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From the Archives: My Anchor belief: Trust-building STARTS with culture & structure

March 19, 2018

John Morgan, the author of Brand Against the Machine, says any vibrant organization must have an anchor belief. Here’s mine:

Please!!  Stop thinking trust has something to do with being liked, or saying ‘we’. Stop thinking trust has to start at the interpersonal level. Stop thinking trust has to evolve slowly or is strictly based on past relationships.

Understand the complexity of trust. Understand that you can build and support trust with policies, practices and mechanisms in your organization.

The most trustworthy individual can’t build or sustain trust within the organization or with partners if the organization doesn’t have the right culture and structure in place.

My anchor belief: Trust can be swift. Trust can be built through governance. Trust can start at the inter-organizational level and move to the inter-personal.

DANGER: This turns a lot of trust research on its head. Usually, scholars start at the interpersonal level and build incrementally from there (check out Types of Trust in Twelve Weeks to Trust). Some scholars don’t believe you can trust an organization, only the people within it. But…

Macro level-problems need macro-level, institutional solutions because organizations are bigger than any one person or leader.

Leaders can start structurally to show people on your team that they – and the organization- are trustworthy. You can start today!

  1. Always declare your benevolent intent. Suspicion breeds distrust so open up the lines of communication.
  2. Reduce hierarchy and monitoring. Set up clear performance expectations through performance agreements, which are a type of contract, and then get out of the way!
  3. Invest in peoples’ financial or psychological security through transaction specific investments like training or equipment they need to do their job.
  4. Establish positive team norms that value trustworthiness. Lead by example and support the norms with policies, incentives, etc.
  5. Talk about ethics. Live them. Run your product, policies and practices through these 10 ethics screening questions. Punish ethics violators.
  6. Create mechanisms for joint planning and problem solving – joint planning meetings, requests for input at various points in a project, stand-up brainstorm meetings or a quick phone call. Create joint goals and incentives so that everyone has something to gain from the others’ success.
  7. Put your money where your mouth is. Nothing is more tangible within an organization than budget. Ensure you have the right people on your team and that you resource projects appropriately otherwise you’ve set them up to fail which does not exactly foster warm fuzzy feelings or trust.

A lot of the focus of interpersonal trust is to show benevolence – that you care about the other person and can put their needs first. You demonstrate that when you create a work environment that has a culture and a structure that supports trust.

When trust-building practices are institutionalized, trust is sustained beyond the actions of one manager or leader. Trust becomes “how we do business” or in fancier terms, an operating mechanism.

An amazing thing about trust is that it is generative. Once you start to create it, it builds upon itself to create more trust. So, today, start where you can. Begin to infuse trust in the big machinery that is an organization and you will be amazed by the transformation that can take place.

Worried about budgets? Most of these steps don’t cost anything and as you build trust you reduce the need for double-checking, tight contracts, etc. High trust governance is less expensive than control and monitoring. You will free up funds to invest in people, projects, training, etc.

Miss you Dad: 10 Leadership lessons my father taught me

June 11, 2018

Last year for Father’s Day I wrote about my Dad who had recently passed away. Since the lessons all still apply. Here’s that story from my archives.

10 leadership lessons from my Dad



My daughter, then three, me and my Dad the day I received my MA Leadership from the University of Guelph. He started teaching me about leadership long before then.



Podcast: Building trust in an age of disruption

May 10, 2018

Did you catch my trust talk with Marguerite O’Neal on her Creative disruption podcast

this week? The conversation ran the gamut from the importance and benefits of trust in – and between – organizations, the results of the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer which shows declining trust in media, government, NGOs and businesses and, more importantly, how and why companies need to focus on macro-level solutions to address the growing trust deficit.


With Facebook, Starbucks, #metoo, price fixing and other topics hot in the news, there’s never enough time to reveal all the strategies for building trust through formal and informal governance mechanisms, so I hope you enjoy these supplements.

Want to chat or find out more? Contact me at

What is wellbeing and how can it apply to your workplace or community?

April 18, 2018

Are you a systems thinker? Are you sick of silos? Are you looking for a way to measure and to improve social progress in your community or even your organization? Then the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) may be a framework for you.


Based at the University of Waterloo, the CIW has been recognized globally as a leader in measuring quality of life.

Find out more in this article I co-wrote with CIW Director, Bryan Smale, for Public Sector Digest.

As always, your feedback is warmly welcomed.



Get your tickets: IABC Waterloo Breakthrough Conference

March 4, 2018

What an honour to present a workshop at the upcoming IABC Waterloo Breakthrough conference. Last year I was already using new tactics before the first break. Excellent value.

