Welcome to Wonderland: Can Trust Be Your Guide?


I don’t think the Super Committee is going to get it done, the European economies are in turmoil, the stock market is poised to whip itself into a frenzy, asking “What does all this mean?” yet once again, and we’re coming into the holiday season. Welcome to wonderland, as in, “Wonder how we ended up here?”

Right about now if you told me left was right or up was down I’d be inclined to at least give the thought some consideration. So many things that we’ve taken as a matter of fact have been turned upside down in the past three years we’ve reached the point where I’ve come to completely understand that nothing is permanent. I was thinking today about what I am thankful for that I look to for inspiration when there seems to be no solid ground. It is my trust in myself and the recognition that as I have trusted myself I have been able to forge some amazing relationships over the years that I am confident will support me through whatever upheavals lay in front of us in the near term. For these relationships I am deeply thankful. Since it is my belief that a trust in myself is what has allowed for this nurturing network to take form I decided this week to re-publish an earlier post on this topic…here it is with my best wishes for a fulfilling holiday.

  • Can you imagine being a manager and not trusting people? I don’t necessarily mean specific people, I mean people in general. Unfortunately, I think many managers are unconscious of their biases in this regard, having “handy stories” justifying behavior that might otherwise be considered paranoid. I think you know the stories I mean, they usually include some element of “well you can never be too careful,” or “if you want something done right do it yourself.” Both of these are versions of how to avoid depending on others. These “stories” do a major job of invisibly undermining accountability in any organization. Put in the simplest terms, no trust = no accountability. So let’s take a closer look at trust in a way that opens space for accountability.

Preparing for this article, it occurred to me that for many thoughtful people there are three truths about trust and no common definition. The three truths are:

1.       If I trust, I can count on being disappointed.

2.       If I do not trust, my life will likely be safe but it will feel more like surviving than thriving.

3.       If I am up to anything of consequence—anything that will really make any difference—then I will need the involvement of others. Therefore, trust is a foregone conclusion: I will trust or I will accomplish very little in this lifetime.

With the above three truths in mind, I would do well to establish a tolerance for disappointment. If this sounds paradoxical to you I empathize. It appears that there is always a paradox to be dealt with where trust is involved if I insist on defining trust as having anything to do with someone other than myself!

In my consulting experience most people I encounter offer their definition of trust in terms of the behaviors of others. In contrast as I read through hundreds of quotes from "fairly famous" people to prepare for this article, a single insight became clear: there is no power in any definition of trust that depends on the behavior of others. None of these “famous people” defined trust as having anything to do with anyone other than themselves. Consider this:

  • Any definition of trust that generates power will be a function of my relationship with myself.

Do I have the confidence in myself to deal with whatever comes my way? Can I interact successfully with various personalities? Can I have direct reports who clearly have superior subject knowledge to my own? Can I honor my intentions when interacting with people of differing agendas? And most importantly, can I count on myself to respond and deliver without excuses even when someone has let me down?

As a manager this perspective on trust gives me reason to think that I can be effective no matter what and no matter who is involved. After reading all those quotes from famous people I concluded that trust, like we often say about beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. By adopting this perspective I place the responsibility for trust in my own lap. My power comes from the fact that there never was anything I could do about your behavior except to ask for what I wanted and hold you to account for what you said you would do.

  • Have you trusted yourself to form relationships with people who know you rely on them?
  • Have you formed relationships with people that will be there for you when it is that time?
  • Who have you let know that they can count on you when the going gets even tougher than it is now?



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