Building Higher Trust 47 The Meaning of Trust

November 26, 2021

In your opinion, what is the meaning of trust? Most of us use the word trust several times a day. It is actually one of the more common words in our lexicon, yet when I ask people in my seminars to define what it means, I often get an awkward silence, then a few definitions come out, like “confidence,” or “integrity,” or “walk the talk.”

Eventually, most groups come up with a dozen or more definitions, and they begin to realize that what they pictured as one single phenomenon is actually a myriad of concepts that mean vastly different things in different circumstances.  

I have been working in the area of trust for nearly 30 years. The topic is infinitely fascinating to me, and I am always gaining new understanding thanks to the many other authors and people who network with me. I have found several concepts to be central to the idea of building and maintaining trust, and as I thought about some of these words, they started to form an acronym for the word TRUST.

Acronyms are strange mutations of the language that I find curious. Sometimes an acronym will seem rather strained or far-fetched as an attempt to be cute or simply a trick to help people remember concepts.

The acronym below is neither of these; instead, it is a way for me to highlight five central issues about trust that I continue to emphasize.

Trusting others. I have coined what I call “The First Law of Building Trust.” It is that when leaders are not satisfied with the level of trust they see within their organization, the first question to ask is how they can show more trust in others.

Trust is a reciprocal relationship, and numerous authors have identified the best way to have people trust you more is to increase your visible trust in them.

I once observed a male Vice President who really struggled with trust. I asked him if he could find ways to demonstrate more trust in his people. His reaction was, “You are asking the impossible; these people show me by their actions every day that they cannot be trusted to do what is right.” 

As I dug into the situation, I found that his workers had been so abused by this leader, they had no reason to even try to do things right. It was a toxic environment, where the VP would literally yell at the people and say things like, “You are so stupid I cannot rely on you for anything. I have to watch you like a hawk or you will just goof off and not even try to do your job right.” 

This is a classic case of a Theory X management style described by Douglas McGregor in the 1960s, and the VP was truly unaware that he was the real cause of his problem.  

I grant that in any workforce, there are some bad apples who can never be trusted, but if you have any of these people on your team and tolerate them, shame on you. Get rid of them.

The vast majority of workers, I believe over 95%, will respond positively and do good work if they are well led. When trust is low, The First Law of Building Trust puts the onus on the leader to do three things:

  1. Recognize his/her own contribution to the problem,
  2. Modify his/her behavior to be more trustworthy, and
  3. Start showing more trust in his/her workers.

Unfortunately, the first step is the most difficult. I have observed numerous leaders who are simply blind to the fact that they are causing their own problems. It is so much easier to blame the workers than to take a hard look in the mirror and ask some tough questions.

There are numerous other actions required to build and maintain trust, but the three steps above are the precursors that must be in place, or nothing will change.

Also, recognize that the process to rebuild lost trust is arduous. Wounded workers will observe improved behaviors for a long time before believing they are genuine.

Reinforcing candor. After a couple decades studying trust, I believe the most central enabler of it is reinforcing candor. This is the leader’s ability to refrain from punishing people when they speak their truth. Most leaders cannot do this.

When workers state that a leader is doing things inconsistent with the vision, they take a risk because most leaders punish that kind of candor. Brilliant leaders recognize that if they can establish a pattern of making people glad when they bring up difficult issues, it enables trust more than any other single factor. The concept is called enabling psychological safety.

I put reinforcing candor in the center of my Leadergrow Trust Model because it is the one skill that most leaders find difficult to do, yet once they understand its power, they have a much easier time creating and maintaining trust.

Universal goals. I have found when trust is absent in an organization, usually, individuals and groups have conflicting goals. They often do not realize they are pulling in different directions.

When you have an organization that is truly focused on one consistent set of goals, then you have alignment. Many organizations struggle with poor alignment such that only a small fraction of the workforce is actually pulling in the direction of the stated vision. Organizations with high trust achieve the reverse of that condition and have almost all people in the organization pulling in the direction of the vision.

