My earliest childhood memory dates back to when I was about three years old. I was sitting with my father, mother, and older sister in the living room of our middle-class frame house in New Jersey, paying homage to our ritual of watching the TV show “Lassie” on our black-and-white television on Sunday night. Outside, I could hear the enticing chimes of the Good Humor Man ice cream truck coming down our street.
I gave my father a sidewards, hopeful glance. He took the hint, but to my surprise — rather than jumping up and heading for the door on our behalf — he tossed me a quarter and said “Go ahead, hurry. Get something for you and your sister.”
Well, talk about a Rite of Passage. I recall that I came back with two orange vanilla bars and a nickel change (I had not yet learned the discrete art of tipping).
As much as that memory has proven so durable over the decades, it was also my first encounter with this thing called trust. Maybe that’s why it has stayed with me.
We talk about trust and assign to it all manner of definitions, parameters and rules of evidence. But, really, can we ascribe that much shape to it? I imagine it’s a bit like love (or what I have always believed love really is) — something that you can only hope emerges from the mystery, something that carves its own path despite our trenching to find it, something that seems to have a life of its own despite our best efforts to birth it by our design. Like love, we know when trust is there; we have felt the gut twist when it is not. It can be betrayed in a moment of recklessness, yet endure the greatest threats.
In business, like life, trust is the lubricant that reduces friction and the magnet that draws us together. My father used to say that a contract is only as good as the trust both parties have in each other to fulfill it.
It has been a very long time since I watched “Lassie” but I have a different understanding of trust today, especially having seen its pernicious (and redemptive) role in so many situations we face in life.
First, as the “trustee” we accept that it takes time to earn the trust of others, and that all of our words and actions build toward or take away from that. There will be times when a decision or an action may serve an expedient purpose, but not add to the trust bank. It all comes down to what’s most important to you.
As the “truster,” though, I wonder if we too often diminish trust to an outcome rather than an input, to a risk rather than a return. Fool me once, twice, but three times, I’m the fool, yes. But do we miss something by withholding trust until it is fully earned? What impact could it have on the people who follow you if you told them you trusted them with a task or a role, even when they knew fully well that they had not yet “earned” it? We talk about wanting our people to take ownership of the mission; how much more might they embrace that when they know you are taking that risk first yourself? How much can we unleash the confidence people could have when they sense we see something in them they may not even see themselves?
“Go ahead, hurry. Get something for you and your sister.”
If we only first trust the people who we know are trustworthy, maybe we don’t really understand what trust is all about.