There are five actions of smart trust:

  1. Choose to believe in trust.
  2. Start with self.
  3. Declare your intent … and assume positive intent in others.
  4. Do what you say you are going to do.
  5. Lead out in extending trust to others.

There is a dramatically increasing number of people and organizations everywhere engaging in the five Actions of Smart Trust–thereby avoiding their opposites and counterfeits–and getting remarkable results, according to Covey and Link.


Belief in trust is the first smart trust action that the authors consider, and it’s no accident that it’s number one. Belief is essential to getting results, and is the foundation of success. Deciding to believe in trust is the basic choice from which all of the other smart trust actions emanate. However, this belief in trust is not a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t thing, done only for convenience, appearance, or when there’s no risk involved. Trust has to be the underlying approach that determines day-to-day actions.

Among the companies offered as examples is W.L. Gore & Associates. Founder Bill Gore believed in trust so greatly that he set up what is known as a “lattice organization” that still exists. Employees are considered “associates,” and rate one another’s contributions. A new CEO was chosen in 2005 based on employee feedback of who they would like to follow.

The authors note that many organizations tend to be based on a top-down structure, and an assumption that people cannot be trusted. However, the highest form of control does not come from reams of rules and regulations, but from a high-trust culture.

An extraordinary example of trust–and all the good that can come from it–occurred in 2007, when Ted Morgan, CEO of Skyhook, got a call out of the blue from Steve Jobs of Apple, who was considering using the company’s technology. After fruitlessly trying to get Skyhook’s technology noticed, it seemed as if this was the company’s big opportunity. However, before the deal was done there was an Apple event, and Jobs needed Skyhook’s code to showcase its products there. The code was the key to Skyhook’s technology, and Morgan was advised not to give it out. However, he trusted Jobs, gave him the code, and was rewarded when Jobs showed off Skyhook’s technology to an eager audience. Skyhook took off from there, thanks to a single act of trust between Morgan and Jobs. Who knows what would have happened if Morgan had refused Jobs.

It can be hard to overcome life experiences–ones that have quite possibly led to distrust. However, it can be done. Trust glasses can be put on and used to view the world and govern actions. If a person believes in trust, they can trust. Covey and Link are convinced that developing a belief in trust is the most powerful thing people can do to begin to access the benefits of trust in their lives.


The second smart trust action is to start with self. It is not enough to believe in trust; trust has to begin somewhere. Individuals, leaders, teams, and organizations that operate successfully in today’s world also behave in ways that grow out of that belief. It takes both character and competence to give a person the confidence to not only trust themselves, but inspire others to trust them as well. Self-trust affects not only a person’s worthiness to be trusted, but also the way people see and interact with others. The authors go outside the business realm to offer as an illustration the story of how a young rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers named Magic Johnson rose to the occasion in his team’s 1980 championship series with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers’ regular center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was injured, so Johnson filled in and led his team to victory. He drew on the trust in his own character and competence to inspire the Lakers to victory. It was not ego–self-trust is never ego, arrogance, or bravado–but a quiet confidence –a trust in his own abilities that compelled him.

Other examples of people with the capacity to be trusted include Peter Aceto, head of ING Direct Canada, who trusted himself enough to ask his employees outright if he should stay on, and John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach who committed to the school when another came calling because he had given his word to UCLA. Another example of a person who has self-trust is Almaz Gebremedhin, a cleaning lady and single parent who put all five of her children through Penn State and was named Good Morning America’s Woman of the Year.

Self-trust works for countries as well. In Denmark, 88.8 percent of the people express a high level of trust in others. Denmark is one of the most productive countries in the world, considered the happiest nation in the world, has the least corruption (along with New Zealand and Singapore), ranks number two on the prosperity index, and has the fifth highest GDP in the world.

The authors also examine some companies that once had great trust then lost it. One is Johnson & Johnson, which established great trust in the Tylenol crisis of 1982, then badly fumbled their handling of the Motrin situation in 2008. Another is Toyota, which had established a deep bond of trust with its customers that was shattered when the company mishandled an incident with sticking accelerators.