It is easy to see if goals are not universal when you observe silo thinking, conflict, low trust, lack of respect, fear, management abuse, and any number of other organizational ills.

The starting points for establishing an environment of high trust are 1) complete agreement on where the organization is trying to go, and 2) enrolling all members of the organization to engage their full effort toward that vision.

Sincerity. This is the human dimension that shows leaders care about everyone in the organization. It is never the case that all people in an organization are exactly equal, yet the role played by each individual is of critical importance to the organization’s success. When managers and leaders are duplicitous, people quickly get the idea, because they see a lack of sincerity and care for individuals.

The antidote for low sincerity is very simple. The Golden Rule is the most important concept to show others that we care about them. If you treat other people the way you would like to be treated, you will find they respond in a positive way because they know you care.

It is quite simple, but unfortunately, many leaders have their priorities mixed and put short-term financial performance above the notion of caring for the people in the organization.

The best approach is to treat people the right way, which means being alert to the needs of each person as a unique individual and treating him or her as a person who will happily perform well if treated properly.

Transparency. The final T in my trust acronym is transparency. Organizations that share information widely about what is happening, what the goals are, where we are going, what the strategies are, what behaviors are needed, and how we have been performing recently, get the best that people have to offer.

Transparency is an interesting concept because it is not always good, or even legal, to be totally transparent. You must combine common sense, kindness, ethical behavior, and care into the equation when deciding how much information to reveal. Unfortunately, most organizations err on the side of too little transparency rather than too much.

The irony is that transparency is becoming less of a choice for senior executives due to social networking and the ability for people to get information more quickly and easily than ever before.

Leaders who try to hide information from workers are becoming increasingly frustrated because the information leaks out anyway, often in the form of rumors. A better approach is to aim for maximum transparency and a very fast response time when incorrect information gets out in the social networks.

These five concepts: Trusting others, Reinforcing candor, Universal goals, Sincerity, and Transparency form the acronym TRUST. While there are many other concepts and issues around trust and being trustworthy, I believe these five concepts are really at the core of creating an environment of higher trust.

Researchers have established through numerous studies that organizations with higher trust out-perform those that have low trust. A high trust group enjoys two to five times the productivity of a low trust group. No organization can survive for very long if they have an environment of low trust. Focus efforts on these five concepts, and you will improve your ability to achieve and maintain high trust in any organization.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Building Higher Trust 46 Trust and Favoritism

November 19, 2021

I am sure we all agree that when a leader shows favoritism, it works against a culture of trust. The conclusion is so obvious, it seems there is nothing more to say about it. Unfortunately, the topic of favoritism is much more complex than meets the eye.

Common Problem

I ask the question in every leadership class I conduct. “When a leader plays favorites, does it lower trust?”  I always get unanimous affirmative votes.  Then I turn around and nail them with the following question, “Do you ever play favorites?”  I normally get a pregnant pause, then some uncomfortable responses like “Well I try to not do it.”

The reason for the problem is that if you are a human being, there are some people you would rather work with on a certain function than other people. So, you end up appearing to play favorites. 

Wisdom from John Wooden

The famous basketball coach, John Wooden, had a unique perspective on favoritism that seems to defy conventional wisdom until you think about it. He said, “The surest way I can show favoritism among my players is to treat each of them the same way.”  That sounds backward, but it actually makes good sense. 

John recognized that each player is unique and has a different set of needs from the other players. If he treats everyone the same all the time, then he is actually favoring some players over the others. There is an important distinction here when it comes to following rules.

I think if John had just considered enforcing the rules, then when he treats everyone the same way he is avoiding favoritism. There is a subtle difference between enforcement of rules and general accommodation of people’s needs. The main objective is to treat each person the right way.

How to Avoid Playing Favorites

There are a few methods that allow leaders to operate in the way they want most of the time without appearing to play favorites. I will share examples of two methods and include some sample dialog that can be useful.

