Category Archives: Trust

The Integrity Radar: warning to all leaders

bullshit detectorHuman beings have an innate sense of when people are not quite right. This is played with by fraudsters and con-men, but most of us can sniff a ‘bad-un’. This is an evolved capability, reading verbal and non-verbal signals. It is also based upon our previous expereinces of people (either a specific individual or groups of simialr types fo people). This can be conscious or unconscuious. We can make decisions obliquely and irrationally (Jacobs 2009; Peters, 2012).

Whatever it is, if we are given a chink of something to be suspicious about, we will be. In contemporary speech, a ‘bull****’ detector.

So this is the challenge for leaders: if you don’t believe it, don’t say it. Act with integrity. If you don’t, people will see straight through you anyway, most likely as not. So you will not win out in the long term.

Further Reading:

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science. Penguin Group Portfolio, NY

Peters S. (2012) The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness. Vermillion, London.

Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation

Dan Pink’s 2009 talk on The Puzzle of Motivation was one of the most-watched TED Talks (see the video link above) and draws from the ideas he researched for his book ‘Drive’. In the book he explores the research around aspects of intrinsic motivation which he divides into autonomy, mastery and purpose. 

This knowledge of human behaviour counters traditional models of motivation driven by rewards and punishment (i.e. ‘carrot and stick’) which are dominated by a focus on external factors such as pay.

This new thinking around motivation is based around Self-Determination Theory (see Ryan and Deci, 2000), although the origins also link back to the core ideas of systems thinkers and practitioners such as Deming, who was also a student of psychology.

A sense of purpose is essential for people to focus their work AND to give meaning to their work (Deming 1994). Autonomy involves the opportunity to influence the work that is being done and is based on an ability to make decisions using information to hand.

As Pink points out, any work  requiring some degree of cognitive ability (i.e. aside from the most menial), will see higher worker performance when degrees of autonomy, mastery and purpose are increased.


Deming, W.E. (1993) The New Economics, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Pink D. (2009) Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books.

Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. (2000) Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55 (1): 68-78.

Other links:

Motivation revamped: a summary of Daniel H. Pink’s new theory of what motivates us


If integrity is the thing that people really want – how can I give a good impression of it?

sincerityhancockI recently, but fleetingly heard a joke made by the late, great British comedian Tony Hancock who, to broadly paraphrase his line, stated: “The most important thing that an audience wants from an artist is sincerity, so if you can fake that, your made!”

Sometimes leaders can be tempted to think that sincerity and its bigger sibling, integrity are something that you can manufacture.  Nothing could be further from the truth – the unassailable truism of Hancock’s joke is that if you manufacture sincerity (or integrity) you have by definition destroyed it – and everything that goes with it – credibility, trust, partnership, commitment…the list goes on.

There are no quick fixes to building integrity – it starts from within oneself and is expressed in what you say and what you do. It affects your interactions with others. It can be difficult and requires commitment. It is repeated every day and is self-reinforcing. You cannot paste it onto the outside like wallpaper!

Read more:

Coppin, A. and Barratt, J. (2002) Timeless Management, Palgrave MacMillan, NY.

Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

You reveal your commitments in what you say and what you do

Deke Slayton
Not a banal team building task…                    Deke Slayton’s CO2 scrubber fix, designed to save Apollo 13 astronauts from asphyxiation.

When it comes down to it, what are we really committed to? How can we test our integrity, our true priorities and principles? How do people judge our choices and interpret our values? How do we show what we think is important? The answer is startlingly simple. In the words of a valued former colleague, Derek Middleton, whom I worked with many years ago,

  You show your commitments by what you say and what you do

Derek implied that he was quoting someone else, but I have yet to find a source in the intervening years, so I will attribute it to him.

 The statement is far from a banal truism. It is a test of character:

  • Do we link what we say with what we do?
  • Do we do the things which we say are important?
  • Do we say the things which we know are important?
  • Do we prioritise  our actions just as we do our words & ideas?

