Stephen Covey Jr. summed up the benefits of trust so well in the title of his 2006 book, The Speed of Trust. Trust is critical to democracy, to the economy and to development, and it is critical to our wellbeing. Citizens who trust their government and trust each other not to exploit the system are more likely to pay their taxes and to follow the rules. And leaders who have earned the trust of the people can make the difficult needed decisions, as it is assumed they will be for the greater good.
The World Values Survey, which asks citizens around the world about their activities, beliefs and opinions, has consistently found that compared to many societies in Africa, Kenyans are less likely to trust people they don’t know, and also those they do know. Further, domestic opinion polls regularly find that a majority of Kenyans lack trust in the county’s most important government institutions.
Having said that though, there are many trustworthy Kenyans – including in the public sector. And there are many trustworthy Kenyan organisations, whose people say “No” when they should.
This leaves us with the challenge of assessing how trustworthy anyone you are dealing with is. How do you act when you have lost trust in others – or others have in you? How does one regain trust? How do you overcome the assumption that no one here is trustworthy? Does managing risk prudently require you to be pessimistic, cynical? And if you are, what do you miss out on? How do you get others to engage, to be bold and creative, if you don’t trust them?
How do you deal with the loss of trust in state institutions, political parties, the media, science, with everything that has given structure to our lives and enables us to act, without questioning everything and everything?
What does it take to lead, motivate or strategically advise a company or other organisation in such a situation? How do we design our communications, our social and professional exchanges?
But somehow we who participate in our Leaders Circles have managed to navigate through it all. Isn’t gratitude appropriate? In order to motivate us, our partners, our employees, and other people around us, to strengthen us – despite all the dark clouds – two things are needed: a positive image of the future and trust in our judgement to judge trustworthiness.