Restoring trust is much more difficult than establishing trust. Take, for example, the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. A notorious con man early in life, he turned his life around and restored trust in himself as a security consultant who helped expose potential security system faults for businesses.


The third smart trust action is to declare your intent and assume positive intent in others. To declare intent, a person is signaling his behavior to others, telling people why an intended action is going to occur. As an example, the authors talk about the Charlotte County, Florida, school district. A hurricane devastated some of their facilities. The district superintendent called a meeting and declared his intent that all employees were going to be paid as soon as possible and that no jobs would be cut. As a result, the district built a strong trust with their employees, one that has carried over to contract negotiations and beyond. Two other famous cases of declared intent are Babe Ruth indicating that he was going to hit a home run on the next pitch and then doing it, and President John F. Kennedy declaring America’s intent to reach the moon by the end of the 1960s.

Declaring intent is a performance multiplier that provides numerous benefits. It creates context, inspires hope, encourages reciprocity, and shows respect for others. It also increases trust. Eli Lilly Chairman and CEO John Lechleiter said: “We’ve learned that the best way of building trust is by letting people see for themselves what we’re doing.”

Failure to declare intent will usually cause people to react in one of two ways: Either they will try to guess intent, or they will project their own intent. In low-trust organizations, the guess is usually a worst-case scenario. A low-trust relationship will cause people to project their fears, suspicions, and worries more often than their hopes and dreams. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.”

Declaring intent builds trust fastest if the intent is based on caring and mutual benefit. No motive builds trust as quickly and deeply as the motive of caring. Numerous examples are given of caring intent, such as Zappos’ slogan: “Zappos is about delivering happiness to the world.” Another example is Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey, who said: “Ultimately we cannot create high-trust organizations without creating cultures based on love and care.” Other examples of caring intent include PepsiCo, whose mantra is “Performance with Purpose,” and Procter & Gamble, which strives for “purpose-inspired growth,” evidenced by its giveaway of a water purification powder that resulted in the creation of the Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program.

Most effective leaders assume positive intent, which is an extension of trust. The act of assuming good intent changes the dynamic of a relationship. It inspires reciprocity. It leads to trust-building behaviors. It creates a virtuous upward cycle of trust and confidence rather than a vicious downward cycle of suspicion and distrust.


The fourth smart trust action is do what you say you are going to do. Trust will fail if the person promising trust does not “walk the talk.” Delivering promised results builds trust faster than any other action. This smart trust action combined with action three (declare intent) packs a powerful one-two punch. These two actions have the greatest power to knock out suspicion and distrust. If something happens so it becomes impossible to do what was said, communicate that fact quickly. It helps to reframe expectations and can also engage others in either renegotiating or helping to find alternative solutions.

Doing what you say you are going to do is the ultimate brand creator. It defines a person’s own brand and it defines a company brand. In today’s business world, a strong brand is imperative. The authors cite studies that the trusted brand is the most popular, as well as the most profitable. In addition, trusted brands (Rolex, Sony, Mercedes, etc.) command higher prices in the marketplace. As a bonus, declaring intent and doing what you say are the fastest ways to build a reputation and trust. Among the stories used as illustrations of this action is that of Gordon Bethune, former CEO of Continental Airlines. By instituting a smart trust policy, and doing what he said he was going to do, Bethune turned a struggling airline into the most admired airline in the world.


The fifth and final smart trust action is lead out in extending trust to others. This is what leaders do–they go first, they are the initial ones to extend trust. If a person is not inspiring and extending trust, they are managing, or maybe administrating, but they are not leading. Extending trust produces results, increases trust, and elicits reciprocity. Extending trust can break negative cycles of distrust and suspicion. This leads to greater prosperity, energy, and joy for all stakeholders.

Covey and Link offer numerous stories as illustrations of extending trust, such as that of the Ritz-Carlton employee who was searching for a guest’s lost ring. He did not find it, so he searched the laundry. Still not finding it, he took a washing machine apart and there it was. The Ritz-Carlton had extended the trust to him to follow his own initiative, and this sort of trust pays off for the hotel chain. Research reveals that guests who are actively engaged with Ritz-Carlton and its staff spend 23 percent more money than those who are only moderately engaged. A four-point increase in employee engagement scores companywide means an extra $40 million in incremental revenue for Ritz-Carlton.

