Trust is a key component in all relationships.  Have you ever trusted someone only to have that trust broken by catching that person in a lie?  Or, had someone make changes related to the project you were assigned to lead, while you were away & not informing you?  How about sitting in a meeting & hearing an announcement about the project you were leading with no advance notice?  Other examples include someone taking credit for your work, someone making an error & not owning up, cheating, lying, or talking behind your back, just to name a few ways trust can be broken.  I’m sure somewhere along the line in your personal or professional life you have had your trust broken.  Now ask yourself that tough question – whose trust have you broken?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines trust as:

a: assured reliance on the character, ability,

strength, or truth of someone or something

b: one in which confidence is place

Synonyms could include: integrity, reliance, surety, faith, dependence, belief, hope, care, protection…

 Antonyms could include: lie, cheat, steal, deceive, trick, fool, irresponsible…

When I was teaching first year nursing students we discussed how to establish trust with your patients.  Maintaining confidentiality; doing what you say you will do, when you say you will (keeping your promises); being a patient advocate (standing up & protecting). If you don’t know an answer, say so, then go find out: admit your weaknesses, be honest.  Establishing trust with patients is not different than establishing trust with anyone, except that you might need to do it more quickly.  Also, remember, patients & their family members may be frightened & distrustful depending on past experiences with healthcare.  One of the things not addressed in any depth in nursing courses is building trust with co-workers, other healthcare professionals, or team building.

Patrick Lencioni (2002) wrote the following about the trust needed in teams

“trust is the confidence among team members

that their peers’ intentions are good, 

and there is no reason to be protective or

careful around the group.  

In essence, team mates must get comfortable

being vulnerable with one another” (p. 195).

Being vulnerable means team members need to be comfortable admitting mistakes, making suggestions, admitting weaknesses, skill deficiencies, & asking for help without having these held against them.  In nursing there is another layer to trust; in nursing we want to be able to trust that our colleagues will always do the same things in certain situations (i.e. code blue) every time: this is the reason patient simulations are used & are important in nursing & healthcare.

Building the vulnerability portion of trust can take time to develop.  As a nurse I remember there were some colleagues I would ask for help before others, & only a few to whom I would admit my weaknesses.  Admitting weaknesses, & asking for help can be very frightening, especially to new nurses.  The statement “nurses eat their young” has been around for many years, & my guess is that most nurses have experienced it at some time, yet it continues.  When I was a nursing student we were told about this phenomenon & vowed when we graduated we would never treat nursing students & new nurses with contempt, or disrespectful.  The leader has a large role to play to ensure that trust is developed & maintained among team members, & among teams.  When you think about this the circle of trust it is huge (Figure 1).  Old customs, habits, rituals, & cultures are hard to change; but in this case it would be well worth the effort.


scan(3)Figure 1: Circle of Trust

The many roles of nursing leaders must include changing the “nurses eat their young” culture.   What can the leaders do to introduce these changes & see them through to fruition?  Kouzes & Posner (2016) stated

“Trust is all about openness, and trust building involves

creating an environment in which people can be open and honest

with each other” (p. 163). 

One thing that I noticed during my time nursing was the absence of openness & honesty from management; often just an extension of how they were being treated by the executive.  Strong leaders are a benefit to any organization.  Time spent nurturing & growing those leaders is time well spent.  Nursing managers can develop the leadership skills of their direct reports by being open & honest; setting the example & not accepting any less from herself or others.  This said, every person can start to build trust in their relationships by being honest & open.  Sounds simple, but it is something that must be worked on every day; it requires a lifelong commitment to leadership development.


Kouzes & Posner (2016). Learning leadership: The five fundamentals of becoming an exemplary leader. Wiley. San Francisco, CA.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team (2002), Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, CA


Using Trust to Build your Team

I recently watched the Indy 500 & the movie The Big Shorty.  As so often happens I learn things that probably were not the intent of the movie; & in the case of the Indy 500, I was reminded of something that I hadn’t thought about for quite some time.  The things that I learn are often related to leadership. guess that is to be expected seeing as I have spent so many years focusing on leadership.  Relationships, trust, & team work seem to be the leadership themes that jump out at me.

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Watching The Big Short reminded me a bit of another movie Wag the Dog.  The movies simulate some real life events; which I think makes them a bit frightening.  When I finished watching I had to ask myself “how much of what I see on the news is true?” & “who can we really trust?”  We certainly can’t trust government, banks, or other big business organizations, bureaucracies & many of the people associated with these bodies.   If you have not seen these movies I strongly suggest you watch them.  Watch with an open mind & ask yourself “what would I do?”, “what is the right thing to do?”  What would you do in circumstances similar to those identified in the movies?  Who do you trust? Can you be trusted?  What criteria do you use to determine whether or not a person can be trusted?  Trust is the foundation of so much that we do in life: relationships (personal & professional), business, teams, & even things as simple as driving – you trust the drivers of the cars coming toward you will stay on their side of the road.


If you have never watched an Indy or Formula One race I urge you to watch at least part of one.  Watch long enough to see what takes place when the car goes into the pit.  The team work & precision is incredible.  As I watched the Indy 500 my husband & I were shocked to see one of the pit times for fuel & changing four tires took a bit more than 13 seconds; way too slow.  Usually you see this at around 8 seconds.  This affected the driver taking him out of the first & second place he had been jockeying for with one other driver.  I am not pointing this out to blame or point fingers, but to emphasize how important team work can be.  The racing team includes the driver, the pit crew, & the engineers (& maybe more); every one of them is essential to win the race.

One of the things that is important in team work is trust.  Teams can’t really work well together if the team members cannot trust one another.  I need to be able to trust you to do as you say & I need to be able to trust you to be understanding & accepting when I own up to a mistake.  I also need to trust you will support me when I need help, just as I will support you.  I need you to listen & really hear what I am saying & know that if you have concerns about a plan or project you will voice those concerns & I will listen.  I might not change what I am doing, but I will take your comments into consideration. I need to trust that if you are upset with something I have said or done that you will come to me to discuss.

As a leader you are in a position to demonstrate trust & to work to build trust among those you lead (coach, manage, train).  Trust is the foundation of any relationship; personal or professional.  Trust can be lost in a second & once lost take years to re-establish: start by making sure you can be trusted.