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What is trust, anyway?

In my experience, a resilient team has a high level of trust for each other.  It’s one of the things that keeps them resilient in tough times.

How much trust resides in your team?


Lynn Scott Coaching

In my experience, a resilient team has a high level of trust for each other.  It’s one of the things that keeps them resilient in tough times.

How much trust resides in your team?

But before we look at  the team context I think it’s important to get  ‘under the skin’ of Trust  because it is so fundamental to team resilience and yet something teams and individuals often find very hard to work on for the reasons I outlined last week.  

In fact, as John Blakey says in his new book The Trusted Executive  ‘At first glance, trust may seem a slippery concept but, with effort and focus, it can be pinned down. It has its rules and its patterns, its short-cuts and its pitfalls. Trustworthiness is a skill that can be developed by both individual leaders and collective organizations’.

So this week we’re going to look at a definition of trust as a starting point and one which you  might  like to use to ‘anchor’ your team to this topic.

There are many definitions of the word Trust and my favourite is one from Professor Zand of Stern Business School that John uses in his book

‘Trust consists of a willingness to increase your vulnerability to another person whose behaviour you cannot control, in a situation in which your potential benefit is much less than your potential loss if the other person abuses your vulnerability’

So it potentially means risking something (giving someone ‘the benefit of the doubt’ when we don’t ‘know all there is to know’; making the assumption that the other party ‘has your back’ and is not acting purely out of self-interest).

I like this definition because for me the phrase ‘abuses my vulnerability’ has such emotional power. 

And that’s the thing about trust (or distrust).  We feel it viscerally and emotionally.

The thing is, none of us can decide if someone will trust us or not – that’s within their gift; that is their choice to make.

But all of us can choose trustworthiness.

John shares the following formula for trustworthiness based on the work of Shawn Burke and his research team at the University of Florida 

Trustworthiness = ability x integrity x benevolence 

One of these ‘pillars’ on its own is not enough.

So, as a starter for ten:

Do you get results and do what you say you are going to?


If I followed you around for a week, would I see you living the values you talk about and would you be ‘walking the talk’?


Do you care about others – genuinely care?  Does that translate into the way you treat them every day?

These are big questions that we need to ask ourselves.

This is not about being ‘perfect’ by any means.

We will all fall short at times.

If I hide my shortcomings, blame others, deny or make excuses … you’ll probably stop trusting me .

If I ‘own it’ apologise and show humility…. I like to think you will forgive and enable us to both move on.

And as someone once said ‘if your actions or comments were going to be featured on the front page of the Sunday Times tomorrow…..would you be proud or ashamed’?

Would you be seen as trustworthy or not?

And that’s a great question to get us thinking about those three pillars.

I highly recommend John’s book if you want to delve much, much deeper into the topics of trust and trustworthiness. 

Next week:  Trust on the Team Table.

Lynn Scott

    This Page was last updated on: 3 May 2016

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