Trust – How You Can Build it and How I Erode it



Last week, I offered an exercise for your consideration in the form of two questions: What is it that you are/do that seems to engender trust in others? And what is it that you are/do that may diminish the trust that others have in you. I’ll share my thoughts with you about my sense of my own self. I’m just gonna talk about my trust diminishing behavior.

I know I am not always seen as trustworthy. By that, I mean that there is a gap between what people expect – including the expectations I explicitly and implicitly put out there – and what I deliver. Trust is formed in this zone of behavior, and of perception. When trust is lacking, it’s as if people have to walk gingerly. They don’t know what’s secure, whether they’ll crash through the ice, or hit some hidden obstacle. Things slow and become tentative. And here’s the main way that I think people are uncertain around me and get hesitant. My follow-through is just not always there.

It’s hard to admit this in front of 11,000 readers. But it’s true. Sometimes I stretch myself too thin. I get excited about too many ideas and too many projects. Or I over-commit to people, and leave somebody in the lurch, holding the bag. They bust their tail on something, but find out I lost interest in it, changed direction without telling them, or just have not finished my part. The result, as you can imagine, is that people get frustrated; they get tentative; and they don’t work as hard, because they’re not sure their work matters. Or, they quit on me, because I’ve lost credibility.

Kent Lineback and Linda Hill write about trust in their new book Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader. They argue persuasively that people trust their bosses based on two things: competence and character. I think those two actually meet when it comes to trust. For instance, as I become more competent as a professional, I try to manage my tendency to over-extend myself and stay clear about my projects, commitments, and deadlines. And as I become more competent, I hope I can be trusted more. And it’s also a character issue: when I over-commit and don’t follow through, I let people down. At such times, I am out of integrity, functionally dishonest. I’m not trying to deceive, but my failure to be realistic has the effect that I do deceive people. If I see the character side and pursue integrity, I become more trustworthy.

One more note while I’m in the trust confessional. As with many things, my shadow side connects to my bright and gifted side. For it is the gifts of my deep love for others, and my love for new ideas (along with an inflated ego that would have me be all things for all people) that gets me in trouble, and sets me up to be unreliable.

So, if you want to build your own trustworthiness, focus on your competence at delivering, and focus on your character, in particular your total honesty with others. And if you think you’ve got those covered, I recommend that you look at your strengths and see what happens when you (inevitably) overplay them. Perhaps you’ll find your gifts and shadow in one of these descriptions:

  • Someone gifted with decisiveness, might not hear all the objections and thus be less trusted by those who felt unheard.
  • Someone who is gifted with rational precision may appear untrustworthy to more feeling types.
  • Someone who has the great talent of attending to every detail might be perceived with great suspicion by someone who feels the vision is getting lost.
  • Someone who takes time with every customer no matter what, may be considered untrustworthy by his fellow workers who are left to pick up the slack.
  • A boss who takes great care not to offend, may leave things so vague that others are totally unsure what path she wants them to take.

If we want to lead – with or without authority – it behooves us to know how we build – and often unwittingly – erode trust. For trust is essential to

Lead with your best self.


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