Lets face it – are we really committed? We can apply this to our ethics, our respect of others, our work values, our plans, goals, priorities, sense of self, use of time. It forces us to be honest with ourselves, to reject the  excuse: ‘I haven’t got the time‘. It is about self-management and real priorities.

Analogies from the worlds of sports and entertainment tend to fail in these discussions; dedication tends to be relatively time-bound (to achievement, excellence or skill acquisition) and is a relatively poor relation to true commitment; what we say & what we do.


Coppin, A. and Barratt, J. (2002) Timeless Management, Palgrave MacMillan, NY

Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

Lovell, J. and Kluger J. (1994) Lost Moon – the perilous voyage of Apollo. Houghton Mifflin, NY

High Flyers & Team Players winning at any cost ?

It is possible to get the best results by cheating the system.  However there is more to success than just the result. People are judged on other things, their values, their previous decisions, their credibility. Integrity is an often used word. What does it mean?

Stephen Covey picks out integrity as an essential element of character. For him, integrity is defined as ‘the value we place on ourselves‘. Clearly, however, if we value one aspect of ourselves (e.g. personal success) above everything else we could get a skewed understanding of personal integrity. As John Donne said in the 1600s, ‘No man is an island‘. We have to value ourselves in a rounded way. A person who achieves success by deceit needs to understand that when discovered the deceit erodes other’s perception of the success – and that being the case, the very deceit in the first place should erode that person’s own perception (so should discourage them from short-cutting or cheats).

Extreme examples are easy to pick out. Cyclist Lance Armstrong famously held his entire team in the thrall of his doping cheats (and, at the rawest level, you could argue that the whole team benefitted from his success). Armstrong appears still to be in self-denial about his deception, others less so. Jutin Gatlin, the Olympic sprinter, was banned twice for drugs offences, yet continued his career (within the international rules of short term competition bans). However return-to-competition rules aside, his achievements since returning and his credibility as anathelete are questioned by many in the sport.

In the world of work it is rare for performance enhancing drugs to be the ‘cheat’ of choice. But can we tolerate other short-cuts or attempts to climb the slippery pole? Withholding information, lack of collaboration, criticism behind people’s backs – all to help ‘self’ at a cost to others in our team? This is a win-lose mentality, reflected in win-lose behaviours.

Dirk Kuyt – a picture of commitment

Fortunately, there is another more positive side to things. Some team members are valued for bringing a work ethic, a collaborative spirit or set of values which enhance the team. In sport Dirk Kuyt, the Netherlands footballer would be a good example. His international career has seen him play as a centre forward, a midfielder and, at the Brazil World cup, as a defensive player. His work rate in all positions was unquestionably high. He was prepared to take on whichever role was required for the sake of the team. It is no suprise that, despite Kuyt leaving my son’s favourite football club in 2012, the player still remains one of his favourite and most inspiring sportsmen. Few professional footballers maintain that type of loyalty with young teenagers!

When people think of us at work in a few years time, what will they be thinking. Will we be seen as a Dirk Kuyt or a Lance Armstrong? And which do we think would be better?


Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.


Should we say it again? People are not the problem.

chimp at wheelDeming famously stated “I should estimate that in my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this: 94% belongs to the system (responsibility of management), 6% special.“. In other words people-related ‘fault’ will be part of the minority 6%.

This statement tends to set people into a degree of  hand-wringing ifs and buts: ‘surely he meant this only in a manufacturing system’, ‘ what about the difficult people?’, ‘ what if they are incompetent?’, ‘I am sure folks are the problem 40% of the time’ etc…

Chip and Dan Heath share a trivial, but insightful example in their book ‘Switch’. They discuss a situation (part of a research exercise) where moviegoers eat significantly more popcorn if they are given large buckets, than if they are given small buckets. To the outsider it looks like the people are ‘Popcorn Gorging Gluttons’ and we may feel that we should judge them as so. In reality, their behaviour (eating excessive amounts of popcorn) is driven by the system – the size  of bucket they have been given. Change the bucket for a small one and their behaviour changes – they seem like moderate consumers. The system is the problem (large buckets), not the people.

