Can you handle the truth? A good manager is a trustworthy one

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In a series of upcoming blog posts, I will cover core management and life principles that were game-changers for me as a manager. My hope is that you find them valuable and are able to come up with unique ways to apply them to your day-to-day and establish a real connection with your employees.

The first topic we will unpack is trust. Trust is pivotal to any relationship—personal or professional. The reality is that without it, you don’t have a relationship. Period. We’ve all had the experience of someone violating our trust, and it’s a hard thing to come back from.

For example, consider the leader who has individual conversations with several employees, each with a slight variation that conflicts with the others. Those individuals later meet by the water cooler for casual conversation and discover these inconsistencies. From that point on, the employees will have a hard time trusting that leader.

An old but extremely valuable lesson I was taught almost two decades ago is the trust equation from the book The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford. The trust equation is:

T = C + R + I/ S

T obviously stands for trust, and the amount of trust is determined by credibility, reliability, and intimacy, divided by self-orientation. Credibility (Do you know what you’re talking about?) and reliability (Do you do what you say you’ll do?) are the two easy parts of the equation. The other two may require a little explanation.


Intimacy means being completely open and authentic in your relationship. This means sharing a bit of your vulnerabilities and weaknesses with others, and approaching them openly about potential hazards to your relationship. When we achieve this level of authenticity in our relationships, there are no stones left unturned.

From a professional standpoint, a high level of intimacy in your relationship means you can more easily create clarity with your employees by defining their objections or challenges right up front and allowing full buy-in. So my question is this: how often are you engaging in conversations that help re-align your relationships? And are you creating opportunities for those you manage to be authentic?


Last in the equation is self-orientation. Simply put: the more you are focused on your own self-interest, the less trustworthy you will appear.

World-class managers want what is best for their employees, not necessarily what is best for them. In many cases, I’ve heard these successful managers explain how a limited self-orientation helped them address and resolve difficult situations with associates. By putting others first, you are able to achieve more.

Trust in action

Here are some ways to apply the trust equation with your associates:

1. Demonstrate and highlight when you have been a reliable partner by using phrases like “as promised” and “as we discussed,” and remain consistent in how you handle situations. This is especially true when mistakes occur—your reaction to adversity will have a great impact on how much your employees trust you. As a mentor once told me, “If your demeanor is only good when things are good, that’s not your real demeanor—your true demeanor is what you do when the heat is on.”

2.  Be accountable and if you fail, acknowledge it. For example, something as simple as showing up late to a meeting or missing a deadline requires action. Acknowledge it right away, without excuses: “I’m late and I apologize. That isn’t how I like to operate, and it’s disrespectful.”

3. Put your phone away. A very quick way to communicate to others that your self-orientation is too high is to “multi-task” while you are engaged with them. When you are 100% present with others, you communicate clearly that they are most important, not you.

4. You’re doing business with a human, so establish a human connection. Generally speaking, people like to have deep relationships with the people they work with versus superficial ones. This doesn’t mean you have to ask a bunch of personal questions, but it does mean you should show you care. A great example is being aware of upcoming milestones in a co-worker’s life (marriage, a new child, buying a house, etc.), and offering to help them find ways to adjust to those changes.

Just like the classic sound of vinyl records has surged back into the music scene, my hope is that some good old-fashioned principles resonate in the workplace. A simple yet proven way to build better relationships is to establish and maintain trust. And trust never goes out of style.

For more ways to create engaged employees, download our report: Five things we learned from talking to 1 million employees.

Jeff Jokerst | VP, Customer Engagement

Customer Experience Update