Covey on Trust

I am remiss in reviewing Steven MR Covey’s The Speed of Trust: the One Thing that Changes Everything
Remiss because it came out over a year ago, because the book (and associated events) has been quite a success—and because it deserves that success.

The book itself is organized according to “waves”—from self-trust, to relationship trust, then on to organizational, market and societal trust (at this last level, it echoes  Francis Fukuyama’s seminal work, Trust, from a decade earlier, subtitled "the social virtues and the creation of prosperity.")

Covey’s section on self-trust—what I would call the realm of “personal trust”—centers around credibility, which he suggests consists of integrity, intent, capabilities and results.  This covers territory similar to my own (with Maister and Galford) in The Trusted Advisor:  (credibility + reliability + intimacy, all divided by self-orientation), except for his inclusion of integrity.

His linking of integrity and credibility remind me of another interesting piece of work—Integrity: a Positive Model…, by Michael Jensen and Werner Erhard.  Both take an end-run around “ethics” toward a more practical approach which still yields similar results without the whiff of theology.

But while Covey is theoretically sound, his real focus is on the practical, as befits someone who ran his father’s highly successful business (as in  Seven Habits of Highly Successful People).

Most of the book, and I suspect most of his lectures and seminars, are aimed at corporate audiences—in particular, what people can do to become more trusted. He lists 13 behaviors, all of which make perfect commonsense (which is not to say they are common): listen first, talk straight, meet commitments, etc.

It goes without saying—though I’ll say it—I couldn’t agree more with him.

I think Covey’s greatest contribution, however, may lie in his forcefully advancing the simple proposition that Trust Matters.  In one of his emails promoting a webinar, he rhetorically asks, “Is Trust more important than Vision? Strategy? Systems? Structure? Skills?” and proceeds to answer in the affirmative.

Linked with some effective framing (don’t pay a trust tax, earn a trust dividend), he makes a case that business hasn’t heard often enough: trust pays off, not just in some mufty-flufty New Age calculus (though that’s true too), but as well in the conventional, traditional business language of ROI, efficiency and effectiveness.

I have some minor quibbles—his emphasis on measurement, for example—but they are not critical to his contribution.  It’s a fine piece of work that moves forward our understanding and appreciation of the critical role of trust, particularly in business.

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