Stephen M. R. Covey is the author of The Speed of Trust, a bestselling book that challenges the idea that trust is a soft, social virtue. Covey believes that trust is a hard-edged, economic driver. He argues that nothing is as fast as the speed of trust and that the ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders is the critical leadership competency of the new global economy.
Here he tells us what "self trust" is and why it's critical to our professional and personal success.
You use the term "self trust." What is it?
The whole idea of self trust is answering two questions: First, do I trust myself? And secondly, do I give to others a person they can trust? At work, do I give to others a teammate, a leader they might trust? In family, do I give others a sister/brother/son/daughter/parent they can trust?
I use the metaphor of the ripple effect. The first wave of trust is always with yourself – that precedes relationship and organizational trust. Then it ripples out into the market, then into society. These are the five waves of trust.
Sometimes in life you may find you can’t trust your boss. But your ability to influence your boss’ trustworthiness goes up with your levels of self trust. You model it first. If you want to build trust with other people, always start with yourself. Trust is a matter of economics. Trust determines the speed at which you can do business.
How can we boost our self trust?
A couple of weeks ago I’d given a session, and at a break, someone came up to me and said, “I’m really excited because I finally recognize my problem. For years I thought it was everyone else,” he then looked around and leaned in – “but the answer is, I don’t trust myself. What do I do?”
The number one way to build trust is to make and keep commitments. You can build trust. You can build it fast. That’s also the #1 way and the fastest way to build trust with yourself. But we tend not to treat our commitments with much validity. Start with the small things. It’s amazing the integrity and power that emerges from that.
I’ll never forget the time that I was merging companies, working 20 hours a day. I was pretty tired. I’d go to bed at night at 2 am – saying “I need to exercise,” and set the alarm for 5 am. I remember rolling over in the morning and turning off the alarm, thinking, “I need to sleep more than I need to exercise.” Then I remember one night going to bed, setting the alarm – and thinking, “Why am I doing this? It has been 3 weeks that I’ve been doing this – and I’m not waking up in the morning to exercise.” That very little thing [of not doing as I committed to do] started to bleed over – I started to feel less clarity, less integrity, less power. So I decided to keep whatever commitment I make to myself. If I set the alarm, I’m going to get up. It didn’t take weeks to make my commitment stick; it was a matter of several days and I gained a sense of integrity, clarity, power.
I also learned not to be afraid to make commitments. Making commitments gives hope and increases your sense of self trust and integrity. But don’t overpromise – make fewer commitments, and make them small at first. Over time, as you gain clarity, you can make more. But just make sure you don’t make commitments you’re going to break. Then you can go to the next level.
How is trust affected by a recession?
A recession puts a greater premium on the need for trust. It affects everything, and trust is the one thing that changes everything. It’s a performance multiplier. If you’re good at communicating, your strength is magnified. If you’re not trusted, people don’t fully hear you, even if you’re a good communicator. There’s a high trust dividend and a low trust tax.
In a company, there’s greater need to focus on trust in a recession. When a company is about to downsize, employees get nervous. So sometimes people don’t communicate transparently – but this is the time to be transparent: Listen first and talk straight. If you’re an employer or manager, everyone may not like what you have to say – but you want them to trust that what you say is true and accurate.
Companies that do that find that even in hard times, they can grow the trust, whereas in most situations, hard times accelerate the loss of it.