Operate Outside Your Normal Groove

If you do things differently for a small portion of the time, you can avoid the appearance of having favorites. For example, if your “go-to” person on making presentations is Bill, you can say, “Normally I ask Bill to do the presentation, but I am also open to having someone else do it if you are interested.” 

You can have one person do a task most of the time, but if you allow other people to do it occasionally, you avoid the stigma of playing favorites.

The good news is that you can pick a low-risk situation to have another person fill in as if your normal “go-to” person is out sick. By cross-training other people, you also have the advantage of greater bench strength for times your usual choice is not available.

If the Person Has the Necessary Background

You might say, “I am asking Sally to prepare the marketing proposal again because she has a graduate degree in that function.”  If you can justify selecting a specific person to do some work based on a real credential, people will not accuse you of playing favorites.


In many situations, it is possible to rotate people into different roles so they grow. By doing so, you can improve bench strength and avoid being known as a leader who plays favorites.


Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Building Trust 45 Trust and Ethics

November 11, 2021

There is a direct link between trust and ethics that is intuitively obvious. Naturally, when we find an organization that is highly ethical, we usually find a group that has achieved high trust. The reason is obvious.  Highly ethical organizations are open and honest at all times. These actions tend to build trust over time.

There is another very interesting relationship between these two concepts that is not all that obvious. It has to do with protection from making ethical blunders.

Recognizing Ethical Dilemmas

I have studied ethics for roughly 30 years and taught it in business schools at two different universities.  I am the chairman of the Board of Directors of an organization called Elevate Rochester, an organization that gives out “ETHIE” Awards to companies in our region that have outstanding ethical programs. My relationship with the topic of ethics is intense and constant.

One thing I have noticed is that a tricky part of trying to maintain an ethical culture is recognizing when you are facing an ethical dilemma. The reason is that leaders tend to rationalize a marginal situation and talk themselves into an unethical decision as being the right thing to do “under these circumstances.”

Many individuals and organizations have gotten themselves into significant ethical peril by this rationalization process. The leaders make a decision that is not consistent with what they have done in the past but is perfectly legal.  What they have really done is taken a baby step toward the ethical edge without realizing it. 

The next time a similar issue comes up, they have the prior action as an OK precedent, so this time they add some additional unconventional actions, still being perfectly legal. That is another baby step. It is the process of excusing somewhat shady things in an escalating fashion that leads to perfectly wrong actions over time.

That is how the Enron situation unfolded that led to its bankruptcy in 2006. They started out making small compromises that were legal but unconventional.  Many months later, they were doing things that were totally illegal. They got there through a series of baby steps that nobody called out.

How Trust Protects You

If you have invested in a culture of high trust, you are protected from deceiving yourself into thinking a marginal call is OK.  Let’s say an organization has 500 workers.  The leaders are contemplating showing the earnings numbers with a slightly different timing from the usual because it will make them look better.

If there is high trust, all 500 employees know it is safe to voice a concern about what is going on and not get punished for it. So, if a slightly shady practice is contemplated, some of the employees are going to speak up and say, “That may not be illegal, but it could easily lead to further compromises that might lead to an unethical decision in the future. I don’t think it is right to do it.”  


Leaders make tough calls all the time, and sometimes they cannot see where they are making compromises because of the “under the circumstances” logic.   By investing in psychological safety and trust within the workforce, it protects the leaders from rationalizing themselves into truly ethical problems.

Build a culture where it is safe to voice a concern, and you will have the blessing of people unafraid to tell you a contemplated action might be stepping closer to the unethical line.


Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Building Higher Trust 44 Trust and Body Language

October 22, 2021

We all know that trust is impacted by what people say, but is trust equally impacted by the body language between people?  The answer is “of course.” In this brief article, I will address how sensitive we are to body language and how the wrong body language can destroy hard-earned trust.

