There is a business case for trust which does not need much explanation: business requires trust; and if there is no trust, business might not even be possible. However trust in business cannot just be “blind” trust – as the proverb goes, leaders should perhaps “trust but verify.” This is what Covey et al. address in their book “Smart Trust” (Free Press, 2012). For the authors, “smart” trust is the defining skill that transforms managers into leaders. The principle theme of the book is how to build “smart” trust to both be more effective in business and more effective as a leader.
Here’s how to lead with trust along with further considerations (“et alors”).
Building Smart Trust
The authors identify five key steps to building “smart” trust:
Choose to believe in trust
Belief is founded on “instincts” which encourage us to believe that we are 1/ worthy of trust; 2/ that most people can be trusted; and 3/ that extending trust is a better way to lead.
Start with yourself
Behave with trust – start with your own actions! It will be easier for people to trust you if you are seen as honest, straightforward, dependable, and genuinely concerned about their welfare.
Assume the positive
Assume positive intent in others! The authors cite the advice of Goethe: “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you will help them to become what they were capable of being.”
Do what you say you’ll do
Declare your intent and fulfill your promises! Doing what you say you are going to do is a “global standard” in building trust which transcends cultures.
Take the lead
Lead the way by trusting but verifying! Don’t be gullible (high “propensity to trust” but “low analysis”); rather show “judgment” (high “propensity to trust” and “high analysis”).
Building this “smart” trust can have an enormous impact on employee engagement (think: leadership) and business (think: commercial relations). When did someone last trust you and what effect did that have? Now give that trust to others (but also do your homework)!
A recent missive about trust in organizations (from Berkshire Consultancy Limited) stated that “because trust is a perception, it is often a hidden variable that is difficult to understand, measure and improve…” In international organizations, it is difficult to even define a single and common definition, let alone measure it! The Covey book seems to be positioned in the context of North American contemporary culture that might be argued to be neither “high” nor “low” trust but in fact somewhere in between the two. The proposal of the book is to build “smart” trust – something applicable for both “high” and “low” trust cultures; but by focusing on “giving” trust, the steps tend to suggest a move towards “high” (or at least higher) trust culture.
“Low” trust cultures might not be comfortable in “giving” trust. In such a culture, trust has to be earned: the starting point is that there is no trust and it has to be accumulated (which is in contrast to the “high” trust cultures where trust is already given: the starting point is that there is full trust that is there to be lost). If you think you are in a “low” trust culture, then the steps might be more difficult to achieve as “giving” trust might be an unusual and potentially unilateral event. Nevertheless, as a leader, you will always have the potential to create your own culture for your followers and so if you wish to build “smart” trust, there is nothing to stop you “giving”! In any culture, “starting with yourself” and “doing what you say you will do” can only help build trust which can only help engagement and commerce!