Trust – Up, Down, and Across the Organization

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership, 3-LI


The Six Ts

The issue of trust in organizations came up several times during the last two months (of the previous year). I am working with a couple of new executives. And so we had not been through the conversation at that point. And I was reminded of this again when I saw a list of the “Six T’s” by Johnathan Lansner. They are Targets, Transparency, Togetherness, Tools, Time, Trust, and Thanks. There was a short explanation of each leading the reader to think about how it applies to organizations. The line for Trust is:

“Trust — Loyalty up, down, and across the organization.”
—Johnathan Lansner

That caught my eye, of course, since I’m afraid I have to disagree with the use of “Loyalty” as synonymous with “Trust.” In my book, it is not the same. Some of you may recall that my definition of trust between human beings is:

“I believe that you authentically have my best interest at heart, not just your own.”

—David Kinnear

Not Merely Your Own

That last part, “not just your own,” is critical. If you are trying to convince me that you get nothing at all out of our transaction, then I am not going to believe your stated intentions are authentic. We all have our own interests at heart, and we should—even if it’s only to feel good about what we are doing.

I find that many people get Trust confused with Dependability, Predictability, Competence, Truthfulness, Consistency, Reliability, and yes, Loyalty. They are not the same. It’s not all that difficult to see the difference; we get a bit lazy.

Trust Is Not Dependability

For example, I may be able to depend on you to act in a certain way. However, the actions you will take may not be in my best interest (or yours, for that matter). Drug addiction comes quickly to mind. I may be able to accurately “predict” and can “depend” on you to act in a certain way concerning your drug needs, but those actions won’t be in my best interest.

Trust is Not Competence

And competence is another frequently confused word. You may believe that I am competent at understanding complex human nature. But unless you think I have your best interest at heart, you will not permit me to coach you at all. Stated another way, I may have great faith in your competency but will still not give you an assignment because I doubt that you have my best interest at heart. The same goes for consistency and reliability. You get the point, I’m sure.

I will not be loyal to you or your company or your brand unless I trust you; that is to say, I “get” that you authentically have my best interest at heart and not just your own. If trust is present, then it will take a great deal to pry me away from your product or service. On the other hand, I may appear to be loyal to you when I’m merely loyal to my personal wants, needs, and convenience. Once a competitor comes up with a better deal or establishes trust, I’ll be gone.


Here’s an example. I am quite “loyal” to the Microsoft operating system, and many other people are quite “loyal” to the Apple operating system. It is a very long stretch to believe that either Microsoft or Apple have their users’ best interests at heart. Oh, I think they care about my experience and perhaps even my productivity. But I doubt they care about me as a person. They want to “please me” so that I will purchase their products. I am loyal to the brand for reasons that have to do with my requirements, sunk costs, and comfort. I find I can depend on Microsoft to deliver a certain (flawed) high level of functionality. My personal experience with Apple products is that I will not get much better functionality and will pay a lot more, so I don’t use their products. (That last was merely to fire up the “Apple heads!”)

No Significant Business Without Trust

I do not believe that any significant business transaction can take place without developing trust. By definition, if you’re trying to sell me something, you are likely putting your interests first. I also don’t believe that employees will want to stay at an employer unless they feel safe — meaning they trust (my definition) the people around them.

So yes, trust up, down, and across the organization. The organization comprises people, and when it comes to people, trust is believing that the other person has my best interest at heart, not just their own.

[Lightly edited on 9/2020 for our new website.]