Home » Leadership » In Business High Trust Beats “Rules” (every time)



It’s Week #8 of 2016. This is our latest article in a series of  ideas to elevate trust in your organization, drawn from our 3rd annual 2016 Trust Poster….now hanging in hundreds of offices around the world. Get yours today!

52 Ideas That You Can Implement to Build Trust

Stephen M.R. Covey a Trust Alliance Member and one of our 2016 Top Thought Leaders in Trust, and a Lifetime Achievement Award winner offers this:

“The first job of a leader is to inspire trust; the second job is to extend trust.”

As leaders, we inspire trust through our credibility—our character and our competence—and through our behavior—how we do what we do. While I believe that most leaders today recognize the need to inspire trust by modeling it through who they are and what they can do, I’m not sure that most recognize the equally vital need to extend trust to others. And that’s where I think we’re got to put special focus in our leadership work—leading out in extending trust to others.

Indeed, I believe that the defining skill that transforms a manager into a leader is the extending of trust. And the extension of trust generates reciprocity: when we give it, people receive it, and they return it. When we withhold it, they withhold it. As Abraham Lincoln put it in the affirmative: “The people, when rightly and fully trusted, will return the trust.” And Lao Tzu expressed the other side: “He who does not trust enough will not be trusted. No trust given, none received. Mistrust begets mistrust.”

In my work in over 40 countries over the past few years, I have found this common pattern in lower-trust organizations: the primary reason why employees don’t trust their management in lower-trust companies is first and foremost because the management doesn’t trust the employees—and the employees reciprocate that distrust right back at them. The same thing can happen with partners, and even with customers. If you don’t trust them, they’ll tend to not trust you.

But, thankfully, it works the other direction as well. When we extend trust to others, people receive it, and they return it. They’re inspired by it. They rise to the occasion. They perform better. They want to prove the trust justified. There is a genuine reciprocity of trust. Yes, a few may abuse the trust but the vast majority will be inspired by it. Don’t penalize the many because of the few. Don’t let the 5% of the people you can’t trust define for you the 95% who you can. Far better to build your culture around the 95% who you can trust and let that culture crowd out, weed out, starve out the 5% who you can’t. Some are afraid of extending trust out of fear that they might lose control. But think about it: at the end of the day, there is actually more control in a high-trust culture than there is in a rules-based culture because you can’t come up with enough rules for people who you can’t trust. The French sociologist Emile Dirkheim put it this way: “When mores [cultural values] are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.”

In my judgment, the very act of extending trust is the defining act of leadership. And it’s the leaders job to go first. Someone needs to go first; that’s what leaders do—leaders go first. Yes, there’s a risk in trusting people. But there’s also a risk in not trusting people. And I’m going to submit that in today’s collaborative, interdependent, knowledge-worker world, not trusting people is more often the greater risk. Now I’m not suggesting that we extend trust blindly or naively, without clear expectations or accountability—that’s not smart. But I am suggesting that we lead out with a decided propensity to trust—to extend trust wisely (what I refer to as “smart trust”).

The reality is that we need more willingness to extend trust in our world today, not less. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to have two trustworthy people working together—and no trust—when neither person is willing to extend it to the other.

That’s why I reiterate: the first job of a leader is to inspire trust; the second job is to extend it.

Extending trust not only transforms a manager into a leader, it is a game-changer—both for the leader extending the trust and for the person being trusted. Indeed, to be trusted is the most inspiring and compelling form of human motivation.

People today don’t want to be managed; they want to be led. Millenials don’t want to be managed; they want to be led. They want to be inspired. The reality is that we manage things (which have no agency or choice) but we lead people (who do have agency and choice).   We should strive to be efficient with things and effective with people. But too often, too many of us treat people like things and attempt to manage them, be efficient with them, and withhold trust from them. That doesn’t inspire. What does inspire is to lead out in extending trust to others.

In the beautiful words of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, “In everybody’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful to those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

When we extend trust to another person, we rekindle the inner spirit—both theirs, and ours, and in so doing, we can also produce an extraordinary dividend: what I call “the speed of trust.”

Thank you Stephen. We hope our readers heed your advice.

It’s not too late to catch up on our weekly series…..

Week #1 Kouzes & Posner 

Week #2 Bob Vanourek

Week #3 Barbara Kimmel

Week #4 Mark Fernandes

Week #5 Doug Conant

Week #6 Roger Steare

Week #7 Nan Russell

Barbara Brooks Kimmel is the CEO & Cofounder of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World whose mission is to help organizations build trust and integrity. She facilitates the world’s largest membership program for those interested in the subject. Barbara also serves as editor of the award winning TRUST INC. book series and the Executive Editor of TRUST! Magazine. In 2012 Barbara was named “One of 25 Women Changing the World” by Good Business International.

Copyright 2016, Next Decade, Inc.



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One Response to “In Business High Trust Beats “Rules” (every time)”

  1. February 22nd, 2016 at 10:12 | #1

    Outstanding words of wisdom. Thank you, SMRC.

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