Leading with Trust

Why Trust Is Worth It

You’ve been betrayed by people you trusted and it has shaken you to the core. Time and time again you’ve opened yourself to the risk of trusting, only to be disappointed repeatedly. You’re hurt and bruised; mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and maybe even physically. You question if trust is worth it.

You’re trapped in a downward spiral of distrust. Doubt and suspicion permeate your relationships, causing you to keep others at arm’s length. You fall further into states of anxiety, fear, and self-protection, until the only solution you see is to build walls around yourself to keep the pain out. It works. Your walls keep the pain out, but trap the loneliness inside. You question if trust is worth it.

You know that life without trust is unfulfilling and you want more. You deserve more. The safety, strength, freedom, joy, and happiness that comes with trust is waiting for you, so you resolve to try again. Baby steps perhaps, but you will start again. You believe that trust is worth it.

8 Essentials of an Effective Apology

I'm Sorry HandsI’m pretty good at apologizing and I think it’s primarily because of two reasons:

  1. I’ve been married for over 25 years.
  2. I mess up a lot.

That means I get a lot of practice apologizing. I’ve logged way more than 10,000 hours perfecting my craft, so by Malcolm Gladwell’s measurement, I’m pretty much the world’s foremost expert on apologies. The fact my wife is a loving and forgiving woman doesn’t hurt, either.

More than 25 years experience has shown me there are eight essential elements of an effective apology:

1. Accept responsibility for your actions – If you screwed up, admit it. Don’t try to shirk your responsibility or shift the blame to someone else. Put your pride aside and own your behavior. This first step is crucial to restoring trust with the person you offended.

2. Pick the right time to apologize – It’s a cliché, but true – timing is everything. You can follow the other seven guidelines to a tee, but if you pick a bad time to deliver your apology, all of your hard work will be for naught. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to delay your apology to allow the offended person time to process his/her emotions. Once he/she is mentally and emotionally ready to hear your apology, make sure you have the necessary privacy for the conversation and the physical environment is conducive to the occasion.

3. Say ‘”I’m sorry,” not “I apologize” – What’s the difference? The word sorry expresses remorse and sorrow for the harm caused the offended person, whereas apologize connotes regret for your actions. There’s a big difference between the two. See #4 for the reason why this is important.

4. Be sincere and express empathy for how you hurt the other person – Along with saying I’m sorry, this step is critical for letting the offended person know you acknowledge, understand, and regret the hurt you caused. Make it short and simple: “I’m sorry I was late for our dinner date. I know you were looking forward to the evening, and being late disappointed you and made you feel unimportant. I feel horrible about hurting you that way.”

5. Don’t use conditional language – Get rid of the words if and but in your apologies. Saying “I’m sorry if…” is a half-ass, conditional apology that’s dependent on whether or not the person was offended. Don’t put it on the other person. Just man up and say “I’m sorry.” When you add the word but at the end of your apology (“I’m sorry, but…”) you’re starting down the road of excuses for your behavior. Don’t go there. See #6.

6. Don’t offer excuses or explanations – Keep your apology focused on what you did, how it made the other person feel, and what you’re going to do differently in the future. Don’t try to make an excuse for your behavior or rationalize why it happened. If there is a valid reason that explains your behavior, it will likely come out during the apology discussion. But let the other person go there first, not you.

7. Listen – This is perhaps the most important point of the eight and one that’s often overlooked. After you’ve made your apology, close your mouth and listen. Let the offended person share his/her feelings, vent, cry, yell, laugh, scream…whatever.  Acknowledge the person’s feelings (“I understand you’re upset”…”I see I disappointed you”…”I know it was hurtful”), but resist the urge to keep explaining yourself or apologizing over and over again. I’m not suggesting you become an emotional punching bag for someone who is inappropriately berating you; that’s not healthy for either party. But many times the awkwardness and discomfort of apologizing causes us to keep talking when we’d be better off listening.

