Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Heffernan’


Margaret, thank you for participating in our 2020 Trust Insights series. What is your trust insight?

Trust is always and only about what you DO;

nothing else counts. – Margaret Heffernan 




Can you expand a bit on this important insight?

As soon as the subject of trust comes up, everyone talks about words. But words do not ever build trust. It is what you do that counts. I think there are 4 aspects to trust :
Benevolence: People trust you if they believe you want the best for them. But how do they know that? By the generosity you manifest in the active ways you help, support, advise them and tell them the truth.
Integrity: Everyone watches not what you say but whether you actions are consistent with your words. Saying that you want what is best “for all Americans” as the Business Roundtable did recently, doesn’t mean a thing if you do not act on it. To my mind, the acid test in business is: have you been prepared to forego revenue to stand by your principles? By that test, most companies fail. Wells Fargo sold products to their customers that they didn’t need without telling them – that doesn’t show that they care about stakeholders. J&J heavily and actively over-sold opioids that caused their customers harm; that is not a sign of honoring stakeholders. Integrity has to be active or it is nothing. 
Competence: When you say you will do something, it means nothing if you don’t have the professional ability to do it. This is a nuts-and-bolts, real world aspect of trust people often overlook. You have to be able to deliver.
Consistency: Are your actions and choices visibly consistent with the values you talk about all the time? If your actions express different values from one day to the next, then clearly it is impossible to assume that one action implies a coherent set of values. Consistency can be rather dull but if you are unpredictable, then nobody can trust you to do the right thing each day.


Can you provide a real life example of a trust “challenge” where your insight has been effectively applied.

In 2001, after the tech bubble burst, I realized that keeping my company afloat would cost my investors a huge amount of money. Since my investor was a publicly traded company, I did not see how that cost could be justified when there was no confidence that the company could ever become profitable or that the investment could be recouped. I argued with the board – and it was an argument – that the business should be shut down. Eventually I won.


Margaret, generally, do you think the global “trust” climate is improving or worsening? What actions are making it better or worse?

I think the trust climate is getting worse for one very obvious reason. We used to believe – I used to imagine – that business was or could be a force for good in the world. But the overall lethargy and passivity in face of the climate change challenge has shown exactly the opposite: the business community has not only not served the world but endangered it and all who live in it. How can they be trusted to do the right thing when they’ve had the chance for 30 years and have done almost nothing? Either they aren’t competent or they don’t care.


Many claim we have a crisis of trust. Do you agree?

If we don’t have a crisis of trust, we should – as leaders in every walk of life seem unreliable and unrepentant. We have leaders all over the world whom everyone knows to be liars and cheats – which implies that being trustworthy is now an option not a requirement. Today I think leaders need to recognize that their trustworthiness is being assessed by everyone daily. It’s hard to point to those who do well under scrutiny.


Margaret, thank you so much for your time and more importantly for your commitment to elevating organizational trust. What would you like our audience to know about you?

Dr. Margaret Heffernan produced programs for the BBC for 13 years.  She then moved to the US where she spearheaded multimedia productions for Intuit, The Learning Company and Standard & Poors. The author of six books, her most recent, Uncharted: How to map the Future Together comes out in 2020. Her TED talks have been seen by over ten million people. Through Merryck & Co., she advises CEOs and senior executives of major global organizations. She sits on several private boards, is a frequent broadcaster and writes occasionally for the Financial Times.

And while you are here, Tap Into Trust and complete our 1 minute/1 question quiz. Find out how the level of trust in your workplace compares to hundreds of others.

Did you miss our previous 2020 insights? Access them below.

Trust Insights Week #1: Stephen M.R. Covey

Trust Insights Week #2: David Reiling

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