When leaders lead out in wisely extending smart trust, their actions have a ripple effect that cascades throughout the team, organization, community, or family and begins to transform the behavior of the entire culture.

Businesses can also extend smart trust to their customers. Connecticut-based Zane’s Cycles, one of the three largest bike shops in the United States, allows customers to go for test drives without asking for identification. “We choose to believe our customers,” says founder Chris Zane. The company loses only five bikes each year out of 5,000.

One area in which smart trust can be particularly useful is with mergers and acquisitions. Eighty-three percent of mergers fail to create value, while more than 50 percent actually destroy value, mainly because of the people and cultural differences. Smart trust is the “secret sauce” of a successful merger. It creates the trust necessary to integrate the two cultures.

150 responses »

  1. “Restoring trust is much more difficult than establishing trust.”

    This is a very accurate and true thing, building trust is harder or easier depending on how you and the other person interact. Building takes a lot of time, and effort. Each time you do something nice, or think of your family above yourself, you make little deposits that show a pattern of positive interaction. It’s important here to understand that very few actions can deliver hard amounts of trust. Trust naturally depreciates at a slow rate. Hence we need to make hard efforts to maintain or restore the trust. The fundamental notion of trust is that you’re creating a pattern of positive interactions. Once this pattern is broken in a personal setting, it can be very hard to gain back.


    • This article has encouraged me to understand how to practice trusting others in an professional environment. I am usually a person who has issues in building trust but this article helped me know the importance of smart trust and how it helps a person grow


  2. This article thoroughly explains how trusting in self and others can result in positive outcome. The article also gave really good examples, that validates the 5 smart trust actions. It was insightful and inspiring.


  3. A very well written article, each step has been touched upon in depth. A very interesting and necessary topic in today’s day and age.


  4. a very insightful article on trust and believing in trust, was very well able to relate with real life examples mentioned. I really think that the understanding from the above article would help me tackle real life problems and situation.


  5. I think the article very clearly encapsulates the idea of self trust and clearly does so in a defined step based way so as to avoid any confusion ( also with common examples so as to help us understand from a more practical perspective) Trust in yourself and others and being able to actually go forward with that is very important in organisations, and also focuses on the client’s side of things, giving them the confidence to believe in the organisation and so,it boosts ties. Declaring your intent and doing what you say you do are probably the most important steps in my opinion.
    – Adrija Haldar


  6. An extremely well articulated article about trust building. It gives you food for thought when it comes to implementing trust, be it trusting others or even trusting oneself. The article talks about the importance of trusting oneself in order to be more trusting of others and trust as a tool to build better relationships with people around us, making us better leaders. With apt examples, this article leads you towards a better understanding of the word trust.


    • The word trust is important in every field of life and we are living in this society where trust can easily broke so, this point is really important to build trust among us


  7. A really well written article covering every aspect of trust! Trust is truly a big word which we hesitate to practice at times. This article has encouraged us and enabled us to understand how to practice trusting others in an professional environment without being susceptible to be fooled. As designers, trust is extremely important to empathise with the user/ client to solve their problems or provide them with new innovative solutions or products. The examples shared in the article are commendable.
    -Ruchi Bhardwaj, M.Des NIFT New Delhi, PE-Ms. Babita Choudhary


  8. Trust is something which is a far topic in today’s world. The world has become so cruel that it is hard for anyone to trust. This article by ‘Anubha’is like a inspiration to work on ourselves and our trust for us and for others. The article was quite brief and explained the five smart trust actions. It was really inspiring.


  9. It’s a very well written article which tells us about how simple things can create huge changes in our life, be it personal or professional.

    Moreover trust is a trait which takes time to develop, but when we are in a professional environment, one has to give a little trust in order for the employees and co-workers to rely on us or open up. Eventually this is what creates a bond and makes a win win situation like we saw in Morgan and Jobs.