8. Commit to not repeating the behavior – Ultimately, an apology is only as effective as your attempt to not repeat the behavior. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made, but a sincere and earnest apology includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior that caused harm in the first place. Depending on the severity of the offense, this may include implementing a plan or process such as counseling or accountability groups. For minor offenses it’s as simple as an intentional effort to not repeat the hurtful behavior.

So there you go. The Great 8 of giving effective apologies, honed from years of groveling…err…apologizing for my mistakes. What do you think? Are there other tips you would add? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

The Two Most Powerful Words to Rebuild Trust

Trust MeterCourtney, a new manager on my team, learned a valuable leadership lesson this week – despite your best intentions, sometimes your behavior inadvertently erodes trust with another person.

In this particular case, Courtney didn’t do anything “wrong.” She needed to make some changes to work assignments in her team and she followed all the right steps: analyze the situation, consider the pros and cons of the various options, make a decision, inform all the relevant stakeholders, and implement the changes. However, one of the people affected by the change felt blindsided and was not hesitant in expressing her unhappiness and frustration to Courtney. This was Courtney’s first major leadership interaction with this colleague, and despite her best efforts, she had started this relationship in a trust deficit.

At that point in time Courtney had a choice in how she responded. She could dig in her heels and respond to her colleague with defensiveness and justifications, because after all, she hadn’t done anything wrong. Or, she could recognize her actions had inadvertently eroded trust and confidence with a colleague and address it head on by saying “I’m sorry” – the two most powerful words in rebuilding trust.

There are several reasons why saying “I’m sorry” is one of the critical steps in rebuilding trust:

    • It shows remorse – Consider the difference between saying “I apologize” versus “I’m sorry.” The word “apologize” is a verb and it means “to offer an apology or excuse for some fault, insult, injury, or failure.” The word “sorry” is an adjective and means “feeling regret, compunction, sympathy.” Notice the difference in personal feeling ascribed to saying “I’m sorry” versus “I apologize?” Saying “I’m sorry” shows that you own your behavior and you feel bad for how it affected the other person.
    • It demonstrates humility – People with humility don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less. Saying “I’m sorry” shows that you place a higher level of importance on the person you offended than trying to defend, excuse, or rationalize your behavior. Humble leaders are trustworthy leaders, there’s no two ways about it.
    • It displays your vulnerability – Without vulnerability there is no trust. By its very definition, trust acknowledges that you are vulnerable to someone else in some aspect of your relationship, but you’re willing to have faith (trust) in the other person not to take advantage of you. Colleen Barrett, President Emerita of Southwest Airlines, likes to say that people respect you for your competence and skills, but they love you for your vulnerabilities.

So what choice did Courtney make? She chose to say “I’m sorry.” Not only did it smooth over the situation at hand, it was a tremendous “trust booster” in the relationship with her colleague. Sometimes we erode trust with others without even realizing it. If you find yourself in that situation, consider the power of saying “I’m sorry” to rebuild trust.

P.S. Courtney gave me permission to share her story. In fact, it was such a powerful learning for her that she suggested I write about it in my blog.

Lack of Self-Control Erodes Trust – 5 Ways to Bolster Trust and Self-Control

Self ControlI lack self-control around donuts. Donuts are to me what kryptonite is to Superman. They render me weak, helpless, and virtually incapable of escaping their mesmerizing powers. Once I bite into the soft and fluffy baked goodness, all of my self-control goes out the window. On a Friday morning just a few weeks ago I used my expert leadership skills to organize a donut acquisition initiative (basically scrounging up money around the office and sending our gopher…errr…newest team member, to run to the local donut shop). After devouring half the box, I spent the rest of the afternoon in a donut coma, glazed and confused.

Recent research shows that our lack of self-control influences people’s perceptions of our trustworthiness. Researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam conducted four different experiments to gauge the relationship between a person’s self-control and perceptions of his/her trustworthiness. In the first experiment, subjects read a story about a student with money problems who either resisted the urge to spend money for music CD’s or splurged on purchasing a whole stack. In rating the self-control and trustworthiness of the student, the subjects gave the cost-conscious student significantly higher scores on both self-control and trustworthiness than the free-spender.

