Trust: Nature or Nurture?

Trust is one of those interesting concepts that often fall into the chicken/egg syndrome. Which came first, trust or distrust? Do you distrust someone until they earn your trust, or do you trust them first until their actions and impacts cause you to distrust them? Which is it? Which approach is more successful?

What is trust?

Before attempting to answer this, let’s all agree on this concept of trust and what it means. Quite simply, as Stephen R. Covey defined in his best-selling book, “The Speed of Trust,” trust simply means confidence in someone, or something. Distrust means that confidence is lacking.

Is it ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’?

Where does confidence come from before it’s earned or demonstrated? The ‘nature’ standpoint would imply that it’s innate, or, that one possesses a naturally high level of confidence in the human spirit, the human soul. There is the belief that we all intend to do the right thing and create the right impact, but we miss the mark due to becoming temporarily unconscious (i.e., not being aware of the effect of our actions on others and those around us). To the degree that one has a strong positive core belief in the basic desire of people to focus their actions in a positive manner, we would say they naturally have a high level of trust.

From a ‘nurture’ standpoint, creating or building trust would imply that positive and successful actions over time creates and builds confidence and predictability in future outcomes so that a high level of trust is established.

One could conclude that high levels of trust would be created from a combination of both. However, the reality is that you can’t build complete trust in someone unless there is a high dose/preponderance of ‘nature’ (i.e., innate trust in the human soul, positive intentions, etc.).

Why is this? Neuroscience concepts and principles explain it well. Neuroscience would say that what we think about and focus on is what we create. So if we think and focus on the potential for people to do the right thing, make the right choices, then we are energetically providing the pathway for that to happen.

Likewise, the opposite is also true. If we are constantly searching for and thinking about the missteps and mistakes of others, that nothing will go well, that life is hard, and people are stupid, then these things, too, will become our reality.

The value of trust in great leadership

How does this apply to leadership, and why does it matter? High trust, coming from a ‘nature’ viewpoint forms the core and basis of great leadership, and it completely differentiates a strong leader from a weak one.

There is a long list of negative and disempowering leadership behaviors that ensue without a strong innate/natural sense of trust in the team. The next several blog posts will be dedicated to this topic of trust, along with the positive results from high trust and negative results from a low trust standpoint. We will examine some of these behaviors and self-reflect – where are these showing up in your leadership style? What would open up for you as a leader if they didn’t?

Then the next logical question becomes, “How can I ‘rewire’ my brain for different thought patterns, choices, and outcomes for myself and for my team?” We’ll cover that important piece as well.

Namaste, until we meet again.