Trust Matters – Be Careful What They Trust You For

Trust Matters – Be Careful What They Trust You For


One of my two partners asked me, “How did your program go?” She was inquiring about the year-long leadership course I had kicked off the day before with thirty school principals. Her tone was unusually serious.

“Great,” I said. “They’re a super group, and the team (I had assembled to present) was excellent.”

“That’s great,” my other partner piped in. He asked: “And how do you think the preparation went here last week?”

“Okay…I think. GB (our assistant) did great work.” I said, continuing, “There was a ton for her to do, and I probably put a lot on her at the end, but it came together pretty well.”

The first partner replied, “Dan, it didn’t go great.  She felt under pressure the whole time, worked long hours, and felt you kept changing your mind about what you wanted. She’s at the end of her rope.”

“Wow,” I said . . . and felt terrible.

I thought of myself as a very trustworthy person, but that intervention from my partners ten years ago taught me a startling lesson about trust. My partners and our assistant GB had indeed come to trust me

. . . to behave in an untrustworthy way.  Yeh, I was dependable.  Dependably late. They could count on me to improvise to the last instant, learning and changing on the fly. They counted on me to do what worked for me, but not for them.  I’ve gotten a lot better in group work, but my wife and others still trust that I will almost always push the time envelope.  That’s not the kind of trust I want to generate. Not the kind of trust that Amy Lyman write about in The Trust Worthy Leader.


So, this reveals a rotten sense of trust.  In this sense you can always trust your boss. . . to act in ways, some of which get in the way of work. And your spouse can always trust you. . .  to act in ways, some of which don’t work for him/her.  Our son Jack, for instance, can trust– whether it works or not – that we’ll be on him about grades, homework and video game time.

So, people often trust us to act in ways that hurt the work.  Especially when we’re in power positions we trust that others will (have to) accommodate us, bend to our ways, and accept our values. Whether our ways help them get the work done or not.

Great leading requires that you become aware of the ways people trust you to act, not because it’s good for them or the work, but because it’s just the way you are.  Are you aware of how people “trust” you to act. And how do you grow beyond those limits, in order to

Lead with your best self!