“But aha – surely it’s their fault that they choose to scoff down the popcorn!”. True, we are sentient beings and can make choices (for example, I would hope that people who are aware of supermarket sales floor design are less likely to buy excessive amounts of fresh baked goods, fresh fruit and ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ items). I am not suggesting that we should excuse everyone of their behaviour 95% of the time. There are other things to consider – for example do we run on autopilot too often (Do we let the chimp drive the car? More for a later blog I think…)?

However as a start we need to be honest enough to examine our own assumptions as placed upon others and how we judge their behaviour. As the Heath brothers suggest, to do this we need to encounter a deep-rooted phenomenon identified in psychology.

 Kendra Cherry explains -“When it comes to other people, we tend to attribute causes to internal factors such as personality characteristics and ignore or minimize external variables. This phenomenon tends to be very widespread, particularly among individualistic cultures.

In Psychology this is known as the fundamental attribution error – we automatically assume that the person’s internal characteristics are the cause of behaviour even when other possible influencing factors are present in the situation.

So let’s pull away from assumption and open our minds to what is really happening with people.

Further Reading:

Deming W.E. (1982) Out of the Crisis (p315), MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Heath C., and Heath, D. (2010) Switch: when change is hard, New York: Random House

Peters S. (2012) The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness. Vermillion, London.

 Other links:

Cherry, K. (2014) Attribution: How we explain behaviour.


Is Re-building Trust Worth the Effort?

By Cindy Vallance

My last blog covered many of the reasons behind the erosion and destruction of trust. Not a very positive topic, I know.

The good news, however, is that once trust has been damaged all may not be lost.

If you have broken someone’s trust in you, the very first step is to assume ownership of your own actions. RECOGNISE where trust may have been broken, ACKNOWLEDGE your actions, ADMIT your lapse, and APOLOGISE to the individual whose trust in you has been shaken.

To re-establish the relationship, it will be important to reaffirm your commitment to the values and goals you share with the other person. It is important to be willing to incur some personal loss as you start by rebuilding basic trust. Sound difficult? Make no mistake, it is. Too hard? That is up to you to decide. Sometimes a third party can assist with this.

Whether you work directly with the other individual or through a third party, when it comes to managing distrust and working to re-establish trust, it is important to agree explicitly on expectations, deadlines and agreed remedies. Agree how these will be monitored or verified and work to increase awareness of each others’ actions.

It will be important to openly acknowledge areas of difference and incompatibility – agreement cannot be achieved on everything but it should be possible to minimise the interference of incompatible areas in daily activities, particularly if agreement can be achieved about overall shared goals and values.

Looking back, It is hard to believe I have devoted no less than 8 blogs to the topic of trust. But then again, I suppose it is because I feel so strongly about this topic and we really don’t bring it into the work place very much. Yet so much rides on trust. And it all starts with each of us.

The quote I began this series on trust with was: “You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible. ” Anton Chekhov

No one said any of this would be easy but then again, if you would like a reason to try building trust with others in a more contemporary quote, Canadian ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky did say “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”


Trust – Broken in a Heartbeat

By Cindy Vallance

Trust is broken all too easily when expectations are violated.

There are a host of ways to damage trust. Once again, the most productive way to approach this topic is to reflect on what we can do. This is where we have control to make decisions and take actions.

So what behaviours damage trust?

Coercive or threatening behaviour will break trust and can be overt or more subtle. Blaming staff or co-workers for personal mistakes as well as making unfair or wrong accusations will also damage trust. Withholding promised support or breaking promises to others is another cause. Showing favouritism or discrimination will certainly damage trust as will lying, stealing others’ ideas, or wrongfully taking credit for others’ work. If we misuse private information or disclose others’ secrets they will hesitate to share with us again.

Eroding trust can be very easy – we can erode the trust others have in us simply by acting in a way that is overly controlling or by excluding others in an information loop. Engaging in harmful gossip with a “divide and conquer” approach will make the person on the receiving end wonder when their own actions will be the next topic on the gossiper’s lips – except this time sharing the ‘hot’ topic with someone else.