Some research

Way back in 1967, a scientist at UCLA named Albert Mehrabian did a series of experiments trying to measure how much meaning people derive from the words, tone of voice, and body language when they are discussing their feelings or attitudes face to face.  His research showed that only 7% of the meaning comes from the actual words used,  38% of meaning came from the tone of voice, and a whopping 55% of meaning is derived from the observed body language.


If we are interested in maintaining the trust we have with people, we should be at least as interested in our body language as we are in the words we select when talking with another person.  The sad truth is that the majority of body language is done involuntarily. We give off hundreds of tiny signals all the time that are reflexive and done without any thought.


We are more conscious of facial expressions than other types of body language. That means we may choose to show anger by furrowing our eyebrows and clenching our teeth. We do these things and are conscious of them, but there are many expressions with the face that we are generally unaware of.  

We might roll our eyes slightly to show exasperation and we might not be conscious of it. Likewise, if we are skeptical about what someone is saying, we may pull our mouth slightly to one side. 

If we are uncomfortable with the discussion, our blinking rate will increase significantly. The other person can see this, but usually, we are not aware of it. If we are aroused, our pupils will dilate without our being aware of it.

All these reactions will have an impact on how much another person trusts us at any particular moment.

Best defense

The best way to prevent trust withdrawals with our body language is to strive to be consistent and authentic with our thoughts and actions.  If we are being duplicitous in any way, it will show in various things that our body does without our knowledge. Those actions will destroy trust.

When we send mixed signals with body language it shows a problem with consistency that usually has a big negative impact on trust. 


Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Building Trust 43 Trust and Safety

October 14, 2021

The concept of trust is closely linked to safety. We all know that when we do not feel safe, it is hard to trust in that environment. My favorite quotation for the link is, “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

It is easy to buy into the concept, but we rarely go to the next step to dissect the different types of safety and provide tools that managers can use to instill more trust.  Here are three main types of safety and the implications for each one.

Physical Safety

The issue of physical safety is normally assumed in a professional environment.  During the pandemic, we all experienced a huge degradation of safety in all aspects of our lives. We all went through significant pain in an attempt to mitigate the hazards that we faced. Of course, this disruption occurred in our personal lives as well as our professional lives. 

People need to feel safe on the job. In the medical professions or in the trades, there are obvious precautions that must be taken every day to remain safe. These safety measures were significantly ramped up during the COVID Pandemic.

Now, the need to focus attention on physical safety is present in every workplace.

Psychological Safety

Having the ability to express one’s feelings or thoughts without having to worry about retribution is a key element of trust. In many organizations, it is not safe to voice a dissenting opinion once the boss has advocated his or her belief. Doing so will result in some form of ridicule or other retribution that will make the employee sorry to have brought up the issue. 

Leaders who are smart enough to “reinforce people when they are candid” have a much easier time establishing and maintaining trust.  I believe the practice of reinforcing candor is the single most powerful method of creating trust by demonstrating psychological safety.

I have written a separate article on “Reinforcing Candor.”

Emotional Safety

People need to know they are going to be OK. In a time of extreme unrest and disruptions within all organizations and, even in family life, many people are suffering in these times of uncertainty. People need to reach out and know there is some help available to them.

There are a number of agencies and groups available to keep people from becoming desperate. My personal favorite organization that offers significant help for people who are suffering is “LifeGuides.”

This service organization pairs people who are suffering from personal stress with a trained “Guide” who has been through their same life challenge. By providing empathy, the guide helps the employee regain and maintain equilibrium. If anyone is interested in learning more about LifeGuides, contact me at and I will put you in touch with someone who can help you.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Building Higher Trust 42 Trust and Accountability

October 8, 2021

There is a strong link between trust and accountability. In my professional work, I have a survey that measures the trust level in an organization. The instrument is designed to calculate a numerical scale for trust on a scale of 1-10 with 10 representing maximum trust.

