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.


Building Higher Trust 37 Degrees of Trust

September 3, 2021

Most people recognize that there are degrees of trust; you can trust someone a little or a lot.

Many people use the word “trust” as if it is a singular concept. You either trust someone or you don’t.  A common perception is that the word means one thing, as Webster puts it, “Trust – belief in the honesty, reliability, etc. of another.”  The “etc.” in that definition actually covers a lot of ground.

I believe trust is far more complex than can be captured in a single concept.  Picture an infinite variety of types of trust and numerous levels of trust for each type.

We might consider the different shades of trust to be as plentiful as the different shades of color, and the intensities of trust going from fully saturated to almost transparent. I will share six categories of trust with some specific examples.

Notice that in every single category there has been significant degradation of trust since the start of 2020. The world is a very different place these days.

Recognize this is not an exhaustive treatment of the types of trust, but rather some typical concepts to illustrate the variety and complexity of trust.

  1. Trust Between People

Between any two people who know each other, there is some balance of trust, rather like a bank account balance. The variety of trusting relationships are nearly infinite. Examples are easy to describe, like parent-child, spouse, boss, peers, people who you have not met but know online, and employees.

In every pair of individuals there exist two threads of trust: one is person A’s trust in person B, the other thread is the reverse of that. The levels of trust from one person to the other are never exactly duplicated in reverse.

The level of trust fluctuates on a moment-to-moment basis as we go about our daily interactions. It is like there are tiny deposits or withdrawals going on whenever these two people interact in any way (even virtually).

Sometimes a special circumstance allows a large deposit. Often small withdrawals can become large ones if not handled correctly. I call this “The Ratchet Effect,” meaning trust is usually built up with many small clicks of the ratchet but can quickly spin back to zero if the pawl becomes disengaged. Here is a brief video that explains The Ratchet Effect.

  1. Trust in Systems or Agencies

We have some level of faith in a myriad of supportive groups at all times. We often take these things for granted.  We trust (or don’t trust) governments at all levels to take care of our society. Other examples in this category are easy to name. For example, we have a level of trust with the military, FDA, banking, the Stock Market, the media.

Trust in the media is particularly interesting because a lack of trust in this system has a huge impact on our trust in all the other agencies. Data shows that trust in the media in the United States is low at 45%, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. This means that most people do not believe what they are being told is happening in the world, at least not fully. The data also shows that many people suspend judgment on what they will believe until they have received the same information at least three to five times from different trusted sources.

  1. Trust in products and supply chains

Our trust in products is also something we take for granted until we experience a product failure that grabs our attention. Many of us did not recognize how fragile and complex the various supply chains were until they were broken due to the COVID Virus.

When you stop and think of the trust we place in products of all kinds, it is staggering.  Consider the following tiny subset of products we rely on: medications, automobiles, airplanes, tools, internet, and elevators.  How often do you worry when getting into an elevator that the cable will break?

  1. Trust in Concepts

We all have various levels of trust with certain concepts or ideals and rarely stop to think about them.  For example, we might trust in: the power of prayer, positive thinking, Murphy’s Law, supply and demand, the value of education, or living by values.

These concepts help define our relationship to the world and form our total worldview.  They were programmed into us by the forces impacting us during our formative years. They govern our sense of what is right and wrong and are the basis of our moral and ethical perspectives on life.

  1. Trust in Organizations

We can describe some highly tangible examples of trust in institutions. For example, your level of trust in your own organization, the Red Cross, your grocery store, your auto mechanic, a hospital, the insurance company.

Any time we interface with any organization, we are relying on or modifying our perception of our trust in that entity. We do not stop and think about it, but our level of confidence is fluctuating based on every interaction, large or small.

For example, if the insurance company finds some fine print in your contract that states you cannot be compensated for your water-damaged house because you could not prove it was specifically caused by “the weight of ice and snow,” you begin to wonder why bother to have insurance in the first place. In other words, you no longer trust that what you think you purchased is actually what you purchased.

I know a physician who went into a hospital for a routine knee operation and had his leg amputated above the knee by mistake. Imagine the trust betrayal he felt when he awoke from the anesthesia.