In the second experiment, couples rated their partner on trustworthiness and specific behaviors related to self-control: goal achievement, reliability, and forgiveness. The most forgiving, reliable, and successful partners were rated the most trustworthy. The third and fourth experiments focused on the factors of temporary depletion of self-control and its influence on trustworthiness. Subjects were less likely to trust someone when he/she had just completed 15 minutes of a strenuous task than someone who had only spent 2 minutes on the task (measured through an economic game involving the subject).

I’m sure I’m not the only one that battles with a lack of self-control. Whether it’s eating too many donuts, losing our temper, running late for appointments, or failing to deliver on commitments, we all have our challenges. Here’s five steps to improve our trustworthiness through better self-control:

1. Don’t make promises you can’t keep — Being a dad has taught me the value of this lesson. If you’re a parent, how many times have you heard your child say “But Mom/Dad, you promised!” I only promise to do something that I know I’ll be able to do, otherwise I try to set clear expectations of what I’m committing to do so that I’ll be able to follow through. It’s a cliché but it’s true and effective—under-promise and over-deliver.

2. Admit your weaknesses — My team knows that I love donuts and they are a particular weakness of mine. So when I occasionally fall off the wagon and go on a donut binge, they are more forgiving and less judgmental of my actions than if I pretended to be a health food junkie and looked down on those who eat donuts. Admit your weaknesses and ask for others to help you follow-through on your good intentions.

3. Forgive yourself and others — People who forgive themselves and others are perceived as more trustworthy than those who don’t. Forgiveness reveals a vulnerable and authentic side of your self that draws people to you. Forgiveness communicates a message of understanding and empathy for someone, oftentimes because the one granting forgiveness has faced the same or similar challenges and has been granted forgiveness from others in the past.

4. Don’t react in the HEAT of the moment — It’s incredibly tempting and easy to lose self-control when you are Hungry, Emotional, Angry, or Tired. If you are experiencing any of those factors, it’s best to pause, assess the circumstances, and choose a course of action that will affirm your self-control and maintain your trustworthiness.

5. Take baby steps — In many ways self-control is like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it becomes. Research has shown that taking small steps to enhance your self-control can help you resist the more tempting situations in your life. Just like trying to run a marathon without sufficient training is a recipe for failure, trying to tackle the big self-control problems you face without adequate preparation will only lead to additional failures that erode trust with yourself and the people around you.

Have you ever lost trust with someone who exhibited a lack of self-control? Feel free to leave a comment so we can learn from your experiences.

Five Lessons From Lance Armstrong’s Failure

Lance Armstrong“I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people.”

Lance Armstrong made that statement to Oprah Winfrey in his public confession this week when he finally admitted to using illegal performance enhancing drugs. It’s the one statement that has stuck with me as I’ve tried to make sense of how and why someone would go to such great lengths to perpetuate a lie and intentionally deceive so many people.

Millions of people have admired Armstrong as an example of how to “Livestrong” and battle through life’s difficult circumstances. Oddly enough, even though his athletic success and personal brand image have been discovered to be a fraud, he’s still proving to be an example from whom we can learn.

Armstrong’s fall from grace offers some important life and leadership lessons:

1. Life’s not about you – Armstrong described himself as a narcissist and said it was his ruthless desire to win at all costs that drove him to be a cheater. I don’t know that I’ve witnessed a public character with such an intense self drive and singular focus (with the possible exception of Tiger Woods, and look at what happened to him) that caused him to be so egotistical and selfish. The joy of life is unleashed when we discover that true happiness comes from serving others and not ourselves.

2. Bullies eventually get what’s coming to them – A self-described bully, Armstrong vehemently condemned and intimidated anyone who stood in his way to success. He burned so many relationships on his way up, that now he finds himself alone in his shame on the way down.

