The Reality of Trust
Article | Accountability Insights
Trust flows naturally from accountability. To build or rebuild trust, we must first take accountability and then hold others accountable in a positive, principled way. Not surprisingly, whenever people feel accountability is being forced upon them, trust erodes. On the other hand, when people feel accountability is exemplified, encouraged, and followed up on by others in a predictable way, trust strengthens. Consider the following example.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty—signed on December 8, 1987—required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate all nuclear missiles with ranges of 500 to 5500 kilometers. When Reagan and Gorbachev signed the treaty, they demonstrated a comfortable familiarity with each other. Both the familiarity and the underlying trust were by-products of their multiple meetings and experiences with each other in Geneva and Reykjavik. The following exchange took place during the signing:
“We have listened to the wisdom of an old Russian maxim,” Reagan said, repeating a phrase he had repeated scores of times. “The maxim is doverey, no proverey—trust, but verify.”
“You repeat that at every meeting,” Gorbachev said good-humoredly.
“I like it,” Reagan said.
We, too, like it and believe it. But doesn’t verifying trust by inspecting what you expect actually imply a lack of trust? Isn’t it just a disguised form of micromanagement? No, it isn’t. Approached properly, inspecting what you expect or verifying your trust not only strengthens trust, but it also solidifies common purpose around helping each other succeed rather than exposing each other’s failures. To us, “trust but verify” means not only relying on people but also checking in to make sure we are all succeeding at what we intend to do. In the end, you usually get what you inspect. And if you do it well, you will increase the likelihood of your success, build morale, and strengthen the capability of your organization to deliver in the future.
Remember, trust is an outcome or by-product of accountability—accountability that is consistently exemplified, expected, and followed up on by others in a predictable way. To learn more about the reality of trust, trust but verify, and inspecting what you expect, we invite you to join the Accountability Community, where you can review original research, executive videos, and actual client case studies.
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