  1. Trust in Infrastructure

Many of the items in this article are things we take for granted. Trust in infrastructure is probably the thing we take for granted the most.  We turn on the light switch and expect there to be electricity. We turn on the faucet and expect potable water to come out.

We expect not to have any deep potholes in the road (although some of us get disappointed on that one).  Public transportation is expected to be there on time barring some kind of natural disaster.

We expect the school bus to come by to pick up our kids. When we drive over a bridge, we rarely worry that it will collapse and kill us.

All of the infrastructure items are things we just assume will be there whenever we want to use them, and we don’t spend energy worrying about them unless there is some kind of emergency situation.

The list could go on forever, and the possibilities for positive or negative trust are infinite. For every situation, there is a unique aspect to the trust that exists between individuals.  In addition to different types of trust, there are different degrees or levels of trust, and the variety of these is also infinite.


The different types of trust are really infinite.  We just do not pay attention to the many ways trust is manifest in our lives unless there is some kind of failure. Also, a systemic issue such as COVID 19 can impact how we experience trust across the board.

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.


Building Higher Trust 36 Keep Values Simple

August 26, 2021

Few people would doubt the impact of a good set of values for any organization. Values provide a bedrock of beliefs on which leaders build the culture of trust for their group.

The true power of values lies in having everyone in the organization not only understand them but live them every day.  That is why I believe it is a mistake to make the values too complex.

Some leaders get enamored by the idea of values and create a set of complex rules that would be very difficult for people to remember.  It is not uncommon to have a list of 20-30 values published by a leader. 

This sounds like a good idea on the surface; after all, the more values we have the better, right?  Not so fast!  If the list is cumbersome and hard to remember, then people will have a difficult time following them every day. 

Coach K

Coach Krzyzewski of the Duke Basketball Program modeled a kind of philosophy with values that helps illustrate the power of a short memorable list. He has used the analogy of the “fist” with each finger being one powerful value that is used to create passion and unity among his teams.

The fingers represent 1) Communication, 2) Trust, 3) Collective Responsibility, 4) Care, and 5) Pride.  By centering all activities in relation to a powerful fist, Coach K has nurtured a consistent champion level team that has won multiple National Championships.

Lou Holtz

Another coach who understood the benefits of a simple philosophy of values was Lou Holtz.  He took over 6 collegiate football programs in his career. He never inherited a winning team, but never failed to take that team to a Bowl Game by his second season at the latest.  His values were boiled down to only three concepts:  1) Do what’s right, 2) Do the best you can, and 3) Treat others like you would like to be treated.  The incredible simplicity of this philosophy made it easy to translate the passion embodied in these values into the hearts of all players.  The results speak for themselves. 


Simple but great values are not just for sports teams. Any organization will benefit from a memorable set of foundational concepts. My home town of Rochester, NY is blessed to be the home of Wegmans, one of the most successful chains of grocery stores in the world and a frequent top placement in the 100 best places to work in America.

The current CEO, Colleen Wegman, said of their values, “We’re committed to our Who We Are Values because they set a strong foundation for us as a company – a foundation of caring about people and each other.” The Wegmans values are very simple: 1) Caring, 2) Respect, 3) High Standards, 4) Making a Difference, and 5) Empowerment. 

Challenge Your Team

If you are a leader in an organization, challenge your senior team to come up with a handful of powerful words that describe the essence of your core values.  Keep the list of values short so everyone will remember and live them daily.

I believe less is more when establishing the values of an organization.  It is a mistake to have a long shopping list of values that cannot be easily be remembered by everyone in the organization.  Reason: once the list becomes more than a handful of concepts, it loses power because people cannot internalize them easily. 

Would you agree that it is better to have 5-6 powerful values than a string of 20-30 ideals for an organization? 

To illustrate this, which of the two lists of values below would be more powerful in your opinion:

Long list:

Honesty, openness, trust, fulfillment, employee satisfaction, great place to work, sincerity, reinforcement, caring, pull your weight, humor, good will, customer focus, develop people, aggressive, committed, communications, speak your truth, results oriented, never quit, passion, mutual success, and credibility.

Short list:

Trust, Integrity, Respect, Customer Focus, and Teamwork

I hope you agree that the short list would be much more powerful.



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.