Trust Matters – Be Careful What They Trust You For

Trust Matters – Be Careful What They Trust You For


One of my two partners asked me, “How did your program go?” She was inquiring about the year-long leadership course I had kicked off the day before with thirty school principals. Her tone was unusually serious.

“Great,” I said. “They’re a super group, and the team (I had assembled to present) was excellent.”

“That’s great,” my other partner piped in. He asked: “And how do you think the preparation went here last week?”

“Okay…I think. GB (our assistant) did great work.” I said, continuing, “There was a ton for her to do, and I probably put a lot on her at the end, but it came together pretty well.”

The first partner replied, “Dan, it didn’t go great.  She felt under pressure the whole time, worked long hours, and felt you kept changing your mind about what you wanted. She’s at the end of her rope.”

“Wow,” I said . . . and felt terrible.

I thought of myself as a very trustworthy person, but that intervention from my partners ten years ago taught me a startling lesson about trust. My partners and our assistant GB had indeed come to trust me

. . . to behave in an untrustworthy way.  Yeh, I was dependable.  Dependably late. They could count on me to improvise to the last instant, learning and changing on the fly. They counted on me to do what worked for me, but not for them.  I’ve gotten a lot better in group work, but my wife and others still trust that I will almost always push the time envelope.  That’s not the kind of trust I want to generate. Not the kind of trust that Amy Lyman write about in The Trust Worthy Leader.


So, this reveals a rotten sense of trust.  In this sense you can always trust your boss. . . to act in ways, some of which get in the way of work. And your spouse can always trust you. . .  to act in ways, some of which don’t work for him/her.  Our son Jack, for instance, can trust– whether it works or not – that we’ll be on him about grades, homework and video game time.

So, people often trust us to act in ways that hurt the work.  Especially when we’re in power positions we trust that others will (have to) accommodate us, bend to our ways, and accept our values. Whether our ways help them get the work done or not.

Great leading requires that you become aware of the ways people trust you to act, not because it’s good for them or the work, but because it’s just the way you are.  Are you aware of how people “trust” you to act. And how do you grow beyond those limits, in order to

Lead with your best self!


  • Trust is a funning thing, one of those soft things that we often rush by. What’s not so funny is how often it lies at the center of our challenges and opportunities. “Trust is like the air we breathe,” Warren Buffett said. “When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.”

    In times of high uncertainty, therefore, we pay more attention to the source of trust: human conduct–How we do what we do. Trust becomes, more vitally than ever, the currency of human exchange.

    The Law of Reciprocity ( is based on the Law of Love ( and is one of the best methods to build trust with those you care about at work and in life. Put simply, “Love is Law, Law is Love.” This amounts to the same thing as “the gift of giving” without the “hope of reward or pay,” or serving others. The Law of Love flows through all religions.

    Set the most enviable example and let your actions demonstrate what serving others truly means. Real leadership is not about amassing personal power; it’s about the ability to unleash the strengths of others and in turn create a culture of success.

  • I once volunteered in a church with a pastor whose modus operandi was a lot like yours, Dan. He’s very creative, full of ideas, and well-intentioned. Our team would work on some event for weeks and then he’d change a key component at the last minute, leaving the rest of us feeling shaky and insecure, afraid we’d look like fools because even after weeks of collaborating on the event, it would look as if we hadn’t planned at all!

    This guy carried it off because he was very charismatic and lived for those moments when the event went live and the spotlight was on him. In retrospect, I wonder if it was his way of moving us out of a left-brain, digital, organized perfectionistic mode into a right brain, creative, improvisational mode where we had to be aware of multiple dynamics like the non-verbal messages sent by others on the team DURING THE EVENT!!!!

    It’s not as if any of us were trained in improvisational theater, but it actually worked out.

    Perhaps he was operating on a biblical quote that goes something like this: “Do not worry about what you will say when they bring you before the judges because the words will be given to you.” Were we relying on a Higher Power? Was it the pastor’s way of giving us motivation to pray?

    God knows… 🙂

    There are probably a lot of people who, like your assistant, want all the details taken care of ahead of time, afraid that if things aren’t all perfectly arranged and there’s a screw-up, they’d be blamed, at risk of losing their jobs or reputations or future sales because of it–no matter how impossible and unreasonable the last-minute changes that were introduced. Think bridal planners for one example. Unlike the pastor I describe, they have zero control about how things work out. Bridezillas and mothers-in-law are counting on them for flowers, band, photographer, sound system, catering menu, timing, etc., but it takes time to change all these things, and it takes coordination.

    Perhaps a lesson to be learned is that some people like order while others are more comfortable with chaos, or don’t understand and appreciate how much time and energy goes into wreaking order out of chaos… especially if the support staff aren’t assertive enough to help them understand. It’s two totally different paradigms.

    The best managers, of course, understand and appreciate the hard work and skill of what support staff bring to a project.

    Another possible lesson that planners and support staff can learn is to stop sweating the small stuff.. and it’s all small stuff.

    …or so I believe.

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