3 ways to tackle the trust crisis

27 January 2017 -


The latest in our series running up to the Management Book of the Year awards

By Management Book of the Year shortlisted author John Blakey

It is well-documented through various surveys and opinion pieces that we are experiencing a trust crisis in ‘big business.’ This matters because, as Steven Covey said, “trust is the glue of life. It is the foundational principle that holds all relationships”.

However, it is one thing to know that we have a problem and another thing to solve it. If trust has been lost then the challenge is to rebuild it. So, as practising business leaders, how do we do that?

Here are three practical steps that will set you on the road to restoring trust.

1. What gets measured is treasured

As part of my research into trust, I have interviewed many CEOs and MDs across a variety of business sectors. The first question I asked them was ‘How important is trust?’ and, unanimously, they replied that “trust is vital; it is one of the most important factors in the success of our business”.

And then the second question I asked was ‘So how do you measure trust in your company?’ and, with equal unity, they replied “Ah…well…we don’t exactly measure it…..we have proxy measures for trust because it is a soft thing that you can’t get your arms around, can you?”.

I am sorry but this doesn’t wash. It is an excuse for a lack of will. If you want to tackle the trust crisis then the first step is to make trust a key performance indicator and to measure it.

2. We need a plan and some tools

Fourteen years ago I built a house. It was a massive challenge in which I had little previous experience. I engaged experts whether they be architects, surveyors or builders. And these people brought with them models, plans and tools.

In particular, the architect showed us a model of the house and explained how it could be built stage by stage. In the same way, there are architects of trust who have developed models of trust and can help you build it with specific tools and techniques.

My own model of trust rests on three pillars – ability, integrity and benevolence. It is through breaking down trust into manageable chunks that it can be built day by day and step by step.

3. It starts with you!

One of the startling conclusions from my own research into trust is that over half of what builds organisational trust comes from the individual trustworthiness of the senior leadership team.

In other words, the role-modelling of trustworthy behaviours by the top team is one of the most powerful levers to build organisational trust.

The good news of this conclusion is that individual leaders, like you and I, can make a difference when it comes to trust. The bad news is that this means it starts with us and our daily leadership behaviours. There is no ducking our personal responsibility when it comes to the trust-building challenge.

There are many more steps on the road to trust but, as the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “a journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step”.

As leaders our job is to take the first step and so inspire others to follow. It starts with you. I hope you are up for the challenge.


John Blakey is the author of The Trusted Executive, which is shortlisted in the Commuter’s Read category of the 2017 Management Book of the Year awards

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