An Unusual Conversation on Trust: For LGL Regulars

I’m going to start with a pre-apology. This won’t be my best post, but  I always believe in showing up when expected- and transparency. Muck is all part of leadership, pretending it’s easy doesn’t help grow leaders.

The Plan

I had planned for a productive weekend:  A glorious cocktail of preparation for some very important work I am doing on trust with a group of Nigerian higher education leaders this week; a number of proposals and design work (game on); and getting the blog ready for this week in English and Spanish (check out our new Spanish site).  Oh yes, and another surprise coming soon for you. And then of course the family fun like watching little league baseball, a birthday party, and some Father’s day celebration. I was hoping to have a brilliant Father’s Day post. If you’re newer here, read this one from my first year of blogging (about my Dad who this year spent his Father’s Day supporting me at the hospital… yup, foreshadowing)

The Story

My son, Sebastian, broke his arm and was medi-vaced from one hospital to another to address complications. It’s been a long 24 hours and we’re all exhausted. He will have a full recovery. I am full of thanks to the doctors and nurses who truly care. Sebastian now sleeping, I’ve got a moment to reflect on how important trust is during our most frightening times: From the receptionist at Hopkins ER who took one look at my stressed face and said “the paper work can come later,” to all the doctors with straight talk about “risks and choices”  who then shared their honest opinions based on their personal perspective (all with children the same age); To my husband and the rest of my pit crew who executed elegantly. The hospital wing was filled with moms, dads and children all trusting strangers and one another do their very best in situations much more serious than ours. My family got to go home today feeling lucky.

Back to Trust

And so in lieu of my usual fare, I offer up a quote with which I will start my upcoming trust workshop to tee up our week on LGL.

“I believe in trusting men, not only once, but twice. In giving failure another chance.” – James Cash (JC) Penny

As well as the old chinese proverb:

 “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”

When is it time to trust again? When do you stop trusting? How do you know?

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency and tagged , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.


  1. Hi Karin- happy to hear that all is well. Now your husband has an interesting Father’s Day story to tell in the coming years.

    It sounds like your day was filled with situational trust. Those you entrusted with your child’s wellbeing acted in a responsible, competent and dependable manner.

    And about those Nigerians, I recently had an eye opening conversation with a Nigerian college student about trust across cultures. Certain cultural norms that will build trust in America will bust it wide open in Nigeria.

    Take a look at the chart in this link. You probably will need to click on the magnifying glass to enlarge it.

    Hope all is calm(er) today!

    Barbara Brooks Kimmel, Executive Director, Trust Across America-Trust Around the World

  2. I think you meant to say “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on ME.”

    I’m a believer in giving people a second chance. It depends on the situation, the person, and if I feel they’re sincere or not.

    p.s. Hope your son feels better.

    • Steve. Indeed. Told you I was tired 😉 Fixed. Thanks. I’m a big believer in second chances too, most of the time.

  3. I would tag this as “commitment” as well. Your very act of putting up a post after your harrowing weekend does more to demonstrate commitment and build trust than any discourse on the subject could. Wishing Sebastian a speedy recovery, and recovery time for you as well!

    • Jesse, Thanks so much. I really appreciate all of your support.

  4. Trust has never been something for my employees to earn, but rather something to lose. I will admit however, once lost,it is very difficult for me to trust again. I love the J C Penny quote (not something I had previously seen. It brings to light I may not be as forgiving as I like to consider myself to be when it comes to mistakes.

    My best wishes to your entire family 🙂

    • Thanks, Bill. I had never seen that quote either. Love it when I come across something new. Thanks for your well wishes.

  5. Glad to hear that everyone is home. Sorry that you all had to experience the fear & frustration (and probably even doubt). Wishing a quick recovery for Sebastian and for your whole family.

    • Thanks, Joy, yeah we had all those emotions. Thanks so mcuh for your kind words.

  6. I have long believed, contrary to popular belief, that trust is never earned, is never a transaction. It is always an existential act, a faith we choose to extend, when we do, in the here and now, in each and every moment. We simply decide to trust and throw our Selves off the cliff edge of potential futures.

    Much of the trust discussion revolves around people or acts that deserve distrust, or rebuilding trust, or acting in trustworthy ways. But trust is broken and denied for a myriad of reasons with or without consciousness or reason.

    Trust is always about the truster, about how we choose to live in the world. (Note: I am not advocating stupidity blind or otherwise, sycophancy to bad men, cults, or other obviously unhealthy situations for man or woman).

    A good skill in this regard might be the cultivation of an attitude of practical faith – walking through the primeval forest fully equipped for whatever may befall but walking none-the-less.

