The lens of intentional trust

Trust is the foundation on which relationships are built and maintained. However, in business, trust is also a powerful driver for competitive advantage.


In Sally Bibb’s & Jeremy Kourdi’s book “A Question Of Trust”, they write:

“The effects (of damaged trust) can range from missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential to complete dishonesty and… damaged customer relationships, lost business, failed partnerships, corporate scandals and collapse.”

While it is relatively easy for most of us to understand what the ‘costs’ of damaged trust can be in any relationship and certainly in any organisation, it is not so easy to understand the complexity of what I refer to as the Paradox of Pursuing Trust.

The paradox of pursuing trust to gain a competitive advantage is this… The more we seek trust with the intention of building a competitive advantage, the less likely our trust building actions will lead to the significant competitive advantage we seek.

The reason for the paradox? Intention.

Cynical numbers driven MBA types will find this extremely difficult to grasp, because they have been taught and exposed to a line of thinking that is driven by the importance of bottom line thinking.

Just to be clear here (especially as one of three Master Degrees is an MBA), as a business owner, I certainly understand, value, and have goals, targets, checks and measures for the financial requirements of my business. I get the importance of the bottom line. I am very clear about my intention for the financial goals of my business (and how those financial goals relate to my personal lifestyle).

I also recognise that what is required for me to achieve the goals I have for my business, involves the need to build and maintain intentional trust relationships with suppliers, centres of influence, referral partners and of course, my potential and existing clients.

The key word again in that last sentence is Intentional.

While it’s ok, and in fact imperative that you have a clear intention to achieve the financial targets for any organisation, when we’re dealing with people, our intentions need to be diverted away from financial targets, and aimed directly at fulfilling the needs and wants of the people we deal with on a day to day basis.

This subtle shifting of the lens of intention might seem ‘soft’ and even insignificant in the cut and thrust of corporate life, and while we all understand that when we buy things (whether goods or services), the people we’re buying from want to and need to make a profit on most if not every sale.

That being the case, however, when we buy something, especially something that is important to us (perhaps not so much for everyday convenience purchases… although arguably this applies to those type of purchases as well), I think it would be very few people who would want (given the choice) to buy something from someone who didn’t have our best interests as their intentional focus at the point of sale.

Shifting Your Lens of Intentional Trust

This subtle shifting of the lens of intention can be made even more difficult when leaders within an organise are sending mixed messages to employees like “Focus on the customer’s needs” and at the same time “Focus on selling ‘this or that’ high profitability product to as many customers as possible.”

Again, it’s paradoxical… If the only reason the leadership within an organisation seeks to build trust is for competitive advantage, or to drive up profits, or to build greater return for shareholders, this focused, yet limited intention, will become evident to customers, suppliers, and employees… and the result is a cynicism, wariness, hesitation, and dis-trust (disengaged trust)… the very thing the leaders wanted to avoid in the first place.