After calculating the overall level of trust, I ask several questions to identify what specific actions or conditions are compromising the trust level. I have used this instrument for over 20 years in hundreds of organizations.

It turns out that a consistent problem area is accountability. Most leaders and organizations do a poor job when having accountability discussions with employees. There are several reasons for this common problem.  Here are some of the causes for the low scores.

Unbalanced Feedback

In most groups, people experience accountability discussions after some kind of failure. The feedback appears to be a “gotcha” where the leader holds the employee accountable for some mistake.  The actual discussion is like having a conversation with the grim reaper.

Punitive Discussion

The feedback feels punitive to the employee, so the interface has a negative flavor.  The manager often makes things worse when referring to the discussion as “holding the employee accountable.” The negative connotation amplifies a failure on the part of the employee.

The cure for this problem is to have accountability discussions in a balanced way, not just when the employee has messed up. If 90 percent of the time the employee is doing good work, then 90 percent of the feedback from the manager should be positive.  Then the 10 percent that needs to be corrected can be shared without it feeling unduly punitive.  I invented a word to describe this flavoring. I call this activity holding the employees “procountable.”


Many accountability discussions take on an adversarial flavor. The power person (manager) appears to be beating up on the helpless employee. What is forgotten in this type of exchange is that the manager and employee are really on the same team.

A more helpful conversation would take on the feel of a coaching session rather than a bawling out of the employee.


The words and especially the body language of the conversation should take on the feeling of a caring and nurturing relationship. Contrast the two openings of a manager having an accountability discussion with an employee who failed to get a report delivered to the vice president on time:

  1. You messed up big-time on this one, George. The report was supposed to be on the VP’s desk on Monday. Here it is Thursday, and I just got a call from the VP asking where the report is. I am holding you accountable for this failure to deliver or even communicate that you would be unable to deliver.
  2. The report was not submitted to the VP on time. We are having this conversation not to beat on you but to investigate what happened and find a better path for the future. I care about you. I want people to view you as totally reliable so you have a future opportunity to advance.


We typically do a poor job of having accountability discussions. I have shared four ways we can do a better job to have principle-centered rather than punitive accountability discussions with employees.  The benefits are obvious in terms of the quality of work life for employees.

It is important to have accountability in any organization, but the way it is done will determine the level of trust that is generated in the culture.


Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Building Higher Trust 41 When No One Would Know

October 1, 2021

Integrity is crucial for building a culture of trust. Your ability to maintain and grow trust is impacted by how you act when nobody would know what you are doing. If you understand this dynamic, you have mastered a key component in the journey toward high trust that others have in you.

Have Personal Integrity

Integrity is as much an internal process as it is external. If you have a habit of always doing the right thing, then you don’t need to worry about whether or not other people can witness your actions.

Make it a habit to have the highest standard of ethics and follow up. Have a mental process that imagines every action as being witnessed by several other people. This mindset impacts how you view yourself.

Believe it or not, the most important person in your life is you, so having absolute internal integrity results in a kind of body language and congruency that enables others to trust you more.

People Do See You

People will observe and take note of all your actions over time. As you pass the “Trust Test” without fail, you build a positive balance of trust in your “Trust Bank.” Over time, the equity builds to a high level, and other people will forgive an occasional apparent lapse without loss of trust. They have complete faith in your integrity.

Nobody is perfect. There will be situations when what you intended to do comes out wrong. If the trust account with other people is high enough, a rare unintended slip up will not cause a loss in overall trust.

 Admitting Mistakes

Another good way to make deposits in the trust account is how you act when something went wrong or you made a mistake. Admitting a mistake is normally a trust-building event. The only times it is not is if the same mistake has been made in the past or the mistake reveals that you were not paying attention.


