After spending years working with and sharing stories of great entrepreneurs and CEOs, I learned that business is not merely about technology, know-how or innovative products and services. Successful entities all rotate around people and the relationships built between them. In these relational environments, there’s one glue that holds the bond together. Whether it’s an individual doing our dry cleaning or the one shaking our hand to consummate a multi-million dollar transaction, that quality is trust.
Every business leader or entrepreneur engages in a journey that most dare not dream possible, driving to unprecedented heights and, at times, rock-bottom lows. With every worthwhile endeavor, there’s discovery, adventure, risk, and reward. Equally important, the challenges encountered stretch the fabric of your well-being. They test the tensile strength of your trust — and your ability to remain trustworthy. These experiences aren’t electives we choose, nor are they classes we can skip. They are subjects we can pass by relying on our trustworthiness as a core value.
Even in this era of hyper-change, the value of trust remains adaptable to an ever-changing world, providing a changeless center.
Trust leads to immeasurable benefits
People often view trust as a soft, intangible skill. Reality proves it can save time, resources and anxiety. Today, employers realize that knowing how to build and convey trust is as valuable as the technical skills for carrying out the job. When trust is established, it allows you to arrive at decisions easily and reduce your risk in any transactions. When trust is low, everything slows down and costs more money. A lack of trust makes business deals — even relationships — feel like you’re walking across a frozen lake on very thin ice.
As Steven M.R. Covey said in his classic, The Speed of Trust, “Trust is an economic driver, not just a social virtue… High trust pays dividends; low trust is a tax.” Thomas Friedman was equally emphatic in The World Is Flat, “No low-trust society will ever produce sustained innovation.”
Trust depends upon two essential ingredients: integrity (character) and ability (competence). When we know that another’s character is based on unchanging principles, we have confidence in that person’s dependability. It’s a similar feeling to trusting a pilot as we board a plane. If we trust the individual’s integrity and ability, as we do the pilot in whose hands we entrust our life, we can nap at 35,000 feet.
When integrity and ability come into question, everything slows down. Confidence gives way to hesitation and calculated caution. Any small compromises to the trust we’ve built can cause clients, partners and subordinates to ask the question, “Will he or she do that to me?” For instance, a mechanic’s inability to fix a car or a package service to deliver a parcel replaces certainty with questions, if not fears. Character forms the supporting edifice of our lives. If it’s flawed, then eventually the pressures of life will expose it. For example, Warren Buffett commented that, in a recession, “You find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”
Trust is the foundation upon which everything positive is built. A foundation of trust, just with a structural foundation, isn’t always visible, but whenever it’s deficient it becomes clearly evident. The Leaning Tower of Pisa isn’t known for its height, style or age. It earned its infamous reputation because it started shifting on its foundation before completion. When a foundation is faulty, like with the Tower of Pisa, you must engage in Herculean efforts to compensate for its flaws.
When trust is broken, a chasm is created that is exceedingly difficult to repair. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.” On the other hand, trust that comes from knowing someone’s unfaltering integrity removes hesitancy and makes a handshake as good as a ream of documents prepared by lawyers.
It’s obvious that the leaders of Enron had remarkable abilities, but they lacked integrity. The book and movie, The Smartest Guys in the Room, chronicled Enron’s rise to the seventh-largest company in the U.S., and its subsequent fall in less than a year attributable to its corrupt and faulty business practices. Its leaders lacked the combination of character and competence that provide the foundation of trust.
It’s important to note that trust is transferable — like a bearer bond given to another party as collateral. Its transferable quality allows for exponential growth. Because we trust people and they trust us, there is a geometric multiplication of opportunities through the relational networks that are built on the transmission of trust.
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