3. If you’re going to say you’re sorry, you should actually be sorry – Several times Armstrong said that he was sorry and took full blame and responsibility for his actions, yet based on other comments he made and the unspoken words of his body language, he left me with the impression that he wasn’t truly remorseful for defrauding everyone. He was apologizing for the sake of apologizing, recognizing that it was the necessary first step in rebuilding his image.

4. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is – Armstrong’s comeback from cancer, Tour de France victories, and life as an anti-cancer crusader seemed to be the perfect tale. He admitted to Oprah that he had devised such a fantastical narrative that it was impossible to live up to the idealistic standards he created. And millions upon millions of people bought it – hook, line, and sinker. Everyone single one of us has our faults and it’s extremely dangerous to place anyone on a pedestal as the end-all be-all example we should follow.

5. The truth will set you free – Oprah closed the interview by telling Armstrong it was her hope that he would find “the truth will set you free.” Jesus spoke those words in reference to people who choose to follow his teachings (John 8:32), meaning they would find the freedom and protection that comes from adhering to His moral principles. We all need a moral compass that keeps us oriented to true north, and Armstrong is an example of what happens when you lead without morality.

Lance Armstrong has a long way to go to rebuild trust with his followers. Is it even possible given the scope of his willful deception? I think it’s going to be hard.

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Lance Armstrong: It’s Not About the Bike – It’s About the Truth

If life was like a bicycle, Lance Armstrong’s suddenly has two flat tires.

On the heels of being slapped with a lifetime ban from cycling and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the U.S. Anti Doping Agency a few weeks ago, Armstrong resigned Wednesday as chairman of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. His resignation came as a result of the negative fallout surrounding the USADA releasing its 200 page report detailing their evidence of Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs (PED) and his role in what USADA dubbed “the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

Armstrong has been dropped by several of his top sponsors including Anheuser-Busch, Trek, 24-Hour Fitness, Radio Shack, and most importantly, Nike. “Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” the company said in a statement. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.”

I don’t know Lance Armstrong. I haven’t even read his book. But it seems clear that he’s broken trust with a lot of people who have admired him, both for his sporting accomplishments as well as his personal comeback from cancer and his efforts to fight the disease on a global basis. At this point in Armstrong’s life, he refuses to acknowledge that he’s broken trust, which is the first step in the process to restore his credibility with others. Once he’s able to acknowledge the situation, he needs to admit his wrongdoing, apologize to his legions of supporters, and then begin the process of making amends, whatever that may look like.

There is no denying the tremendous accomplishments of the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the wonderful support they provide to so many people in the cancer community, yet Lance Armstrong’s personal integrity seems to be completely incongruent with the noble mission he helped found.

Integrity means you tell the truth. You don’t lie. You don’t cheat. You have honorable values and live your life in accordance with those values. You walk the talk. You’re ethical. You’re a person of character.

That’s what it means to LIVESTRONG.

Heart to Heart Talks – Three Steps to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

At the root of many of our interpersonal or team conflicts is a failure to communicate. Sometimes the problem is that information isn’t shared broadly enough and people become resentful because they weren’t included. Other times we say things that come out wrong and people are offended, even though we may have had good intentions behind our message. Regardless of how the situation was created, if we don’t take the time to thoughtfully address it, the miscommunication evolves into the “elephant in the room” that everyone knows is present but isn’t willing to address.

Recently I worked with a client where the elephant in the room had been present for nearly a year. The issue within this team had led to a fracture in what were previously very close relationships, had tarnished the team’s reputation within the organization, and was causing strife and turmoil that was affecting the team’s performance. Everyone on the team knew the elephant was in the room, but no one wanted to talk about it.

To break the communication logjam and get the team back on the path to restoring an environment of openness, trust, and respect, I used a facilitated discussion process called Heart to Heart Talks, adapted from Layne and Paul Cutright’s book Straight From the Heart. If the participants are committed to the health and success of the relationship, and approach this process with a desire to be authentic and vulnerable, it can be a powerful way to discuss difficult issues and allow everyone to be heard.