Having an attitude that you do the right thing whether other people are watching or not is about personal integrity.  You are responsible to yourself to do the right things.  Other people will observe this in you, and you will enhance the level of trust people have in you over time.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind



Building Higher Trust 40 The Scar

September 24, 2021

Most of us have had a miscommunication situation where another individual took umbrage at something we said. Let’s suppose that the problem was truly a misinterpretation of what you meant and that you were able to go to the other person and set the record straight.  Now the issue is behind you both, right?  Wrong!

The problem is that, for deep wounds, the scar tissue never fully heals. Sure you are able to go on, forgiven for the gaffe, but there is always going to be a degradation of trust in the mind of the other person. Nothing either of you can say or do can totally erase the issue. So how can you proceed?  Does this mean that every time there is an innocent mistake, irreparable damage is done? Thankfully no!

Rebuilding Trust

The trick is to acknowledge the gaffe, work to heal the ill feelings as much as possible, then seek other trust-building techniques to more than makeup for the permanent loss due to the slip-up.

For example, there may be an opportunity for you to extend more trust to the other person. You might agree to cover for the other person when she needs to take a break. Since trust is reciprocal, extending more trust is an excellent way to build trust back in both directions.

Actually, if you both work at it, the trust can come out higher than ever before, even though the scar is still there. It is as if the rest of the skin around the scar has become so strong and beautiful that even though there is still an imperfection, it is overridden by the surrounding area.

Merger Example

Think of a merger situation where one party inadvertently left some assets off a list. In the due diligence process, the error was discovered by the other party. The relationship can never be exactly the same as it was before the situation occurred, but with the proper rehabilitation, the trust can actually come out stronger than before.

This situation can be more complex than I am representing here because it might be the accused person who is feeling the betrayal rather than the accuser since the mistake was an honest oversight.  It all depends on the situation and the temperament of the individuals.

The same remedial logic is operational if the betrayal was due to an actual deception rather than a misunderstanding. In these cases, the scar tissue is particularly deep, and it may be impossible to repair the damage, despite the effort.

Many people at businesses or organizations that have merged know the pain of a complete collapse of trust. In serious cases, trust never does come back, and the individuals live with the duplicity or agree to go their separate ways.


A falling out in the work environment, whether justified or not, is something that removes huge amounts of built-up trust. Good dialog and a conscious attempt to set the record straight are excellent first steps, but we need to go beyond these remedies to make the main focus of the relationship be the positive forward aspects instead of scars from the past. This means seeking out ways to generate more trust over an extended period of time. Extending more trust to the other person is a great way to let the healing begin.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind



Building Higher Trust 39 Transparent or Opaque?

September 17, 2021

I was giving my talk on Trust and Transparency for a group recently, and the host had an interesting twist about being transparent or opaque.  He said that he knew certain members of management who were experts at being “opaque.” 

I really liked use of the word opaque, which is the opposite of transparent.  For this article, I wanted to explore the different forces operating on a manager which may lead to higher opacity and how being opaque destroys trust.

Here I will use an impending reorganization where some people will be terminated as an example. What are some of the rationalizations that would cause some managers to be opaque?

Fear that people will become enraged

If there is bad news in the offing, the managers might be concerned about letting the information out early because of fear of retribution or sabotage. If it becomes known that people will be losing jobs, then some people might feel (wrongly) there is not much to lose. Of course, there is a lot to lose any time we burn bridges with people: especially former employers.

My experience is that if people are treated with respect and dignity, even if the news is not pleasant, the vast majority of them will act like adults and actually be appreciative of the transparent information far in advance so preparations for a logical transition can be made.  I have witnessed workers keeping a good attitude and being productive during a layoff process right up to the final hour at work and left with sadness coupled with dignity.

What really infuriates workers is to find out about a discontinuity on the day of the announcement, when they realize it has been in the planning stages for months.  In that case, you might expect someone to throw a monkey wrench in the gears on his way out the door.

Let people know about a troublesome situation well in advance and tell them that you are letting them know out of respect. You can say that you are trusting them to conduct themselves with dignity even though the news is not good.

