Trust is the one thing everyone in the world could use a little more of. Why? Because it's a hyper-connected, low-trust world. How do we know who to trust among our many links, friends and followers? How can we operate with high trust in a low-trust world without getting burned? How can we extend trust wisely to people when not everyone can be trusted? How do you exercise sound judgment, minimize risk and vulnerability, while maximizing your possibilities and opportunities?
Those are the questions Stephen R. Covey and co-author Greg Link attempt to answer in Smart Trust: Creating Prosperity, Energy and Joy in a Low-Trust World, a followup to Covey's best-selling Speed of Trust.
I'll cut right to the chase. The authors define "smart trust" this way: "Trust is judgment. It’s a competency and a process that enables us to operate with high trust in a low-trust world. It minimizes risk and maximizes possibilities. It optimizes two key factors: (1) a propensity to trust and (2) analysis. Simply put, Smart Trust is how to trust in a low-trust world."
What's propensity to trust? It's the inclination, bias or desire to trust people.
What do they mean by analysis? It's the assessment of three vital variables:
Opportunity, meaning the situation—what you’re trusting someone with.
Risk, meaning the level of vulnerability present.
Credibility, meaning the character and competence of the people involved.
The authors give us several key takeaways they call "The 5 Actions of Smart Trust." These are the specific behaviors high-trust individuals, teams and organizations have in common. The actions Smart Trust leaders consistently perform are these:
Choose to believe in trust. They create the foundation from which all other trust-building behaviors flow.
Start with self. They focus first on developing the character and competence—the credibility—that enable them to trust themselves and to also give others a person—or a team, organization or country—they can trust.
Declare their intent, and assume positive intent in others.They signal goals and intended actions—both what and why—clearly in advance and generally assume that others also have good intent and want to be worthy of trust.
Do what they say they’re going to do. They follow through and act to carry out their declared intent; they walk their talk.
Lead out in extending trust to others. They are the first to extend trust and initiate the upward virtuous cycle that leads to prosperity, energy and joy.
One of the things I liked most was the identification of "counterfeits." As the authors maintain, "…counterfeits are particularly dangerous because although the opposites are self-evident, counterfeit actions—like counterfeit money—appear to be real but on closer inspection reveal themselves as disingenuous. Whether engaged in knowingly or unconsciously, counterfeits are often the most prevalent actions in teams, organizations, and relationships of all kinds. They are also the actions most likely to diminish trust."
Counterfeits include giving lip service to trust when it is popular, being a “fair-weather” believer based on situation, opportunity and convenience, using trust as a “technique” rather than choosing it as a core belief, and faking a belief in trust in order to manipulate others.
Smart Trust is chock full of examples and stories drawn from a wide variety of people at all levels, locations and walks of life. Thought-provoking questions are at the end of each chapter. Here are two of my favorites:
To what extent are you giving people (including yourself) a person, a parent, a company, a charity, or a government they can trust?
What steps could you take to improve your character or competence (or the character and competence of your team or organization) and increase the likelihood that people will extend trust to you?
Proctor & Gamble Chairman, CEO President Robert McDonald says this about the book: “The job of every leader at every level is to cultivate and protect trust, but this is especially challenging in a distrustful world. Smart Trust shows the way; it is both a mindset and a toolbox for 21st-century leadership. I recommend it highly.”
As do I.