Have you ever broken a promise to someone? You told a friend you’d come to their birthday party, and then didn’t show. Or you promised your niece she could stay with you the weekend, but then canceled because you were just too tired after a grueling week.
Trust is the backbone on which human relations are built. It takes shape incrementally, but can be washed away in a single dramatic flurry. The lover found cheating. The leaked internal memo. The off-the-record comment that found its way to the person being discussed.
I broke trust with my mom recently. I had agreed to call her (and my brother, who lives with her) at 7 PM on a Sunday. The content of the call was not important, but the call itself was, because my mom and I are rebuilding a fragile trust after being out of each others’ lives for several years.
I screwed up.
That Sunday, I got into a wormhole in front of my computer. When the phone rang, I looked at the clock: 7:15. My heart sank.
“Did you forget about us?” my brother asked.
“Of course I didn’t!” I tried to sound convincing.
It was a half-truth. If they hadn’t called me, it’s possible I would’ve forgotten. It’s happened before. Once, I remembered (that I’d forgotten) to call at 11 PM. My late call woke my Mom out of a deep sleep, and scared the daylights out of her.
It’s ironic that I won a “Communicator of the Year” award in 2006, but can’t seem to remember to call my mom on Sunday nights.
I know this about myself. I am an unfinished woman. I still promise too much. I sometimes deliver too little, too late. Often, I commit this offense with the most important people in my life. But I’ve got to get better.
We are at a place in human history where trust - trust in banks, trust in our “leaders” and trust in institutions - is at an all-time low. We - especially those of who aspire to be leaders to future generations - must reconsider what “trust” is; how it’s earned, and how it’s kept.
Trust is slow work. It’s tedious. It’s built brick by brick, call by call, promise-kept after promise-kept. Building trust is incompatible with speed or spin. Trust requires honesty. It’s the fat guy who looks in the mirror and says, “Dude, you’re fat!”
How does this play out for the next generation?
Generation X was a skeptical generation. Latchkey kids were taught not to trust anyone. Cynical Gen X kids grew up to provide us with our first generation of cynical bloggers, our first online “haters,” who trusted no one, and had a platform to lambast anyone who didn’t meet their expectations.
But generations are not linear. Gen X skepticism is washing away as a new tide of “Yes We Can” Millennials is washing in. Millennials ask, “What’s on the test?” because they want to get it right. They want the truth - the whole truth - and if you don’t give it to ‘em, they’ll figure it out on their own (hello Google), and remember that you can’t be trusted.
The only question we as leaders need to ask to assess our performance is, “How has trust been deepened and strengthened on my watch?
Now, if you’ll excuse me while I set an alarm for Sunday at 6:59 PM. Mom likes it when I’m early.