In Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, Covey defines trust this way:
Trust is a function of two things: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, your motive, your intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, your skills, your results, your track record. And both are vital.
I copied this passage of the book into my notebook and have gone back to it a number of times. I see such truth in this. Particularly in my line of work: communications and public relations in a k-12 public education institution. But I don’t just see some truth. It’s a 50-foot billboard that tumbles over and cracks me right over the head! This is in-your-face truth.
As I reflect on the world in which I work each day, character and competence are essential to success. And not just in communications. In academic achievement, community involvement, special education, operations, and every other function of our system, if our people lack competence and character – we fail.
Competence x ? = Trust
We certainly aim to hire competent individuals. Many on our staff are homegrown talent and others acquired skills elsewhere prior to working with us – but we want the best. Teachers grow into team leaders, school administrators, and district administrators. They learn from their experiences in and out of the classroom. They persevere through the challenges and find room for growth in success. We must all show growth as employees, people, and professionals but most importantly, we must bring something positive to the table. Something that helps advance our ultimate mission of educating and preparing children for life.
When we consider the impact that competence has on trust, it’s about as clear-cut as it gets. Do you want just anybody working on your car engine, preparing your taxes or performing surgery? How about anybody off the street educating your child? Yeah, me neither. They better know what the heck they’re doing, right?
? x Character = Trust
But competence is only one part of the equation. Our trust in an individual also depends highly on character. In fact, character is typically the first thing we evaluate about somebody and we often base our judgement on competence off of what we know about their character. Do we believe this person has good intent? Do they have high integrity? Does this person treat me and other people well?
Let’s look at this from the point of view of a parent toward an educator. Does my child’s teacher have the best interest of my child at the forefront. Is this teacher more focused on the individual needs of my child or simply fulfilling the duties of their job description? Does this teacher even like my child?
What about a Superintendent, Board of Education member, school Principal, or company spokesperson? Do they truly believe what they say? Are they spinning to create a false perception? Is their intent to genuinely help me or protect their image?
All of these questions lead back to one thing: do I believe that this person has genuine intent and a willingness to prioritize the needs of others?
Competence x Character = Trust
Combine the answer to that question to their level of competence and you have trust – or you don’t. It’s really that simple – yet it can take long periods of time for people to understand, appreciate, and believe in your character and competence. In fact, these traits never stop growing and influencing more and more people.
Unfortunately, while it takes great periods of time to develop trust, it can be lost in an instant. As a communicator, if I were to get caught lying, misleading, having poor morals, or lacking good intent – my credibility is shot. Leaders of any kind are in the same boat.
That’s why it’s important for us to constantly be striving for higher and higher levels of trust by increasing our competence and developing stronger character. Trust in us – and what we do – depends on it.