Trust But Verify

Article | Accountability Insights

by | Feb 6, 2014

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 in a predictable way, trust strengthens.

In his book President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, Lou Cannon describes the trust that developed between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev:

In signing the INF treaty, Reagan and Gorbachev demonstrated a comfortable familiarity with each other that was a by-product of their meetings in Geneva and Reykjavik.

“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 like it, too. 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 also solidifies a 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 each of us intends 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 a by-product (an outcome) of accountability—accountability that is consistently exemplified, expected, and followed up.

To learn more about how to trust but verify and inspect what you expect, we invite you to join the Accountability Community at, where you can review actual client case studies.

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