Trust - The One Thing That Makes Anything Possible

Published March 26, 2019

Given the current landscape of sport, we have been spending a lot of time reflecting on the topic of trust. Without a doubt, trust is one of the most essential ingredients in the nurturing of healthy relationships. Without trust, processes and relationships take much longer to manage, and the costs to our time, energy and bank account all rise. With trust, the impossible becomes attainable. Nourishing trust between people and within organizations requires deliberate action, a deep commitment to communicate openly, and a willingness to be vulnerable. This blog shines a spotlight on an often-misunderstood concept and provides helpful tips on activating trust levels.

Steven M.R. Covey believes that ‘trust is the one thing that can change everything’. We believe this to be true as well. The foundation of trust is strengthened based on one’s character:  the integrity with which our values match our actions and the intention to ensure our motives are rooted in compassion for self and others – and by one’s competence: that we have the capabilities to do what is expected of us and that we maintain a track record of delivering results. You need both to create and sustain high trust levels. Covey calls these characteristics the four cores of credibility, and as with any skill, they can be developed and strengthened over time.

As Integral CoachesTM, we often work with leaders longing to develop skills (leadership muscles) that speak to one or more of these areas. Through daily practice and heightened self-observation, leaders are encouraged to examine their core values with a view of aligning their behaviours accordingly. In our view, nothing increases the level of trust more quickly than leaders who walk the talk in accordance with their stated values. Sadly, the reverse is equally true. And while it’s possible to reverse the negative impact of low trust cultures, the work required to repair fractured trust is almost always harder than sustaining high trust levels.

In addition to the above, the literature abounds with the most important behaviours that generate high trust relationships and cultures. Based on our own experience and teachings, we offer up the following tips to cultivate trusting behaviors among sport leaders:

  1. Tell the truth: Speak plainly. Be honest. Don’t beat around the bush.
  2. Care for others: Demonstrate respect. Maintain dignity. Be inclusive. Don’t gossip.
  3. Be vulnerable: Get curious. Practice self-compassion. Extend trust.
  4. Keep promises: Be consistent. Ensure clarity. Promote loyalty. Be accountable.
  5. Get it done: Do what you say you are going to do. Go the extra mile. Continue learning. Share success.
  6. Braving: Confront challenging situations. Stand up for what you believe is right. Defend others.
  7. Share openly: Be yourself. Listen generously. Don’t fake it.
  8. Make things right: When you mess up, fess up, and right wrongs.

For sport leaders looking to enhance the trust levels within their organization, consider the following high-trust dividends to deal with low trust taxes:

Tip 1: Ensure your organization is structured to achieve optimal results: Nothing weighs an organization down more than bureaucracy (overly complex layers of rules, policies, processes and regulations). It’s healthy to review your systems during your strategic planning process to ensure you are structured in a way to achieve your desired results and to uncover unnecessary duplications. Consider this quote by Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT &T: “When trust is absent, you can see it – more checks, more controls. And processes. That’s bureaucracy.” A helpful reminder to all of us as we look to ensure our organization not only meet legal requirements but also uphold moral commitments to stakeholders.

Tip 2: Deal with toxic environments quickly: In every system, we have people who are motivated to use their power to advance themselves. Office politics can divide a culture by giving rise to what author Lawrence MacGregor Serven calls the ‘enemy from within’. Leaders must find the courage to lead with integrity by dealing with office politics before it degenerates into poisoned environments. Using all, or a combination of the eight behaviours listed above, will support you in having a frank conversation before it’s too late. Remember that there are significant costs to not dealing with office politics – good people leave, your reputation tanks, and quality suffers.

Tip 3: Create a stimulating learning environment: To avoid disengagement or what some people call “quit and stay”, ensure that you have hired the right people to support your mission. This means spending the necessary time in your recruiting phase to ensure right fit (skills + attitude + aligned values). Research shows that the higher the level of engagement, the higher the levels of trust among employees. In addition, when trust levels are high, people are encouraged to innovate to deal with the stuff that is keeping us up at night. We know that what got us here, might not be what we need to get us there. Teaching employees to take smart risks can help you uncover solutions to complex problems.

Tip 4: Build high performing teams: Today’s dynamic environment demands a new way of working together to combat systemic issues. The old management style of ‘command and control’ or an exclusive focus on ‘the bottom line’ are no longer enough to deal with the new global economy, often referred to as the “collaborative economy”. True collaboration requires employees to develop skills in the eight behaviors listed above and operate within high trust levels. Remember that trust is the key ingredient that turns a group of people into a high performing team.

Tip 5: Express gratitude: People often leave organizations because they don’t feel appreciated. To ensure you retain the great talent you have worked so hard to attract, find ways to publicly express your appreciation for a job well done. This will help to deal with unnecessary turnover and help to mitigate unethical behavior and other trust taxes (fraud, redundancy, bureaucracy).

As we all look to right wrongs and move towards a safer, more inclusive, and healthier sport environment for all participants, we encourage leaders to be increasingly mindful of the hidden trust taxes they might be paying. Cultivating high trust environments is one of the best risk mitigation strategies that, with continued effort, will help to pay significant dividends. As sociologist Emile Durkheim reminds us, “When mores (values) are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.” Let us continue to collaborate to ensure that Canadian sport reflects the values and principles of fair, open, and safe sport. If you would like to learn more about our Trust Workshops, please drop us a line at or

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