Trust, Transparency, Inclusion in a Culture of Excellence. Living these elements builds ownership, not buy-in…a big difference when you desire engagement, excellence, and sustainability of innovation and change.

Some Benefits of Trust
• Infuses systems with positive energy
• Makes for more adaptive, agile organizations
• Makes one more competitive–one can more quickly engage in change. Without trust, people usually hunker down and do things “by the book” and resist any change from the status quo, even if they know what they are doing is not getting the desired results.
• Utilizes resources to the greatest advantage–for the good of the whole

A Common Understanding
Trust may be different things to different people. Having a common language and understanding of trust is essential in building and sustaining trust. Megan Tschannen-Moran, in Trust Matters: Leadership in Successful Schools, identifies five elements of trust through a meta-analysis of the trust research. These five elements are:

• Benevolence
• Honesty
• Openness
• Competence
• Reliability

What’s going on when we’re in a trusting relationship? We have a willingness to be vulnerable. When we are in a trusting relationship, we are in a situation of interdependence; we are dependent on someone else to come through the way we need them to support us. No one can accomplish systems transformation work alone. When we’re doing solo activities, trust is not relevant. When we become interdependent, we’re paying attention to: Are these people I can trust? We base the answer to this question on the five areas listed above and in more detail below.

Benevolence: The Bedrock of Trust and Relationships

– Unfailing good will: they will not do me dirty, even if they can enhance their own outcomes. They won’t try to get ahead at my expense.
– Empathy and caring
– Offering encouragement-bolstering other’s courage
– Expressing appreciation and acknowledgment
– Being fair
– If life is not fair and out of one’s control, then being responsive to another’s hurt, and their knowing they can count on you


– Telling the truth
– Integrity: unity and alignment between words and deeds
– Self-awareness and consciousness: not deluding oneself
– Authenticity: not just playing a role–know what you stand for–adhering to guiding principles
– Accepting responsibility: don’t blame others–use an inside out approach for how am I contributing to the current situation

These first two dimensions of trust count the most. If these two elements of trust are violated, trust is severely and negatively impacted. The next three elements of trust are extensions of benevolence and honesty.

– Open communication
– Transparency
– Sharing important information–hidden agendas erode trust
– Sharing power
– Delegation
– Shared decision-making–extends trust. People who don’t extend trust, destroy trust

– Keeping promises
– Honoring agreements
– Being consistent
– Predictability–living out of core values/principles–knowing what you stand for
– Diligence
– Dedication
* these are all indicators of benevolence

– Inspiring a shared vision
– Co-creating possibilities
– Striving for results
– Problem solving
– Conflict resolution
– Elevate energy
– Collective Efficacy–collectively and interdependently need to believe that you can do this work

If you compromise these last three elements of trust, you may or may not have problems sustaining trust. Struggles in openness, reliability, and competence may result through possible over-commitment, lack of confidence, and/or communication mix-ups.

As a coach, leader, and/or colleague, paraphrasing and asking clarifying and/or reflective questions in these five areas of trust helps to diagnose levels of trust and intervene before trust is broken (i.e. If a person is over-committed, asking “What might be some possible resources that could support you and your work?” If a person lacks competence, asking “What new learning might support you in increasing your craftsmanship/expertise in this area?” If a person is unreliable, asking “What might be some reasons for your challenges in meeting all of your commitments?”

If there are some INCIDENCES of mess-ups, trust is probably not compromised.
A PATTERN of mess-ups becomes indicators of a lack of benevolence, honesty, competence, openness, and/or reliability. Providing non-judgmental feedback in the form of data rather than judgment, and asking reflective questions to understand what is behind the mess-ups, are important leadership, collaborative, and/or coaching functions.

For more information, training and/or a self and organizational assessment based on these five elements of trust, please email me at:

Another excellent resource on trust is Stephen Covey’s The Speed of Trust. I’ll save that for another blog.