”…I guess meaning once it’s gone, it’s gone. I even learned that there is an organization devoted to building “Trust Across America,” – an amazingly worthy and daunting cause, given the current state of trust in organizations today.
What strikes me about all of this is that apparently issues of trust are not black and white. There are shades of grey. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
If you are my boss and I have learned over several years that I can trust you (so you have a “trust bank” with me), and you lie to me about something that materially impacts me – say a promised promotion – how much does that deplete the “trust bank?” I suppose that it could depend upon why the lie was told. If I found that my boss had promised a promotion to me, but was coerced into giving it to someone else by senior leadership, I would probably be more inclined to forgive him.
But here’s where the shades of grey bother me. Trust is more than what you say, it is what you do and how you are able to honor commitments. In the above situation, the boss apparently does not have the authority to make the decision, so I may forgive him because of the situation, but I no longer trust the system, and he represents the system so I no longer trust him.
Or do I? In my earlier post on trust, I described my former boss of 20 years, and why I trusted him. One element of trust was the fact that he was authentic; he wore his values on his sleeve. There were times when he was overruled by the system, and that could have damaged trust.
But he exhibited a balance of authenticity – he remained true to his values, he explained the “systemic” reasons that were different, but he never put the system down. He never laid blame, and he always took accountability. He wasn’t afraid to apologize.
Still musing, I wonder if some of the “grey” that bothers me is the complexity of organizational systems today, and why trust seems so elusive. We throw leaders into positions of authority without clear parameters and expect them to do the right thing while trying to juggle everything coming at them. We write policies about how they should behave and expect them to know and follow them. And their senior leaders have had no more grounding or guidance in their early leadership days, so they model what they know which may or may not fit the culture and policies.
I started this post talking about a “trust bank” and the shades of grey that were concerning to me. And in terms of the “trust bank,” I wonder if loss of trust is situational. If the trust is simple – between you and me – you lie to me, you lose my trust. If there are mitigating or contributing factors, it may not be so black and white.
In organizations, perhaps this issue of trust is one that leaders and leadership teams need to grapple with and dissect. It doesn’t seem simple, given the complexity of today’s organizations, but it is up to leadership to create and maintain a trustworthy system, as well as trustworthy leaders.