Trust First

Here is the formula to become a great leader: First: Be eminently worthy of trust. Second: Prove you are.

Those are the words of Robin Dreeke, a former Marine and FBI counterintelligence agent in his book The Code of Trust, in which he outline rules for creating and maintaining trust within your personal relationships and on a team.

Trust is a generous act, one that Dreeke spent over 20 years of his career mastering. Trust, perhaps counterintuitively, must be given first, before you know whether your trust will be justified or returned.

“It’s not easy to grant someone your trust,” he writes, “especially when it concerns things you can’t afford to lose, such as your marriage, the well-being of your children, your job, your assets, your professional reputation, or your personal honor. Often, it’s even harder to trust people than it is to love them.”

Trust first. It’s simple, but never easy. Dreeke says if you can master the art of giving your trust freely, he says you can “retain the power of personal influence for a lifetime and wield it without revolt or resentment.” People follow people they trust, and it’s the best way  – maybe the only way – to lead a team, a company, or a country.

But we’re in a crisis of trust right now. He communications firm Edelman produces an annual barometer of trust in institutions and people: government leaders, CEOs, journalists and religious leaders.  The Trust Index in the U.S. declined by 5 percent (from 53% to 48%) from 2020 to 2021. Fear, misinformation, mixed messages, and confusion eroded trust by the public in what used to be important sources of information, like government agencies and media sources. Politicians, scientists, and government institutions have all lost the ability to persuade us that they care about us, want what’s best and will do the right thing.

This will probably come as no surprise to you.

There’s not much you can do about society as a whole, but you can make a big difference within the circle of your own influence. It starts with you. Give your trust as a gift. Dreeke writes: “Don’t expect to receive the gift of trust unless you offer a gift of your own. People do not allow themselves to trust those who create one-sided relationships. Selfishness repels. Generosity attracts.”

The two most primal human emotions, the only ones we’re born with, are fear and love. They are both designed to keep us alive: we love and bond with those who take care of us and fear those who seem threatening to our life or wellbeing. From infants on, we are drawn to those whom we love and repelled by those who inspire fear. These primal emotions can’t be faked or manipulated; we can spot a fake a mile off.

People who try to manipulate people into fearing them or following them will eventually lose their position. Dreeke writes, “The fear that’s enforced by manipulation is ephemeral, because it’s a toxic feeling—a learned response, never natural—that is absolutely contrary to human nature. It’s in us—but it’s not us.”

In fact, he says, “Those who are purposefully manipulated by fear, year after year, inevitably rebel. Grievances build, courage grows, and people explode, sometimes in vain, but again and again” to obtain freedom.

Leaders who trust first may not see immediate results. In some toxic environments, it may take a very long time to change the culture. It takes years to change the way we think and act, especially if we’ve been treated badly by people in power. Because, as author Danielle LaPorte says, “We make choices from the level of consciousness that we’re at.” Dreeke writes: “[For leaders who give trust first] it will often be an exhausting process, with a primary payoff of only making life better for those around them.”

Trust is hard work when you use it as a verb. Trust is an action, not a feeling; people will judge you based on what you do. In future posts, I’ll discuss how to build trust.

1 thought on “Trust First

  1. […] a recent post, I wrote that the way to build trust is to trust first, without expectation. Trust for its own […]


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