The process involves three rounds of discussions and the speaker and listener have very specific roles. The speaker has to use a series of lead-in statements that structure the context of how they express their thoughts and emotions. In order to let the speaker know he/she has been heard, understood, and allow additional information to be shared, the listener can only respond with the following statements:

  • Thank you.
  • I understand.
  • Is there more you would like to say about that?
  • I don’t understand. Could you say that in a different way?

The first round involves a series of “Discovery” statements designed to create openness among the participants and to learn more about each others’ perspectives. The speaker can use the following sentence starters:

  • Something I want you to know about me…
  • Something that’s important to me is…
  • Something that’s challenging for me right now is…

The second round comprises “Clearing” statements that allow for the release of fears, anxiety, stress, and to increase trust. The speaker can use the following sentence stems:

  • Something I’ve been concerned about is…
  • Something I need to say is…
  • A feeling I’ve been having is…
  • Something I’m afraid to tell you is…

The third round involves “Nurturing” statements that create mental and emotional well-being in the relationship. These statements allow the participants to put closure to the difficult issues that were shared and to express appreciation for each other that sets the stage for moving forward in a positive fashion. The speaker can use the following phrases:

  • Something I appreciate about you is…
  • Something I value about you is…
  • Something I respect about you is…

The facilitator can structure the process in a number of ways, but the important thing is to establish a rhythm for each round where the speaker gets a defined amount of time to share (using the lead-in statements) and the listener responds after each statement. It’s important for the listener to respond each time because it sets the proper rhythm for the discussion and validates the thoughts being shared by the speaker. The speaker should be encouraged to share whatever comes to mind without censoring his/her thoughts or saying what he/she thinks the other person wants to hear. If the speaker can’t think of anything to share, he/she can say “blank” and then repeat one of the sentence starters. Encourage the participants to keep the process moving and the thoughts will flow more quickly. At the conclusion of the three rounds, it’s important to close the discussion with a recap of the desired outcomes and any action items the participants want to pursue.

As “Captain”, the prison warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke, famously said to Paul Newman’s character, “What we have here is (a) failure to communicate.” That’s often the case when it comes to interpersonal or team conflicts, and using the Heart to Heart process can help people confront the elephant in the room that everyone knows is there but is afraid to discuss.

Are Delayed Apologies More Effective in Rebuilding Trust?

Alben Barkley, Vice President to Harry Truman, said about political apologies, “If you have to eat crow, eat it while it’s hot.” Most of us would agree that when it comes to making an apology, it’s better to act quickly, say your mea-culpa, do what you can to repair the damage, and then put the issue behind you.

However, when it comes to rebuilding trust and confidence with those you’ve offended, the timing of your apology could make all the difference between restoration and healing or just adding insult to injury.

In his newest book, Wait – The Art and Science of Delay, author Frank Partnoy gives several examples from academic research and popular culture that illustrate the importance of discerning the right time to make an apology. It’s not a question of if you need to apologize, but when.

For example, if you bump into a person while standing in line, or spill a drink on someone at a cocktail party, it’s expected and appropriate to apologize immediately. The offense is accidental and impersonal, and to not apologize immediately would be rude and disrespectful. Yet when it comes to more personal and complex situations, an immediate apology may come across as lacking sincerity, thoughtfulness, or care.

Partnoy points out that there are two good reasons to delay your apology. The first is that a snap apology may prevent the offended party from fully expressing how he or she feels about the situation, particularly if it’s a serious, personal transgression. The person wronged needs time to process what happened, understand what the intentions may have been of the offender, and what the ramifications are for their relationship.