A leadership lesson for every hour from Dr. Seuss #DrSeussDay

March 2, 2018
Originally posted in 2012

The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn the more places you’ll go.

from I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

It’s #DrSeussDay AND #WorldBookDay how serendipitous! Here’s a leadership lesson for every one of your waking hours today submitted by some of my Twitter friends. What would you add?

7:00 AM Be optimistic & set the tone: “Great day, today! Great day for UP” RT@DTORourke

8:00 AM Set ambitious goals: “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” ~ RT@VGonzee

Dr. Seuss: Childrens' author or leadership guru?

Dr. Seuss: Childrens’ author or leadership guru

9:00 AM Set direction: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

10:00 AM Think! “Think left & think right & think low & think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”~ RT@DTORourke

11:00 AM Embrace diversity: “There are so many houses you’ll meet on your way. And wherever you go you will hear someone say…’Come over to my house! Come over & play!” RT@DTORourke

12:00 PM Challenge assumptions (or Try something new at lunch): “Green eggs and ham! Just b/c you’ve never tried it doesn’t mean it’s bad”~ RT@lisaw33  Take the opportunity to eat with your team or someone new, too!

1:00 PM Celebrate our common humanity: “Some houses are marble and some are just tin. But they’re all alike when a friend asks you in.”

2:00 PM Navigate uncertainty: “You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted but mostly they’re darked.”

3:00 PM Persevere (that 3 o’clock slump): “On and on you will hike. And I know you’ll hike far & face up to your problems whatever they are.”

4:00 PM Be authentic: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” RT@VGonzee

5:00 PM Be true to yourself: “Be who you are & say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter & those who matter don’t mind” ~ RT@rachelshaps

6:00 PM Be honest & consistent: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant.” RT@momstownca

7:00 PM Care! “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” RT@tylertinytot

8:00 PM Have fun! “If you never did, you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.” RT@momstownca

9:00 PM: Rest: “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” ~RT@wallismark

10:00 PM Reflect & Be grateful: “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams” ~RT@TrueBlissCoach

Thank You! Dr. Seuss, for reminding young and young-at-heart the importance of having fun, respecting others and not taking ourselves so seriously. To my readers, may all your dreams come true!

If you have a moment, I’d like to know what’s your favourite Dr. Seuss quote? Book? Do you think Dr. Seuss was a transformational leader?


An incredibly easy way to boost wellbeing this Family Day weekend: just talk

February 18, 2018

How much time do you think Canadians spend talking with kids every day?

Family day statI’m talking real conversation – not the “pick up your socks” or “you’ll be late for the bus” type interaction or receiving instruction in school. I mean conversation, listening to kids read or reading to them, playing together, helping with homework and even reprimanding behaviour. It’s what Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey calls “talk-based activities with children aged 0 to 14 years.”

While it may feel like you’re spending hours talking with your kids or believing they’re engaged in a lot of one-on-one talk interaction at school, the truth is less than one hour a day is spent in meaningful talk-based activity with kids under 15.

Time spent in talk-based activities with kids ages 0 to 14 years was only 34.2 minutes in 2014, down from 36.8 minutes in 2005.(1)

Ontario fared slightly better at 40 minutes with Central Ontario coming in at a provincial high of 45 minutes. Still, that’s less than an hour a day.(2)

This connection time is important for kids’ overall development, helping make them great members of our families and of society. It’s important time for adults too to know what’s happening in their world and to glean how we can support them. And, it’s an indicator of our overall wellbeing. Yet it’s not always easy to find time to connect. We’re rushing through dinner to make it to the kids’ swimming or guitar lessons or to dashing off to our own commitments.

I’m hardly the role model on this one. Too often, the big picture is a victim of the tyranny of the immediate or the interaction is not what I had hoped for; but, from one flawed parent to an interested reader, my family has had a lot of fun with these games. They’re great for the dinner table or for a longer drive and they introduce topics where everyone’s equal. They open the conversation enough for someone to broach a rule they think is unfair, to share a dream or to thank someone in the family in a way that’s not “weird.” (My kids are 11 and 14… everything is “weird” or “cringy” right now.) It allows the kids to see their parents as people too – not just the cook, driver and disciplinarian.

Card games and books that can help spark a conversation

These games make it easy for a family to connect at the dinner table or on a longer drive.


Just curious, what’s the best question you’ve ever asked a family member or been asked yourself? What happened? I’d love it if you would share 🙂

Signing off and wishing you a great Family Day weekend.


(1) Canadian Index of Wellbeing, 2016 national report indicator trends data tables, data from Statistics Canada, General Social Survey.

(2) Canadian Index of Wellbeing, Profiles of wellbeing in Ontario, Central Region, p.35


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