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Trust- The Essential Building Block

December 08 2014 - by Joan H. Underwood, CLP's Regional Project Manager

“The Caribbean Leadership Project is a dynamic, integrated renewable community of adaptive leaders transforming the regional public sector into one that instils trust and confidence.”

Thus states the CLP vision statement.  This is tangible proof of the high premium which we place on trust.  The reality is that trust is as fragile as it is important to the success of the public service.  While it can take a long time to build up trust – either in an organization or in a person – it can be erased in a moment with one thoughtless act, a single misunderstanding, a careless word or deed…

So, what exactly is trust?  Is it a single/uni-dimensional thing?  Or is it more complex – i.e. are there degrees of trust as opposed to an open-ended, unqualified, all or nothing construct?  Richard Fagerlin[1] of Peak Solutions Inc. posits that trust is actually based on our perception of three elements, namely:

  • Integrity - how one is - is the sum of a person’s behaviour, principles, values and tendency to follow through on commitments.
  • Competence - how one performs - includes an individual’s knowledge, skills and abilities as well as their ability to produce desired results on a consistent basis.
  • Compassion - how one relates to others - refers to an individual’s willingness to understand others’ points of view and to put the good of others ahead of a personal agenda.

Fagerlin also describes a “trust hangover” as a malady which manifests as:

  • Regret and lack of confidence in decisions.
  • Constant questioning of other people’s motives.
  • An unwillingness to set and maintain expectations.
  • A survivor mentality as people wait for “the other shoe to drop.”
  • Paranoia, as if employees think that people in a huddle are talking about them.

Are you part of a team or organization that is experiencing a “trust hangover”? 

The Executive Director of Jamaica’s Management Institute for National Development and member of CLP’s Project Steering Committee, Dr. Ruby Brown recently completed an excellent piece of research on the issue of “professional hurt”[2].  Dr. Brown describes instances of a lack of trust existing between the members of the political directorate and some civil servants, between citizens and the public service, amongst senior public servants, and between public sector leaders and the staff who report to them.  In fact, the word “trust” or some derivative of it appears seventy (70) times in Dr. Brown’s paper.

Given the prevalence of problems related to a lack of trust as well as the importance of trust to the realization of our vision, CLP invited TRUST Ambassador Bob Whipple to deliver the feature presentation during our Third Leadership Symposium in Trinidad last week.  Bob is known internationally for the use of his ‘trust barometer’.  How do you think your ministry or department would rate on the trust barometer? 

Well, the good news is that there are concrete steps that can be taken to regain trust which has been damaged or to create trust where it did not previously exist.   We present here just a few of the takeaways from last week’s interactive workshop on Trust and Transparency.

  1. Whipple’s First Law of Trust: If you are not happy with the level of trust you see in your organization/department, find ways to trust others more.
  2. The minimum requirements for promoting/achieving trust include being honest, open and ethical and honouring your commitments.
  3. Holding people accountable in a punitive way destroys trust while holding people accountable in a principle-centred way helps build trust.

What is your response to these takeaways? 

What additional measures would you recommend to build trust between citizens and the public service? Between public servants and the political directorate? Between senior public servants and the staff who they manage?


[2] Brown, Ruby M; “Professional Hurt: The Untold Stories” Submitted to the Ph.D. in Leadership and Change Program of Antioch University