The Circle of Trust – Have You Earned the Right to be Trusted?


The best way to find out if you can trust someone, is to trust them. – Ernest Hemingway

Trust is truly the cornerstone of every relationship.  Whether it is a work group, a relationship, or how you feel about your favorite sports team, trust is the epicenter for the health of any situation.

The tricky part is that trust is very dynamic.  It can be over shadowed by acts of selfishness and short mindedness.  It’s fragile and yet incredibly strong.  And it can be both given and taken away very quickly.

So why is trust so hard to build?

There is a phrase that I have used for years, once heard from a leader that I admire to this day, is called the “circle of trust”.   This leader was very clear that everyone was given trust up front, but in order for trust to grow on the level needed to enter the circle of trust, you had to prove your worth.  You had to earn the right to be deemed worthy enough to enter that circle.  There were no limits on the amount of people who could enter, nor requirements for rank, age or stature, it was truly open to anyone.  As long as you earned the right.

I remember the day that he mentioned to me that I had earned the right to be in the circle.  The was a situation that came up, one that was not a pleasant one, and I had to report in on the details, the challenge and the solution.  When I called him to share the details, I started with the solution first to ensure that he knew that it was not only handled, but that he did not need to do anything to ensure things would be ok.  I had it, it was taken care of.  Then I shared what went wrong, what we learned and how we would prevent it in the future.   Little did I know that given situation illustrated to him that I was trustworthy enough to be in his circle of trust.  But when I found out, I was elated.  Since that time, I have learned the attributes and capabilities needed to be fully trusted and to create an environment of trust in any group, so I thought I would share.

1 – Own Your Failures – Skirting around the truth of any failure does not build trust.  Think about when you were a kid and got in trouble for something.  At some point, you likely tried to fib your way out of it or leave out enough details to try to get out of trouble.  But it never works.  Why?  Because the truth always comes out eventually.  When you own a failure up front, it shows you not only take accountability, but that you will tell the truth no matter how painful it can be.  This illustrates the level of integrity you have within you and thus that you can be relied upon.

2 – Be Transparent – As leaders, there is often a stigma that we cannot make a mistake.  When the reality is that there is a long history of mistakes that got us to where we are today.  The key is that we learned from each and every one of them.  The point here is that in order for people to be trustworthy, trustworthiness has to be modeled.  It has to start with YOU.  When mistakes, blunders, challenges, or opportunities occur, talk about them.  Share the thinking, the approach and the outcome with others so they understand what happens in a given situation.  When you create this environment, accountability grows exponentially, and so does trust.

3 – Confirm Trustworthiness – There is nothing better than when a parent shares their pride or their love with their children, no matter how old you are.  The same is true for your teams.  Tell them when you trust them.  Make a point, both as a team and as individuals, to state your level of trust.  This can also be said for the opposite.  If you have doubts, or are still in the process of building trust, share the concerns and the efforts needed to build a solid foundation of trust worthy behaviors.  When that time comes, share your approval and confirm that they are heading down the right path.  People need affirmation.  Sharing that they are doing the right thing helps to keep those behaviors in a growth pattern that is both positive and impactful.

4 – Be Real – It has been my experience that there is a direct correlation around the level of trust a team can create to the amount of genuine sincerity the individuals have with each other.  To be clear, not everyone can be close.  But you can create a platform where people can be themselves.  One of the key benefits to point #2, is that you can create an environment where there is no fear to be real.  People can be themselves.  And when that occurs, they can be more comfortable with each other.  Respect grows, diversity is  nurtured, understanding and growth then prosper.  With all of that comes a stronger foundation for trust and helps individuals to understand how they need to behave in order to gain a higher level of trustworthiness.

5 – Play Together – This one seems to be the one that is the most overlooked element to helping to build trust.  It is related to point #4 in that it helps to create situations where people can feel more comfortable to be themselves.  But playing together has strong strategic elements to it that leaders often overlook.  Think about it this way:  Creativity is the backbone of progress in any environment.  When people play together, they are usually at their most creative.  They are more likely to be free of constraints, political elements, professional mandates, etc.  So we see each other in our natural state.  In other words, we are vulnerable.  And when we share our vulnerability, we automatically bring people into our circle of trust.  When we play, we are free to be ourselves and when a group of individuals can come together in such a way as to be vulnerable in safe environment, the building blocks of trust will grow at a rapid rate.

These are just a few examples of tactics and approaches to build a higher level of trust, as individuals or as a team, within any environment.  A circle of trust can have many expectations, so it is important to share examples of what it takes to earn that level of trust to earn that right to be in that circle.  Communication openly, honestly and directly so that it is not a mystery to people and you may be surprised how focused people will get around building the right behaviors of trust.


1 Comment

  1. So true, my friend. One of the proudest moments of my career came when I was transitioning into a management position and replacing my current manager. I really looked up to her. She was on the phone with a union president who’s trust she had earned. As she was explaining the transition to him, she mentioned that I could be trusted. This guy was tough and very skeptical of management; some thought he was kind of a bully. He didn’t know me and had no other reason to trust me. Her trust in me and their trust in each other allowed us to have a very effective relationship. We didn’t always agree but we always had a mutual respect for each other and could speak candidly without worry of damaging the relationship. It began with a simple statement of trust.

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