When we extend trust, we generate trust; when we withhold trust, we generate distrust. According to Stephen M.R. Covey, Greg Link and Rebecca R. Merrill in Smart Trust, our actions lead either toward a virtuous upward cycle of prosperity, energy and joy or toward a vicious downward cycle that eventually results in the destruction of those outcomes.
Either we add to the renaissance of trust, or we contribute to the crisis of trust –– in our personal lives, our families, our communities, our teams, our organizations, our nations and our world. It’s not enough to merely give lip service to the idea of trust. It’s not enough to use trust as a pragmatic technique in certain situations when it’s to our advantage. It’s not enough to trust only once in a while, when we think there is no risk involved.
The greatest and lasting dividends of trust come only when we choose trust as our underlying approach –– the operating system, if you will, that consistently governs our day-in and day-out choices and decisions. The actions of high-trust individuals, teams and organizations worldwide grow out of three specific beliefs about trust:
1. A belief in being worthy of trust. At the root of the belief in trust is a belief in trustworthiness or credibility –– in the importance of acting with character and competence so that both you and others know that you can be trusted. Leaders who have a core belief in trustworthiness do not consider that belief as merely a practical option or as a technique to get what they want in a particular situation. Rather, they are committed to being trustworthy even when it’s hard, even when there’s a price to pay. In fact, we might say that the real test of trustworthiness and credibility is doing the right thing, especially when there’s a cost or consequence.
2. A belief that most people can be trusted. Successful high-trust people and companies create their success by choosing to believe that most people can be trusted –– not all people (that wouldn’t be smart), but most people. When companies and leaders choose to believe that most people can be trusted, it plays out in organizational design, affecting systems, processes, structures and even strategies.
3. A belief that extending trust is a better way to lead. Successful high-trust leaders believe that extending trust is a better way to lead, primarily because trust inspires people to perform, it’s reciprocated, and it ultimately leads to greater prosperity, energy and joy. In order to increase influence and grow trust in a team, an organization, a community, a family or a relationship, someone has to take the first step. That’s what leaders do. They go first. They lead out in extending trust.
In fact, the first job of a leader is to inspire trust, and the second is to extend it. This is true whether a person has a formal leadership role, such as CEO, a manager, team leader or parent, or an informal role of influence, such as work associate, marriage partner or friend. Bottom line, if we’re not inspiring and extending trust, we’re not leading. We might be managing or administering, but we’re not leading. We manage things; we lead people. And real leadership requires trust.
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