Using lack of perfect plans as an excuse

Managers often do not want to divulge information because the plans are not 100% set in stone.  They reason that some information will lead to questions that cannot be answered, so they wait until all the details are known.  One could always make that excuse, and yet people tolerate a lack of specific details better than being kept in the dark wondering about the big picture.

Plans are always subject to revision, so it is far better to involve employees when the plans are not yet firm, because they would have the opportunity to help shape the future, even if only slightly. That involvement in the process normally leads to a higher level of acceptance in the end than if employees are kept in the dark then mouse-trapped with the bad news at the final moment.

Financial Embarrassment

Often in a transition, it becomes obvious that the people making the plans are the “haves” and the people impacted in the organization are the “have-nots.”  Total transparency would mean that workers become painfully aware that they are being abused financially while the bosses are taking down huge stock options or other seemingly lavish benefits.

Managers would rather not have everyone in the organization know their incentive packages or the size of their golden parachutes. It is just too embarrassing. While this reason to be opaque is actually reasonable, it does raise a huge caution flag. If management is hiding things they would be embarrassed about, isn’t that an ethical breach that needs to be addressed?

Clueless Managers

Another form of embarrassment that leads to opacity is that people may find out that the managers they work for are actually clueless. They do not know what they are doing and are “winging it” on a daily basis.  If everyone was aware of the stupidity of some corporate decisions, the managers might be subject to a lynch mob mentality among the troops.

Since you cannot cure “stupid,” the people are going to be even more frustrated because the whole need for a reorganization might have been unnecessary. 

Wanting to retain the best people

When there is bad news to share, it impacts everyone in the organization.  The best people will have the greatest opportunity to pick up a job elsewhere for similar or even better pay and benefits.  The dregs of the organization have less opportunity to go elsewhere, so if management lets out too much information too early, they are likely to end up keeping the people they want to lose and losing the people they wish to keep. Opacity seems like a strategy to forestall the exodus of needed top talent. Of course, this logic ignores the fact that the best people will be even more likely to leave once it is revealed they have been left out of the loop all along. Trust is built when information is shared freely and openly.

Needing time for cross-training

Some managers will keep mum on an upcoming reorganization to allow a kind of preparation phase where people are cross-trained on other jobs ostensibly for the purpose of building bench strength. Workers see through this ploy rather quickly, so the opacity cover is blown, and it becomes a kind of game environment for several months. The antidote here is to be transparent about cross-training and have a continual process to keep skills broad and well sharpened.  With that strategy, the need to be opaque about why training is being done vanishes, and people appreciate the variety as well as the opportunity to learn additional skill sets. 

The other side of the coin

I do not claim that it is always a bad strategy to be opaque in the face of changes.  Sometimes there are legal restrictions on what information can be shared.  Managers can go to jail if they divulge information about an impending move that will have a material impact on stock valuation. Also, it may be a disaster to have suppliers or the competition find out about a future move. Managers need to use good judgment as to when and how to divulge information.

They also need to be aware that the rumor mill picks up on minute radar signals throughout the organization. It is not possible to truly hide the fact that “something is going on.” When people are intentionally kept in the dark, they tend to make up stories of what is going on to fill the vacuum. The rumors are normally far worse than the action contemplated, so the beleaguered managers must do damage control on things that are not going to happen while trying to tiptoe around the truth. Trust is lost in such times because people feel managers are “playing games” with them.

My point is that it is far too easy to fall victim to some of the excuses or subterfuges mentioned above.  It is usually wise to put a skeptical stance on any gag rule. Reason: Eventually the truth will come out, so any perceived advantage of not telling people is eventually lost along with the long-term damage to trust that comes with being opaque.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website   BLOG He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind



Building Higher Trust 38 Tricky Questions About Trust

September 9, 2021

In my leadership classes, I often like to pose four tricky questions about the nature of trust. As people grapple with the questions, it helps them sort out for themselves a deeper meaning of the words and how they might be applied in their own world.  The four questions are:

What is the relationship between trust and vulnerability?

