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Vail Valley Voices: Who trusts you? Is it deserved?

John Horan-Kates
Vail, CO Colorado

Trust is an absolutely critical leadership principle touching every aspect of our lives – in our work, in governments, churches, families and institutions of every kind. In order to get your arms around this concept, think of whom you trust and why you trust them.

For me, my family comes to mind immediately. Maybe that seems obvious, but when I think about it, what I see is that these are the individuals whom I really know. More than others, these are the people with whom I’ve spent time and have so much experience. I’ve watched them over many years, and they’ve watched me expose my deepest thoughts and feelings. Like every Thanksgiving, when we all express those things we’re most thankful for and almost always tear up with one another.

And then there’s the question, who trusts you? For me, again, it’s family. They know me, they know what I stand for, because they’ve heard my story, probably too many times, and they’ve seen me in action. So for me, trust is about relationships.



Another example of trusting relationships became available in 2003 when I was invited to join a men’s small group. I had very little idea of what I was getting myself into but soon discovered the power of this way of gathering and relating.

Over the years, the group has varied between four and six guys. We meet every Friday morning for an hour and a half around biblical principles. We called it a “no agenda” group, which means that no one is leading and there is no set topic. We’d open and close with prayer, but in between, anything was fair game. The concept can work around just about any organizing principle.



Trust built fairly quickly as various challenges that each of us were facing were revealed and dissected. Before long, the group evolved into an unofficial “board of trustees” for each of us.

The key was openness and honesty – vulnerability, really. We tell our stories and deal with our most pressing problems. Because we’re all business-oriented guys, marketplace issues come up periodically, such as lawsuits, challenging employees, community projects, investment deals and every other conceivable problem or opportunity that men face. But more often, we talk about heart issues such as our marriages, our faith and our children.

In their book, “Building Trust,” authors Robert Solomon and Fernando Flores argue persuasively that trust is primarily about responsibility and commitment that leads to “authentic trust” that is mostly about relationships. They posit that people do not develop trust by forming affective attitudes or beliefs about another person. They develop trust through interaction and conversation, in relationship with one another.



Stephen M.R. Covey, in his book “The Speed of Trust,” recommends “smart trust.” That is, extending trust thoughtfully rather than naively. He advocates trusting others after careful analysis, taking reasonable risks.

We know that trust is more often established through deeds rather than words, as Ralph Waldo Emerson underscored when he said: “What you do speaks so loudly, I can hardly hear what you say.”

As a critical leadership principle, trust can be thought of as both a noun and as a verb. It’s a noun when it describes the condition we want to create. And at the societal level, “In God We Trust” on our money portrays a sense of steadfastness and reliability. It’s a verb when it describes our consistency or trustworthiness. For example, when we deliver on our promises, we are building trust. When we trust others, there’s a much higher likelihood that they will trust us.

When we talk about trust within the Vail Leadership Institute’s Inside-First framework, we link it to being born of the mind, embraced by the heart and delivered by our hands.

Trust is transformative, and Maya Angelou speaks to this power when she says, “Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

This column has been written in connection with Exploring Potential, a character-development program offered in Eagle County high schools. John Horan-Kates is the president of the Vail Leadership Institute in Edwards. He can be reached at 970-926-7800 or jhk@vailleadership.org.


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