Do You Trust Your Staff The Five Cs of Trust

As a leader of a team or a department, what do you do when a member of your staff thinks you don’t trust him or her? And what if you really don’t?

Over a decade ago, someone who had spent many years in a marketing role in an unrelated industry joined our organization. She brought tremendous energy to our staff and a clear vision of what she felt needed to happen to propel our organization to being the leader in the facilitation training industry.

Although she had a compelling vision, I had concerns. She had significant marketing expertise, but not in the training industry and with much larger organizations. I questioned whether these strategies were appropriate for us.

For example, she felt strongly that all of our marketing collateral pieces were too long and detailed. Yet when I showed her the marketing literature distributed by our competitors, the predominant model by far was more detail not less. Also, she wanted to invest in brand awareness strategies (e.g., sponsorships to raise awareness of our company) rather than lead generation strategies (e.g., radio spots that promoted specific services). I felt investments in brand awareness may make sense for larger companies, but smaller companies like ours needed a direct return from every marketing dollar spent. I felt lead generation was the way to go.

She finally said one day, “Michael, why don’t you trust me? Why don’t you let me do my job? Why do you have to control everything?”

That question sent me to my closet for some self-examination. Why didn’t I trust her? Why wouldn’t I get out of the way? Did I really have to control everything?

It was easy to answer the last question: No, I don’t have to control everything. I could easily point to people in our organization who made decisions in which I had little, if any, involvement. It was obvious, then, that I didn’t have to control everything; I just felt like I needed to control decisions related to marketing.The second question was answered by the first. Why wouldn’t I get out of the way? Because I didn’t feel I could trust her. So now the real question: Why didn’t I trust her?


When you don’t trust someone, it’s typically because of one or more of the Five Cs of Trust.

The Five Cs of Trust™When someone says, “I trust you,” it means “I believe…”
…We truly hear and understand each other
…You are committed to our success
…You have the necessary skills and expertise
…You have my interest at heart
…You are honest and ethical
“The Five Cs of Trust” trademarked by Leadership Strategies, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia From Management to Leadership and reprinted with permission.

So why didn’t I trust her?

It wasn’t character. I certainly believed she was honest and ethical. It wasn’t communication. We communicated well together. It wasn’t commitment. She really was committed to our success. And, at least at the basic level, it wasn’t competence. She had marketing skills and expertise.

Maybe I didn’t trust her competence when it came to our industry. But I think the real issue was caring: I didn’t believe she would take my concerns into account. I believed that she wanted to do what she wanted to do and she felt that my concerns were simply that of a marketing-ignorant owner.

Unfortunately, we were unable to resolve this situation and had to “free up her future.” Yet, if I knew the following trust building model at the time, we would likely have had a different result.

Holding a Trust Discussion
When faced with a trust situation with an employee, consider holding a trust discussion. Here’s how:

Introduce the Five Cs “One of the things that I believe is that there are Five Cs to Trust. The first C stands for…”
Express Desire
for Trust
“In order for our relationship to be as effective as possible, I want to be able to fully put my trust in you.”
Acknowledge Current Situation “I recognize that I don’t fully trust you yet and I think it’s because of the C…”
Describe Approach to Build Trust “In order to increase my level of trust in you, here is what I suggest…”
Ask for Feedback “What do you like about this suggestion…what concerns you about it…how might we improve on it?”
Confirm Agreement “So we are agreed that we should…”
Ensure Monitoring “I would like to make sure we have a way of monitoring how we are doing…might we…?”

Of course the approach to building trust will be different for different situations depending upon which C is the problem. In the case of our marketing person, an approach to building trust might have been the following.

Competence – I agree to have her test one or more of her different approaches on a small scale, setting specific result targets that would allow us to confirm the benefit or the weakness of the approach.

Caring – She agrees to identify the likely concerns I would have with her recommendations and the steps she would take to address those concerns.

Usually, the lower the C is in the Trust Triangle, the more difficult it is to overcome. As an example, when character is the trust issue, trust is most difficult to build. It can be extremely difficult to change someone’s character or change the mind of a boss who feels an employee is dishonest.
Who are the people in your organization that you don’t trust? Which C is it? What steps can you and the person take to address the C? Following these steps will not only provide you a more enjoyable, effective workplace, it may save you a valuable employee.

Vistage member Michael Wilkinson is the Managing Director of Leadership Strategies — The Facilitation Company. The Five Cs of Trust is adapted from the company’s course, From Management to Leadership.

Copyright © 2007 Vistage International. All rights reserved.

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