    • Carefully structured and very well explained! I could not have imagined something as simple yet as complex as trust can be listed in such an effective manner. I think the most important and easily my favourite part of the blog is trusting the self, as nothing else can be achieved till this is done. Thankyou for this article! 🙂


  10. The article is extremely insightful and gives a deep understanding of how buliding trust is not only very important in a relationship but also in being a good leader. If there is a lack of trust there is a lack of leadership. It explains the importance of being true to oneself as well as to others and helped me understand the five smart trust actions! The examples shared in the article were also extremely apt.
    – Seemran Pookulangara, FC 7, PE-Ms. Babita Choudhary


  11. A very detailed article on how trust can be built and incorporated within us and our surroundings thus leading to a healthy environment not just us as well as our peers.


  12. Trust is a very heavy word and can more than often take a huge endeavor to keep. From the trust which holds a family to the trust an employee has on the organisation he works for, relations become fruitful by having and maintaining faith.
    Trust starts from inner self, the fact that an individual believes in himself – an idea or even a plan- biggest organisations and leaders have succeeded through self belief in themselves and the capabilities of their employees.


  13. the article was very insightful and gave a detailed understanding of how building trust among our peers is important for others and for our own self. it also explained how a being a good leader is important so as to lead to a healthy relation with beings and surroundings. thank you ma’am for sharing such a beautiful article with us and help us understand the five smart trust actions too!


  14. The article is well thought and every detailed explanation. Trust has to be built from within and it happens when are clear about our intention, be honest, be sure and take lead and help extend trust to others. We can’t trust others until and unless we are trustworthy to ourself.
    P.E- Ms Babita Choudhary


  15. Trusting yourself is really important and what I think is if we will not trust on ourselves and don’t value our work and ideas , then no one will give respect to us in our whole lifetime . There are different ways of creating trust in someone’s mind but what I like the most is showing people the final results and it will automatically creat trust not only in other’s eyes but in our eyes too.


  16. I suppose this articulate pretty much sums up the everyday importance of “trust” very nicely.
    “Trust” is no doubt admist one of the most important life skills not only for career advanced but people’s growth as an individual for being the best possible higher conscious versions of themselves.
    And for someone who truly wants to believe, it’s not hard to build trust. We just start by investing time and giving structure to trust-building spaces such as recognizing and supporting others.
    The examples are quite relevant and very relatable in the course of actions.
    Also trust plays an important role in a society, in a community or simply in a group of people. It simply makes life easier without having to doubt everything with negativities.

    Niharika Kushwaha, PE (Avnee Bhatnagar)


  17. Agreed with all the 5 points.Very beautiful written,reading this article pushes me forward for my self assessment too. I realized even after believing in ethics and values i miss somehow to trust on myself only. This article helps me to understand how we underestimate ourselves only in some areas.
    Definitely trust comes from within and by working on ourselves only an individual can change the whole cycle.Thank you!


  18. I love the article very much. Trust is a very important nit only to have with oneself but with others. And In today’s world where a lot of unethical practices going around us it become even more necessary to make people understand the value of trust and to be trustworthy.


  19. The concept of smart trust is really amazing as it is really helpful to incorporate in our daily lives! The article sheds light precisely on the important things we all need to know about trust. I will keep these points in mind from now on, especially START WITH SELF. The examples are very enlightening as well.


  20. a very insightful article on trust and believing in trust, was very well able to relate with real life examples mentioned. Trusting yourself is really important and what I think is if we will not trust on ourselves and don’t value our work and ideas , then no one will give respect to us in our whole lifetime .


  21. It takes time to build trust and it’s like mirror, ones it is broken, then it’s impossible to fix it as original. Honesty and showing your final results to everyone also help in building trust.

    Saurish Kumar (NIFT, New Delhi)

    Avani ma’am


  22. An amazing article on how trust plays an important role in our personal and professional life. Have learnt about smart trust and will try to follow that everything written in the article.


  23. Prachi Dhaka, NIFT Delhi, Professional Trainer: Ms. Anubha Walia

    Very well written article, each step has been explained so precisely. It was very insightful and interesting on how trust plays an important role in our personal and professional life.


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