  7. Sorry to pop in again but it just flashed across my mind that your health care experience exposes the choice, and need, to trust exists on two levels. (I am so happy things went well and you were treated well). On the one hand you had no choice but to trust the medical team, to entrust Sebastian to their care. It was, profoundly in this case, a physical act of surrender. But the nature of your experience, and my own in similar circumstances, is that there is an entirely different level of trust at work, whether we feel trust toward those to whom we’ve entrusted those or that which we love and care about, whatever that may be. There is a sort of spiritual relief that occurs when we feel we can trust those we must trust. And yet, to add to the complexity of the trust dynamic, as I pointed out in my last comment, it may have no basis in reality or intent whatsoever. A doctor may feel utterly trustworthy and yet be highly incompetent. A doctor may seem like a cold fish, unable to inspire trust and yet be exactly the person to whom you want to entrust your care or those you care about. And so I’m back to my original point, which is that trusting is an existential act of faith all about the one doing the trusting. (OK, I exaggerate for effect but I’m hoping to make a point here). It is probably and perfectly obvious, but all this applies to leaders as well as doctors. I have trusted leaders or seen leaders trusted who could not take an organization where it needed to go (through no direct fault of their own and despite their intentions) and I have seen leaders that people were inclined to distrust who cared deeply about people and were supremely capable of taking an organization where it needed to go. The ideal and the aweseomeness when it occurs, of course, as in your Sebastian saga, is when you get both, in full.

    • Marc, WOW! Your insights could be a blog post itself. Love this, “there is a sort of spiritual relief that occurs when we feel we can trust those we must trust.” I really like how you’ve extended the conversaton. I so agree that the “ideal and awesomeness” is when you get both. Amen.

  8. Funny, it was a year ago today we landed in NYC, visiting from Australia, not knowing in a few weeks we’d have our youngest in hospital in Orlando being treated for a possible stroke. Scary stuff indeed Karin. It wasn’t a stroke and she had since made a full recovery, so I’m glad you and Sebastian are coming through it too.

    Trust. In our case and maybe yours, it was all we had in those first few hours. We had nothing but trust. I don’t think hope had even arrived yet.

    – When is it time to trust again? When do you stop trusting? How do you know? –

    I’m a big believer in emotions being negative or positive, with no middle ground, and I believe trusting someone or not, is an emotional response based on the data at hand.

    The challenge is getting clear data (signals?) when your guard is up. Signals can be harder to read through a filter of distrust (or other negative emotion).

    Clear your head, then focus on the issue of trust in any particular circumstance; then, only then, ask yourself if its time to not trust, give back trust or continue to trust. Act on the answer.

    Most of us worry about the situation, then try to think clearly about it. Doomed to failure in my opinion.

    On the Nigerian connection- I’ve had some dealings on the West Coast of Africa and would say, less words are better so your sincerity can be heard. A video conference at least once is great to help build rapport before any complex proposal or at least a photo if you have a trustworthy face. (you have)

    Hope that helps.

    • Dallas, Thanks so much. I love all of this. Wow, we really are getting some fantastic conversation on this post. I too have seen folks miss out by beginning in a place of mistrust or doubt, they can’t let the magic in.

      Great advice on the Nigeria front. I have designed a lot of interaction which will have them sharing their insights and stories. I’ll let you know how it goes.

      I remember your ordeal with your daughter… even more scary to be in a foreign country.

  9. What a crazy weekend Karin but I am happy that Sebastian is going to be fine (eventually)!

    Hospital experiences can be so different for each of us. I used to do a lot of customer service training for one hospital system and we used to call each time a hospital employee made a connection with a patient or their family- a moment of truth. It is during those contact points that trust is either established or lost.

    Just keep breathing and know your community is thinking of you and your son. 🙂

    • Thanks so much Terri. Moments of truth are a great way to describe it. You feel so vulnerable, and even a litte extra kindness can go a long way.

  10. I am in the throes of a trust issue right now and I agree so strongly with Marc who wrote above, that trust is in the “truster” and not the “trustee”. Something happened over the weekend and I have a problem. Underscore the “I” in the previous sentence. I have thought about a college professor several times during the past few hours. The lesson was about trust and truth and his stance was that we should always try to believe people are being trustworthy. If we don’t, we are wasting our energy and there is a very good chance they are acting from a place of truth. Our thinking cannot change the circumstances. Of course, your blog is not about truth & deceit, but it is about care & trusting in relationships. I’ll end with this … in any relationship, we can bring honesty, we can bring humor, we can bring humility, we can bring empathy, and effort, and joy. But trust requires another soul. It is dynamic and interpersonal and for this reason it is fundamental for any relationship.

    • David, So beautiful. Indeed “trust does involve another soul.” I’m going to share your insight in my workshop tomorrow. Amen.

  11. Hi Karin,

    First off, I’m glad to hear your son and your family are doing better and that your son is now on the road to recovery and renewed health.

    One thing I was driven to comment on was the statement you made at the beginning of this post, of how you were open with your readers that you knew you’d wouldn’t be able to give your best with this piece, but that you wanted to make sure you honoured the commitment you made with them of giving them something new to ponder and reflect on.

    I think this simple gesture is yet another example of how we build trust – that’s it not just when we live up to the commitments we make, but when we are open about our inability to deliver them and providing a honest self-assessment for why this is so.

    We talk (and write) a lot about how its our actions that serve to define our leadership. I think in that simple gesture you helped to illustrate exactly what this looks like.

    • Tanveer, Thanks so very much. I do believe it’s so important to explain “why” as leaders, even when it’s about us.

  12. Karin – Thank you for keeping it real. I am glad that you were surrounded by support and that Seb will be ok.

    I am constantly inspired by all you accomplish and love, love, love the Spanish roll-out and the connection that inspired that!

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