Management Consultant Mike Eldon

Matrix of gaining, losing trust

I’ve written before about Frank Kretzschmar and my Leaders Circle events, and here’s something about the most recent one we hosted on the story-telling theme “Gaining and losing trust: moments of judgment, and their consequences”.

In preparing for the event I dove into the three books on trust by Stephen M.R. Covey (the son of the Seven Habits Covey).

His first one, The Speed of Trust, which appeared in 2006, spelt out the benefits of trust so well: where trust is present, everything speeds up and costs reduce.

Then, in his 2012 Smart Trust, he went further, suggesting that high trust also delivers prosperity, energy and joy.

And in his 2022 Trust and Inspire, all about high-trust leaders, he contrasted them to the untrusting command-and-control ones, seeing that trusting leaders attract and retain great talent, that’s bold, engaged and innovative.

Covey certainly doesn’t believe in blind trust or naïveté. Equally though, suspicious or cynical mindsets do not appeal to him.

President Reagan’s “trust but verify” seems a plausible middle road to travel, along with applying appropriate controls.

The World Values Survey, which asks citizens about their beliefs, opinions and activities, has consistently found that compared to many societies in Africa, Kenyans are less likely to trust people they don’t know, and also those they do know.

Further, domestic opinion polls regularly find that a majority of Kenyans lack trust in the country’s most important government institutions.

Having said that though, there are many trustworthy Kenyans – including in the public sector. And there are many trustworthy Kenyan organisations, whose people say “No” when they should.

We asked the participants to tell us how they act when they have lost trust in others – or others have in them – knowing that, as the African proverb tells us, “one lie spoils a thousand truths”.

We heard about the NCIC report on our elections, where they found the top roadblock to a peaceful one is a lack of trust between ethnic groups and in our institutions.

Just like now, where the government and the opposition clearly do not trust each other.

One participant lamented that “trusted people are a dying breed’. Another challenged him that even in government there are still many trustworthy people.

On the positive side, I referred to Equity Bank’s release that day of its Sustainability Report, titled Growing Together in Trust.

We heard about the increase in trust here thanks to digitisation, like with the iTax system, but concern was expressed that our media only report on what the bad guys are up to, unduly influencing us to reflect such cynical negativity.

“Life is so complicated that it is impossible not to be a hypocrite,” one stated. He put himself in the shoes of low- or no-income people who are forced to steal or seek bribes to keep going.

The leader of an insurance company confirmed that trust is everything there – not least in dealing with claims.

Yes, you must trust your clients enough, but you must apply checks and balances through conditions and controls.

And if you reject a claim you must be trusted that your reasons were solid. Basically, unless you trust one another there can be no relationships.

Then we heard that if you are trustworthy it takes a long time to reap the reward.

In conclusion, I suggested that we must gather a critical mass of trustworthy people and institutions as this is what will move the needle towards the positive end of the trust spectrum.

“Human progress isn’t possible without trust,” asserted one, while another talked about the presence of inner peace when we interact with someone we trust.