The second reason to consider delaying your apology is that letting some time elapse allows additional information or feelings to bubble to the surface. Time and space allows the offended party to fully process their thoughts and emotions, and allows for ongoing discussion that can provide helpful context for why things happened the way they did. Having a more complete understanding of the background behind a transgression can allow the offended to progress to an emotionally open place where they can fully receive the apology.

Research by Frantz and Bennigson concludes that victims feel more satisfied when apologies are delayed because it gives them a chance to express themselves and feel that their concerns have been heard. Their studies suggest that the relationship between timing and the effectiveness of apologies follows a natural distribution curve: effectiveness is low to begin with, rises as time elapses, and then reaches a point where too much elapsed time reduces the effectiveness of the apology.

So when is the right time to apologize? Well, like most complicated issues in life, the answer is “it depends.” Partnoy suggests that the next time you offend a close friend or family member, you might want to think about how they will respond to an immediate apology versus one that is delayed a bit. Will the apology be more effective if it’s delivered today or tomorrow? Tomorrow or next week? If letting some time pass will give the offended party time to understand the full context of the situation and express their feelings, then chances are a delayed apology will be more effective than an immediate one.

If you’ve really screwed up, you’ll probably have to apologize several times throughout the healing process. It’s important to apologize, express remorse, and then listen. Let the offended express their feelings, observe and reorient yourself to where you stand in the healing process, and then move forward with picking up the pieces.

Sometimes when you eat crow, it’s better not to eat it hot or cold. Sometimes it’s better served warm.

Deception Destroys Trust – 10 Questions to Ask To Keep From Being Duped

Contrary to popular belief, trust is not as fragile as we make it out to be. Trust can be one of the strongest forces in the world, binding people, institutions, and nations together in the midst of incredible adversity. Trust can be amazingly resilient, and when broken, can be restored over time through diligent and intentional behavior.

Research findings from Wharton have shown that “trust harmed by untrustworthy behavior can be effectively restored when individuals observe a consistent series of trustworthy actions,” and that making promises to change behavior can help speed up the process. However, the study also found that  “Trust harmed by the same untrustworthy actions and deception, never fully recovers – even when deceived participants receive a promise, an apology, and observe a consistent series of trustworthy actions.”

In order to build trust you have to first extend trust. Extending trust to others requires wisdom and discernment, and the amount of trust extended grows over time as you observe repeated, consistent, and reliable behaviors that cause you to make yourself more vulnerable to another person without fear of being taken advantage of or being harmed. There will inevitably be instances in relationships where one party breaks trust and disappoints another, either intentionally or unintentionally, and those occasions are usually repairable. Yet when intentional deception is involved, it strikes at the heart of the very integrity and character of the deceiver.

Dr. Bill Knaus suggests that you can protect yourself from harmful deceptions through enlightened skepticism and confident composure. Enlightened skepticism is a way to discern the facts of a situation through asking questions that force you to think critically. It helps you learn who to trust and to what degree so that you minimize the risk of deception in the first place.

Confident composure is a belief that you can directly command only yourself and you choose to do so. When you are in charge of yourself, you believe you can better influence the controllable events that take place around you. It’s a self-empowering approach to acting confident and composed that allows you to come across as authentic and resolute in your convictions and actions.

Dr. Knaus says that “You are vulnerable to lies and deceptions when you don’t know the facts, the situation is fuzzy, or you want to believe” and he offers the following ten enlightened skepticism questions to gain clarity:

  1. What do I know about the speaker’s truthfulness?
  2. Is the statement consistent with reality?
  3. Can I verify the statement?
  4. What do I gain by accepting and acting on the statement?
  5. What do I lose by accepting and acting on the statement?
  6. What does the speaker gain if I bought into the statement?
  7. What is exaggerated or downplayed in the statement?
  8. Does the idea seem too good to be true?
  9. Would I advise my best friend to accept the statement without a question of doubt?
  10. What doesn’t compute? (Is something being said too emphatically or in some strange way?)

