Trust Insights

This BLOG entry is a little different from my usual pattern. I normally write an article about some topic that I am passionate about or interview someone else on his or her theories of leadership. This week I am letting someone interview me.

The following exchange was between a graduate student and myself in a class on Transformational Leadership. I thought her questions were excellent and wanted to provide my responses as a means to prime some further discussions in this forum. She wrote four questions about the nature of trust in organizations.

Student: Can the issue of trust be instinctive or factual or it is really a balance of both?

Trust Ambassador: I believe trust is a kind of reciprocal phenomenon. I trust you and you trust me to some degree. The level of trust in one direction is never exactly the same as in reverse, but everything that happens between the individuals causes either a deposit or withdrawal in the trust account (large or small depending on the situation). Trust never stands still – it is transactional in nature, and the transactions are going on thousands of times a day. Body language is a huge part of the equation that most people take for granted. Also, keep in mind that in online communication there is a kind of body language going on that most people are oblivious to. I find it fascinating. The most important information in an e-mail is actually between the lines.

Student: Does one bad apple really spoil the whole bunch?

Trust Ambassador: No, the bunch can work around a bad apple situation and coexist for a long time just fine. That said, a bad apple can be a kind of cancer that secretly undermines trust within a group, and it grows undetected for a long time before being discovered. I have a whole set of technology on how to deal with a bad apple. One caveat: If the bad apple is the leader, then you have a crisis. People cannot work around it effectively because the leader can muck up any attempt to build trust within the organization.

Student: Can we not cut out the bad part and salvage the rest?

Trust Ambassador: Yes – we can cut out and discard the cancer like a tumor. However, brilliant leadership actually converts some of the bad apples into the most vocal proponents of the forces for good in an organization. That is huge progress, and it is quite possible to accomplish.

Student: Can you trust in part and not whole and if so is that real trust?

Trust Ambassador: Yes! Trust is never absolute. There are qualifiers, and trust has numerous compartments that are working simultaneously. It is the sum total of all elements at a particular point in time that determines the balance in the trust account. It does not need to be the same in both directions. For example, I may trust you at 92% out of 100 at the moment, and you trust me only at 79%. Happens all the time.

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