How can you trust someone you fear?

Is it possible to respect someone you do not trust? and

Can you trust someone you do not respect?

I have spent a lot of time bouncing these questions around in my head. I am not convinced that I have found the correct answers (or even that correct answers exist). I have had to clarify in my own mind the exact meanings of the words trust, vulnerability, fear, and respect.

Before you read this article further, stop here and ponder the four questions for yourself. See if you can come to some answers that might be operational for you. 

Thinking about these concepts, makes them become more powerful for us. I urge you to pose the three questions (without giving your own answers) to people in your workgroup. Then have a quality discussion about the possible answers. You will find it is a refreshing and deep conversation to have. 

Here are my answers (subject to change in the future as I learn more):

  1. What is the relationship between trust and vulnerability? 

Trust implies vulnerability. When you trust another person, there is always a chance that the person will disappoint you. Ironically, it is the extension of your trust that drives a reciprocal enhancement of the other person’s trust in you.

If you are a leader and you want people in your organization to trust you more, one way to achieve that is to show more trust in them. I call that dichotomy the “First Law of Trust.”

That concept is very challenging for many managers and leaders. They sincerely want to gain more trust, but find it hard to extend higher trust to others.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is better to trust and be disappointed every once in a while than to not trust and be miserable all the time.”

  1. How can you trust someone you fear? 

Fear and trust are nearly opposites. I believe trust cannot kindle in an organization when there is fear, so one way to gain more trust is to create an environment with less fear.

In the vast majority of cases, trust and lack of fear go together. My quote on that concept is, “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

The question I posed is whether trust and fear can ever exist at the same time.  I think it is possible to trust someone you fear. That thought is derived from how I define trust. 

My favorite definition is that if I trust you, I believe you will always do what you believe is in my best interest – even if I don’t appreciate it at the time. Based on that logic, I can trust someone even if I am afraid of what she might do as long as I believe she is acting in my best interest. 

For example, I may be afraid of my boss because I believe she is going to give me a demotion and suggest I get some training on how to get along with people better. I am afraid of her because of the action she will take, while on some level I am trusting her to do what she believes is right for me.

Let’s look at another example. Suppose your supervisor is a bully who yells at people when they do not do things to his standards or when you have different opinions. You do not appreciate the abuse and are fearful every time you interact with him. You do trust him because he has kept the company afloat during some difficult times and has never missed a payroll, but you do not like his tactics.

3. Is it possible to respect someone you do not trust?

This question gets pretty complicated. In most situations, trust and respect go hand in hand. That is easy to explain and understand. Is it possible to conjure up a situation where you can respect someone you do not yet trust?  Sure, we do this all the time.

We respect people for the things they have achieved, the skills they possess, or the position they have reached. We respect many people we have not even met.  For example, I respect Nelson Mandela, but I have no basis yet to trust him, even though I have a predisposition to trust him based on his reputation.

Another example is a new boss. I respect her for the position and the ability to hold a job that has the power to offer me employment. I probably do not trust her immediately. I will wait to see if my respect forms the foundation on which trust grows based on her actions over time.

If someone has let me down in the past, and I have lost respect for that person, then there is no basis for trust at all. This leads to the last question:

  1. Can you trust someone you do not respect?

 I find it difficult to think of a single example where I can trust someone that I do not respect. That is because respect is the basis on which trust is built. If I do not respect an individual, I believe it is impossible for me to trust her.

Therefore, respect becomes an enabler of trust, and trust is the higher-order phenomenon. You first have to respect a person, then go to work on building trust. 


People use the words trust, fear, respect, and vulnerability freely every day. It is rare that they stop and think about the relationships between the concepts. Thinking about and discussing these ideas ensures that communication has a common ground for understanding, so take some time in your workgroup to wrestle with these questions.

I welcome your opinions on my thoughts here because I am eager to learn other ways of thinking about trust.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.