Nurturing Trust

Trust: The Vital Commodity of Our Time

Is there anything more valuable than trust? In practical terms trust is often described as being reliable. It’s the cornerstone that supports feelings of safeness and connection. We need to be able to rely on the words and actions of those around us. Elite partnerships, synchronized teamwork, and championship outcomes all hinge on one vital element—consistent trust.

And yet, when we take a moment to reflect: how many of us consistently follow through on our agreements? If we set the bar at being trustworthy by consistently delivering on our commitments, it’s clear that trustworthiness is a challenging commodity.

There are numerous reasons. Life seems to be operating at the pace of an Olympic track meet, and our to-do lists rival Santa’s Christmas list. Societal pressure also pushes us to be the “perfect” spouse, parent, friend, and colleague, leading to over-promising our good intentions.

In addition, many of our leadership role models have been caught in the web of deceit. Today, a great number of leaders, like so many others, are DECA (disconnected, embattled, compartmentalized, and adversarial). This hampers our ability to trust and be trusted. Further, we tend to avoid holding leaders accountable, both within and beyond our immediate circles. I think this happens because we’re often disconnected from the larger culture and trapped in cognitive dissonance to protect our tribe. Many people find themselves in a protective bunker mentality, avoiding vulnerability and meaningful connections. We segregate ourselves from uncomfortable truths and diverse perspectives, preparing for battle rather than embracing dialogue.

Recent polls paint a bleak picture. A “Morning Consult” poll from March 3, 2023, revealed that only 49% of Americans trust their government, 50% trust the electoral process, and 43% trust the media. It’s evident that trust in our institutions and leaders is at an all-time low.

The consequences of this erosion of trust are far-reaching. Studies reveal that people who lack trust tend to have less gray matter brain volume and higher rates of depression (Fermin et al., 2022). Depression has cascading effects, including poor employee morale, increased turnover, interpersonal conflicts, and decreased productivity (Baba, et al., 1998).

So, what can we do to rebuild trust? There are numerous steps we can take. As leaders, we can start by being more vulnerable and creating safe partnerships filled with transparent intentions and collaborative invitations. Trust, like a rope bridge between two cliffs, requires someone to model the first step. Leaders must show vulnerability by admitting mistakes, encouraging input and critique, along with talking their walk (i.e., aligning and explaining actions with words) through constant dialog. Above all, we must communicate with better nuance (i.e., “I’ll try” and “maybe” rather than “I’ll do” and “yes”) and live up to our promises or offer apologies—because in life, there are no small agreements.