Trust is an active and vibrant dynamic in relationships, not a passive condition that “just happens” over time. Part of developing a high trust relationship is being wise about who and what you trust. Not all people or situations are deserving of your trust, and approaching these situations with confident composure and enlightened skepticism is a proactive way to help prevent you from being deceived in the first place.

If It’s Broken, Do You Fix It or Throw It Away?

When you have something that’s broken, do you fix it or throw it away? Many of the products we buy today, especially electronics, have become disposable commodities that are more cost-effective to replace than repair.

Unfortunately, this same attitude has transferred over to many other areas of lives, particularly relationships. If a relationship no longer works for us, we’re quick to throw it away and look for another one to replace it. In describing the generational attitude of her parents who recently celebrated their 35th anniversary, an acquaintance said “they are of a generation that when something broke, they fixed it instead of throwing it away.” She was specifically talking about their view on relationships, not possessions.

It got me thinking about the value we place on relationships at work. When a relationship needs repairing in the workplace, what’s your instinct? Do you try to fix it or just throw it away?

Relationships have an inherent value that goes beyond the surface-level, transactional nature of workplace interactions, and each exchange you have with a co-worker is an opportunity to enrich or degrade the relationship. My friend Jon Mertz recently wrote a blog article about the importance of understanding the type of “wake” you leave behind in your interactions with others. People interested in building high-trust relationships understand the importance of leaving behind a wake of integrity, sincerity, and authenticity in their associations with colleagues.

When it comes to repairing a broken relationship, if it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.

Granted, it takes two people to be in relationship, and if one party isn’t willing to fix what’s broken, it may not be possible to fully repair it. However, the only thing that each of us ultimately controls is our own actions. Leading with trust means reaching for the greater good that exists within us, placing a premium value on our relationships, and making the effort to repair what’s broken rather than throwing it away. Relationships aren’t easily replaced.

The Fragility of Trust – Lessons from the Ryan Braun Story

Last Thursday, baseball All-Star Ryan Braun won his appeal of a positive drug test, but the truth remains clouded, trust has been broken, and he’s left with a tarnished image that may never be repaired.

If you’re not familiar with the story, Braun, the reigning National League MVP of the Milwaukee Brewers, tested positive last October for elevated levels of testosterone and was facing a 50-game suspension as a result. Braun had already filed an appeal when news of the failed drug test was leaked in December (results of failed drug tests are supposed to remain confidential until a player exhausts the appeals process, to avoid this very situation of unjustly tarnishing a person’s reputation). Last week an arbitrator ruled that Major League Baseball didn’t follow the strict specimen collection and handling procedures outlined in the collective bargaining agreement with the players union and Braun’s suspension was overturned.

In a press conference on Friday, Braun detailed how the specimen he provided on October 1 wasn’t delivered to a FedEx shipping facility until October 3. The specimen collector kept possession of the urine sample over the weekend under the belief the local FedEx offices were closed. MLB countered that the FedEx packaged arrived at the laboratory sealed three times with tamper-proof seals – one on the box, one on a plastic bag inside the box, and again on the vial that contained the urine sample. Braun and his supporters say that he is vindicated because MLB didn’t follow the rules, while skeptics counter that Braun got off on a procedural technicality.

This story highlights the fragile nature of trust. Even though the 28 year-old Braun has had a sterling reputation during his 5 year major league career – passing all previous drug tests, never involved in trouble off the field, a positive role model in the community, and by all accounts a stand-up, trustworthy person of good character – one accusation has cast doubt on his trustworthiness. As a leader I’m reminded that my actions are under a microscope and it only takes one instance of un-trustworthy behavior, or even behavior that has the potential to create the perception of un-trustworthiness, to cast doubt on my character.

In his press conference Braun said “We won because the truth is on my side.” “I tried to handle the entire situation with honor, with integrity, with class, with dignity and with professionalism because that’s who I am and that’s how I’ve always lived my life,” he said. “If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and I say I did it. By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life, I’ve taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart and I would bet my life that the substance never entered my body at any point.”

