Start With Trust

At the very core of your nation, your tribe, your company, is the need for trust.

Humans are perhaps surprising in that, on the whole, they reward personal trust. In Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner tell the story of a bagel salesman who operated on an honor-code business model, and generally managed to make a profit. If it had been impossible to trust people, even people he didn’t know, his business would never have been sustainable.

What do you need to make trust work?

  1. Trust must be personal. This means trust is a part of a relationship. It is expressed with object and subject: I trust you. It isn’t a nebulous faith in the goodness of human beings but a specific faith the goodness of that single person. And the consequences of breaking that trust are likewise personal, even before they are professional. Someone you trust doesn’t want to violate that trust out of fear of disappointing the truster and irrevocably damaging the relationship, not out of fear of professional consequences (even though they will also naturally exist).
  2. Trust must be explicit. It must be unequivocally communicated. The trustee understands that trust is being placed in him by the truster. The scope and limitations of the responsibility are understood.
  3. Trust must be unhedged. Hedging your bet on someone isn’t really trust. If your employee knows you have a backup plan or a failsafe specifically planned in case she violates your trust, she knows that your trust isn’t real. This doesn’t mean having no Plan B in case something goes wrong that is beyond your employee’s control, it means specifically preparing for the employee to fail you.
  4. Trust must be reciprocal. Entrusting a task or responsibility to an employee means that they are also entrusting you to remain consistent in your trust. You must take that trust as seriously as you want the employee to take your trust. Subsequently reassigning the responsibility without clear reason and consent, making changes without involving the employee, or otherwise shifting the sands beneath his feet will erode his trust and make it difficult to execute on your trust in him.

Above all, you must first trust yourself. Trust your own knowledge and instincts when hiring people. In fact, choosing good people is the one and only area in which you truly need to trust yourself, and the absolute most important skill for a leader to master. Choosing your people well is what makes trust possible, and trust is what makes good business possible.

(This post is part two of a series.)

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