Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The difference between building and earning trust

I recently wrote a post about trust.  After writing that post and reading the comments left by a few visitors, I began to think about the implications of “building” trust and “earning” trust.

Building Trust

From a comment left by reader, Dr. Douglas Green:

You build trust slowly, but you can lose it all at once. I like the metaphor of the brick wall that you build one brick at a time. The wall can be knocked down with one blow from a wrecking ball. The wrecking ball in the case of trust is most likely a lie or doing something you said you weren't going to do. You can add bricks by doing unexpected acts of kindness.

I like Dr. Green’s metaphor of building a brick wall.  Even if we recognize that walls are usually built to “keep people out” and trust is built to “encourage people tobuildingbrickwall come in”, the key element in the metaphor is not the WALL, but the BUILDING of the wall.  In my mind, the act of building has social implications.  Building is obvious, exposed, and visible.  The benefit of building something is, generally, based on external measures such as how well others accept and appreciate the item built.  Sure, one gets a great deal of individual satisfaction from putting something together, but public validation of your efforts is also important.

For example, I built this blog.  I get a great deal of satisfaction from writing these posts and sharing them.  Even if nobody reads my blog, I will still get satisfaction from doing this.  On the other hand, knowing that people are reading it and are taking something away from my thoughts adds to the satisfaction and enjoyment I get from sharing.  The public validation is encouraging and valued.

Building also implies a less obvious end-game.  Building can, theoretically, never end.  In thinking about trust, viewing it as a building process keeps one focused on maintaining the trust built as well as looking for new opportunities to strengthen your “trust foundation.”

Earning Trust

A slightly different image develops for me when I think about earning trust.  It implies that trust does not exist on the front end and requires individual effort.  In other words, earning trust is less a social activity and more individual.  Something earned is less obvious, unless you are given some token.

For example, I earn a living.  As a result, I get a paycheck and can pay bills (not much left after that).  Another example may be that your child plays on a baseball team.  That team wins the championship.  The team earns a trophy for their season; they didn’t build the trophy.  It was given to them for their work, but once given the “social contract” between the two parties concludes.  The game ends.  Wining more games is not necessary because the season is over.

Implications for school leaders

Trust is a vital element to your leadership effectiveness.  If you are observing a trust issue developing at your school, you may want to examine the issue from two angles:

  • Are we “building” trust?
  • Are we “earning” trust?

Your answer may provide an insight into how to move forward with leading your school.

Image source page: http://www.superstock.com/stock-photos-images/1566-429942

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