Virtues and Values: Building a High-Trust Organization

Let’s assume a High-Trust organization is highly desirable, and focus on how we get there.

A High-Trust organization is made up of people who are trustworthy (and appropriately trusting) in an environment that enables trust.

Let’s use the word ‘virtues’ to describe what high-trust people do. And let’s use ‘values’ to describe what guides their organizations.

What are those virtues? And what are the values that support them?

The Virtues of Trust

The virtues of trust are personal—our level of trustworthiness, and our ability to trust.

The Four Virtues of trustworthiness are contained in the trust equation: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, and Low Self-orientation. If someone exhibits those traits, we call them trustworthy.

We consider it virtuous for someone to tell the truth, to behave dependably, to keep confidences, and to be mindful of the needs of others.

The virtues of trusting-ness are the ability to take emotional risks, and an inclination to look for, notice and create positive potential. We consider it virtuous for someone to be generous, and to lead with generosity rather than fear in dealing with others.

The Values of Trust

The virtues of trust are personal; the values of trust are institutional. A person’s virtues ought to be consistent with (and reinforced by) an organization’s values.

There are Four Values of trust (I have called them Principles of Trust elsewhere). They are:

  1. Customer/client focus for the sake of the customer/client;
  2. A habit of collaboration;
  3. A focus on the medium-to-long term, on relationships rather than transactions;
  4. A default stance to transparency, except where illegal or injurious

The Trust Values in a high-trust organization drive the organization’s external relationships, leadership, structure, rewards and key processes.

Each of those four values speaks to the nature of relationships—because trust is about relationships.

The High-Trust Organization

The high-trust organization knows how to define and find people who can trust. It helps people grow their own trustworthiness. (See our own Trust Quotient as an example of a diagnostic and development tool built around the four virtues of trustworthiness).

A high-trust organization is not shy about using a term like “virtue.” It is hard to define the level of virtue inherent in a single act by a single person; but in the aggregate, it is very easy.

Trust is, at root, a moral concept. A high-trust organization is an organization whose people behave ethically simply because it’s the right thing to do, and which itself supports such ethical behavior—not just particular policies, but ethical behavior itself.

The high-trust organization is clear about its values. It may or may not use the specific Trust Values outlined above, but those it has will be relationship-relevant.

A high-trust organization believes that high economic performance and social responsibility are both maximized by the consistent pursuit of trust-based relationships over time.

The goal of a High-trust organization is not economic performance; but high economic performance is very often the outcome.

1 reply
  1. Gordon R. Clogston
    Gordon R. Clogston says:

    It would be impossible for me to agree more fully with respect to the virtues and values of trust. It would be very difficult for an organization to attain the values of trust if the virtues of trust were absent among its leadership.

    As an experienced manager I am deeply concerned that so much of the blame for our current global economic struggle can be assigned to unethical practices born of trust violations. The global scope of the violations represents a real need for social reform. Just because something may be legally profitable does not make it socially ethical.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I sincerely hope that through awareness will come change.

    Gordon R. Clogston


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