Have you ever engaged in any of these behaviors? Have I? Of course. But can I make a concentrated and conscious effort to avoid engaging in trust destroying actions? Yes but only if I make the decision to do so. The same is true for all of us.

And of course, the erosion or destruction of trust is much more complex than simply focusing on current behaviours.

Does the person whose trust we have broken have a predisposition to forgive? Has the breach been one time or is there a history of trust violation? What is the degree of the breach? Has damage been avoided or has it been incurred?

And what are the remedial measures? What is needed and what is possible? An explanation, an apology, a remedy?

My final blog on the topic of trust will look at ways to repair broken trust and manage distrust.

Trust Wasn’t Built in a Day

By Cindy Vallance

I wrote recently about different types of trust: individual approaches to thinking and feeling as well as broader organisational trust. Today I am going to focus on how we can build the trust that people have in us.

It all starts with some honest self reflection.

Let’s begin with the individual level. Trust increases or decreases depending on the behaviours that we demonstrate. Ask yourself: Am I CONSISTENT between my ‘talk’ and ‘walk?’ Do I keep my promises and tell the TRUTH? Do I demonstrate this consistency over time and across situations by MEETING DEADLINES and FOLLOWING THROUGH on planned activities and promises? If so, these behaviours will help others to see that they can predictably rely on us to deliver on what we have committed to.

Trust can be developed through DELEGATION OF CONTROL as well. How can we do this? Ask: Do I ensure staff are provided with a voice and participate in decision-making by encouraging opportunities that allow them to influence areas where they have knowledge and interest?

DEMONSTRATING GENUINE CONCERN is another way to build trust. Again, some questions we can ask ourselves: Do I show consideration and sensitivity for others’ needs and interests? Do I refrain from exploiting others for my own agenda?

COMMUNICATION also builds trust. Once again,  ask: Do I provide accurate information, explanations for decisions, and take an open rather than a ‘need to know’ approach? Do I work with my team to develop a collective identity, shared goals and a commitment to commonly shared values?

When it comes to organisational trust, much depends on the perceptions people in the organisation have of JUSTICE and FAIRNESS. A balance must also be struck between CENTRALISATION and FORMALISATION of systems and processes with more general GUIDELINES that provide opportunities to make mistakes and learn. Having rules for every conceivable situation can never be successful – no policy guidebook that attempted this would ever be complete.

Organisational trust also means promoting a safe environment for RISK-TAKING with a tolerance for a certain amount of inevitable failure, as well as a sense of INCLUSIVENESS and VALUING PEOPLE.

Sadly, it can sometimes all go horribly wrong. Why? What happens when trust erodes or is even broken? And what can we do to fix it? More on that next time.


Trusting Types


By Cindy Vallance
There are many types of learning styles – and none are better than any other. Some people prefer to focus on PRACTICAL TIPS, others want to understand the IDEAS behind the practice and still others prefer to focus purely on their own EXPERIENCE – those who prefer the last probably aren’t reading this at all.
I personally like all of these styles so be warned – this blog is just about ideas, with not a practical tip in sight. In my last blog, I mentioned that it is possible to trust and distrust the same person in different contexts. Why is this the case?

When it comes to trusting iINDIVIDUALS, there are two types of trust.
Cognition based trust (thinking)
– is typical of many work-based relationships
– is often limited to specific exchanges
– depends on the reliability and integrity of the individual’s past performance
– may depend in some cases on professional credentials or sources of proof such as certification
– will often occur when there are social similarities between the two individuals
Affect based trust (feeling)
– often develops as time goes by in later stages of work relationships
– may occur as relationships get closer and personal knowledge between the two individuals deepen
– can depend on the frequency of the interactions
– are supported through the personal motives of the two people
– depend on interpersonal care and concern
– demonstrates organisational citizenship behaviours
A third type of trust can also occur at the ORGANISATIONAL level..
Institution based trust
– is grounded in organisational level systems
– is demonstrated through the organisational culture
– sets the stage for other types of trust
– is also based on broader societal and legal systems
Now that we have considered the ideas behind different types of trust what are some practical tips to build it at the individual and organisational level? That will be the topic of my next blog.