The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, by Stephen M.R. Covey
It is easy to see why this book is the textbook for the Legacy Institute for its Leadership course (which I am teaching this school year) when one reads it. The book is 320 readable (if largely business-speak) pages about a very simple but also very elusive currency, trust. The author, a member of the famous Covey consulting families, has managed to hit upon a very significant matter, that trust or its absence has a huge role in family, business, and cultural life. If he does not broaden his mind beyond business and family to the level of studying the relationship between trust and social capital (or asabiya), he at least points the way to those so inclined (like me).
The book spends much of its time at the beginning lamenting the lack of trust in our society, in our businesses, families, communities, and towards political and religious institutions. Towards the end of the book the author comments that the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith is inconceivable without the widespread trust that results from a generally moral attitude within society. Free enterprise and open societies and “flat” worlds depend on trust. There is even a chapter at the end about recovering lost trust after one has made a serious mistake (such as infidelity in a marriage) which also, sensibly, comments that some violations of trust (such as abuse) are so severe that no chance to restore trust is likely to be given by the injured parties.
The book is organized in a series of patterns that makes it very easy for the reader to understand. For example, the author sees four fundamental components to trust, what he calls the four cores of credibility: integrity (do your actions line up with your principles), intent (do you have hidden agendas or a genuine desire to serve), capabilities (are you competent and relevant), and results (what have you done for me lately). It is only after one has ensured both character and competence, so that one is a trustworthy person, that one can gain the trust of others.
The book then, in commenting on relationships, focuses on thirteen behaviors that lead to increased trust, along with their counterfeit behaviors that sap the trust that others have in us. The thirteen behaviors are: talk straight, demonstrate respect, create transparency, right wrongs, show loyalty, deliver results, get better, confront reality, clarify expectations, practice accountability, listen first, keep commitments, and extend trust. Many of these principles have deep religious roots (which the author often points out in passing), including the Golden Rule. Indeed, while the “get better” chapter comments most on kaizen or Continuous Improvement (both Total Quality Management terms), it also resembles striving towards the maturity and completeness of Christians required by Matthew 5:48 (be you complete as your Father is complete). In short, while this book conveys its point in the language of business consultants, it contains much useful biblical truth for those who wish to seek it out.
The book is also organized in five “waves” of trust that start from the person and extend out to all of societies, each of which have five principles. At the individual level (self-trust), we have the principle of credibility. At the interpersonal relationship level, we have the principle of behavior (we judge a tree by its fruits). At the organizational level, we have the principle of alignment, where organizational behavior is designed to reward certain specific behaviors, whether we consciously realize it or not. In the fourth level, the “market,” we see the principle of reputation, built upon the actions of a company (or family, or institution) based upon the actions of its employees and members in the world. At the fifth level, society, we have the principle of contribution, which asks the questions–what have you done for others? And also, have you left the world a better place than you found it? These are deep questions we must ask ourselves and our institutions.
The book closes with short chapters on extending “smart trust,” showing a quadrant where “smart trust” has high amounts of a propensity (or willingness) to trust and also high amounts of analysis, amounting to judgment and discernment, and three sectors of the quadrant that are defective in either lacking analysis, or a propensity to trust, or both. Trusting wisely requires that the person trusting be wise. The last chapters are about restoring trust when it has been lost (previously commented on above), and one’s propensity to trust.
As a whole, the book is deep and profound, and though its examples are largely taken from either Covey’s own life and family or the business world, the truths are far more profound than that, and are especially applicable to family lives and the greater societal costs of low trust (in terms of the absence of social cohesion). One of the charts in the book was particularly poignant for me personally–a chart showing how families and organizations look in the absence or scarcity of trust. I have lived in these families, gone to these churches, and worked for these businesses, and it has taken a heavy toll on me personally and on those whom I love.
I therefore wholeheartedly recommend this book, with the warning that those who are likely to understand its truths the best much be familiar with the language of consultants and business schools, and that those who are looking for its truths to be couched in the language of scripture or history are likely to find the book wanting simply because it speaks a very specific dialect. If you are able to gain spiritual truths from business language, then this book will bring a great deal of insight and understanding, and prompt much painful self-examination, as all good books do.