Is he telling the truth about never using performance enhancing drugs? We may never know the full story but one thing is certain. Braun’s trustworthiness has taken a hit and it’s going to require more than stellar play on the field to rebuild it.

Rebuilding Trust Starts With Forgiveness

Suffering a betrayal of trust can be one of the most difficult and challenging times in your life. Depending on the severity of the offense, some people choose not to pursue recovery of the relationship. For those that do, the process of restoration can take days, weeks, months, or even years. If you choose to invest the time and energy to rebuild a relationship with someone who has broken your trust, you have to begin with forgiveness.

Two recent news articles highlight the role forgiveness has played in the lives of two men who violated the trust of others. In one situation forgiveness has led to healing and restoration. In the other, the lack of forgiveness is continuing to haunt and hinder the forward progress of those involved:

• In 2008 Tim Goeglein was a staffer in the George W. Bush administration, responsible for working with faith-based organizations, when it was discovered that he had plagiarized articles he wrote for his hometown newspaper in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Goeglein resigned knowing that his actions were wrong and reflected poorly on the President, and he figured that he would be treated as persona-non-grata and be ostracized from the White House forever. However, within days of the incident, President Bush met personally with Goeglein with the express intent of extending forgiveness. Goeglein has gone on to have a successful career and currently collaborates with President Obama on his fatherhood initiative.

• Thirteen years ago Stephen Glass was a wunderkind journalist at The New Republic magazine. With his career on a meteoric rise, it was discovered that he had fabricated quotes, anecdotes, and even entire articles. From 1995-1998 Glass fabricated 43 stories appearing in several different publications. Glass has reportedly straightened his life out with the help of intense counseling, received a law degree from Georgetown, and passed the bar exams in both New York and California. However, his admittance to the California Bar has been delayed the last five years over ongoing concerns about his ethical standards. Forgiveness still awaits him as he currently works as a paralegal.

As you consider forgiving someone who has betrayed your trust, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Forgiveness is a choice – It’s not a feeling or an attitude. Forgiving someone is a mental decision, a choice, that you have complete control over. You don’t have to wait until you “feel” like forgiving someone.
  • Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting – You don’t have to forget the betrayal in order to forgive. You may never forget what happened, and those memories will creep in occasionally, but you can choose to forgive and move on.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t eliminate consequences – Some people are reticent to give forgiveness because somehow they think it lets the other person off-the-hook from what they did wrong. Not true. Consequences should still be enforced even if you grant forgiveness.
  • Forgiving doesn’t make you a weakling or a doormat – Forgiveness shows maturity and depth of character. If you allow repeated violations of your trust then you’re a doormat. But forgiving others while adhering to healthy boundaries is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Don’t forgive just to avoid pain – It can be easy to quickly grant forgiveness in order to avoid conflict and pain in the relationship. This usually is an attempt at conflict avoidance rather than true forgiveness. Take the appropriate amount of time to think through the situation and what will be involved in repairing the relationship before you grant forgiveness.
  • Don’t use forgiveness as a weapon – If you truly forgive someone, you won’t use their past behavior as a tool to harm them whenever you feel the need to get a little revenge.
  • Forgiveness isn’t dependent on the other person showing remorse – Whether or not the person who violated your trust apologizes or shows remorse for their behavior, the decision to forgive rests solely with you. Withholding forgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person, it only hurts you, and it’s not going to change anything that happened in the past. Forgiveness is up to you.
  • Forgiveness is freedom – Holding on to pain and bitterness drains your energy and negatively colors your outlook on life. Granting forgiveness allows you to let go of the negative emotions that hold you back and gives you the ability to move forward with freedom and optimism.

Forgiveness is the first step in rebuilding a relationship with someone who has betrayed your trust. Like the example of Tim Goeglein, forgiveness can lead to healing and success. On the flip side, Stephen Glass continues to struggle in overcoming his past breaches of trust because forgiveness has not been granted. The choice is yours. Will you choose to forgive?

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