Is Trust Elusive?

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Government, the media and business. Three of the many sectors where there is a dearth of trust. We continue to slide down that slippery slope each day. Pick up your iPhone, tablet, laptop, and yes, a newspaper to realize the compass on morality has a broken spring. North is south. East is west. Up is down. Bright is dark. Nothing is described as it really is.

Take CNN’s commercial “This is an apple.” Its public service announcement is a metaphor about the concerted effort by opposing forces bent on continually brainwashing us. Do we really need to have an elementary school-level lesson on the meaning of truth? At this stage, do even the unwashed masses need this to be taught?

The concept of trust and its pilot, truth, is being fought in an echo chamber. It’s not just what we see on television or read on the Internet. The fight takes place in boardrooms, university campuses, Silicon Valley and the workplace. In fact, no sector is really immune from the corrosion of trust.

It Didn’t Just Happen Overnight

The breakdown of trust is not something that has happened since the 2016 campaign; it is the continuation of what has always been. Think of those lies that have made a deep impact —  loss of life, wealth or image — that have been memorialized:

“We found weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories.”

“Cigarette smoking is no more addictive than coffee, tea or Twinkies.”

“I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

“The tax cuts will help the middle class.”

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

“We did not, I repeat, did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we.”

“When I fully realized what had happened this morning, I immediately contacted the police.”

These are but a blip on a 30-year timeline. Playing with truth goes back much further. When there was a meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Russia, the then-Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced that everything was under control and “the worst is behind us.” Like the after effects from the Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the second world war, the fallout from the meltdown is still impacting people today. Our 22nd and 24th president, Grover Cleveland, lied to the public about going on vacation and having emergency dental service. In reality, he had been whisked away to some unidentified location to be treated for oral cancer.  And to take this thesis even further, Julius Caesar exaggerated his exploits in the Gallic Wars and that his annexation of Gaul was simply a defensive measure.

Sometimes you can get away with a lie; most times you can’t. With the advent of the Internet, it is exponentially more difficult. The truth is the truth, no matter; it matters not that we are talked at rather than spoken to by pundits or others whose political positions are not in alignment with ours.

Whether you are a president or a police officer or a teacher or any other figure whose behavior affects scores of people, trust and truth will lay claim to your level of influence. Those who can be trusted are effective. Business leaders can increase profits and morale; teachers will have more classroom control and respect; and managers will have a more productive workforce and a greater commitment from their people.

What Exactly is Trust?

By brief definition, trust is the belief in the reliability of someone or something. From a standpoint of the real world, it means to do what is right, produce what is promised, and to behave in a consistent manner, no matter what the circumstances are.

Trust implies being reliable and dependable. Take your car. You trust that it will perform well on a consistent basis regardless of the weather. Or the ladder you climb to clean leaves from the gutter. You know it will be sturdy to hold your weight. Both the car and ladder earned your trust because of their consistency.

In 2017, trust is as intangible as it is hard to identify. Look at all the legitimate polls: Gallup, Harris, Marist, Monmouth University Polling Institute, etc. They indicate a lower level of confidence in most major institutions. Whether we are talking about corporations, government, banks, media, universities and even organized religion. It is difficult to thrive in a climate of suspicion. Businesses or individuals that ignore this trend may decide to engage in questionable behavior in hopes of capturing the trust of certain segments of our society.

As such, trust will be doled out in pieces over time. A public that has a (rightfully) jaundiced view of our institutions and their leaders will demand immediate, actual and perpetual truth in order to begin to trust. It requires a trickle-down effect (I am not referring to our currently misguided tax plan). If the tone at the top—a government, newscast, CEO, firm managing partner, etc.—does not speak the truth then no one is to be trusted.

In a country whose economy is the largest of all the major industrial countries, nothing more than trust will drive profits. This is part of our DNA, yet this trust is squandered time and time again.

It All Comes Down to Character

Out of all the possible components that comprise trust, character ranks number one. Character is something we look to in other people, yet it is also a tool we can use to gauge our own behavior. Fundamentally, we can ask ourselves: “Is this the right thing to do?” Or “Do my actions reflect positively on those people I am responsible for?” Just taking a few seconds to run it through an internal filter may help to avoid a questionable act or statement.

We can also use an external filter; a mental survey of questions to apply to others. Some of the questions may include:

— Do I admire this person for having a high level of character, and why?

— Do I get a sense that this person exhibits a morale standing?

— What indicators are there that do not show character (how does they not reflect my own beliefs)?

No institution, group or individual is perfect. This is a given. Because of this, we need to decide whether to settle for the status quo—to accept the behaviors of bad actors—or will we take a stand, irrespective of how unpopular it will be to demand nothing less than the trustworthy deeds of others?

As we near the end of 2017, what lessons have been taught? More important, will we learn from them and begin a collective effort to reverse the tide of cynicism?

Like voting, we all have a stake in this.

About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at