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Regardless of what the media want you to believe, the world only has one currency.

Yes. One.

It’s not the Euro.

It’s not the Yuan.

It’s not the Dollar.

Can you guess what it is?

Probably not.

You use it so much you probably don’t even think about it, but you’re trading in it anyway.

I’ll let you off the hook. But before I do, I want you to know there is a proven way for you to start increasing your level of this currency, and I’ll share it with you.

The world’s only currency is…


Don’t believe me?

The last time you went to the store and handed your debit/credit card to the cashier and the cashier let you walk out of the store with the product – without calling the police – that was trust. The store trusted that the piece of plastic you handed the cashier meant something, and that something is payment.

Think about the last time you drove through a green light at an intersection. You trusted that some complete strangers were going to obey the laws and not run the red light and T-bone you. Odds are, you made it through the intersection safely.

OK, now for the real test.

Let’s open our wallets and pull out some pieces of paper. Not the lunch receipts from last May. You know the ones. The pieces of colored paper with portraits of historical figures on the front and numbers in each corner. What is each one of them worth?

Well, the number in the corner says $1 (we’re obviously looking in my wallet). So, it must be worth one dollar.


Let’s compare my $1 bill to your $100 bill. The printing looks different. There’s a different portrait on it, and different numbers in each corner. But is there a fundamental difference?  

The $1 bill is the same size as the $100 bill. They’re made out of the same kind of paper. They’re issued by the same government. They use the same ink.

So, what’s the real difference?

The real difference is that we trust that the issuing government will support one with one hundred times the value that it will support the other.

Here we are back to Trust again. Trust shows up again and again and again.

You eat what you’re served at a new restaurant. Trust.

You work a new job for two weeks before you see your first paycheck. Trust.

You take your car into a mechanic – and drive it home on the Interstate. Trust.

Now that we’ve established that Trust is the world’s only currency, the real question is: How do you and I get more of it?

The answer to that question is like the answer to many important questions, it is simple, but not easy.

To get more Trust, you make it yourself. It just takes a little math. Here’s how:

Trust Equation

The trust equation, as introduced in the book The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, helps us to better understand how we can create trust.

Let’s break down the equation by its parts so it looks less like an algebra problem and more like common sense. To put it into words:

Trust = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-orientation

Trust – As we’ve already established, this is the world’s only currency.

Credibility – You have the ability to do what you say you can to do.

Reliability – You have demonstrated that you will do what you say you’re going to do.

Intimacy – You care about people as individuals.

Self-orientation – The level to which this is about you.

Now that the definitions are out of the way, let’s put it to work.

If you want to create Trust, you’ve got to do like Grandma always said – you’ve got to earn it. From this point forward, we’ll just call it like it is.

Our goal here is to learn how to earn Trust.

Trust is the combination of a) your perceived ability to do what you say you can do; b) you actually doing what you say you will do; and c) the level to which you care about the people you’re dealing with and can show empathy toward them with regard to the situation; DIVIDED BY (now here’s the crucial part) the level to which those involved think you’re making this about you.

As with all division problems, the denominator holds the most sway over the quotient. Since the goal of our equation is to make the quotient as big as possible (i.e. earn the most amount of Trust possible), we must make sure to keep the denominator as small as possible.

Let’s put some numbers in this to make it real. Let’s assume that in each case, each of our variables operates in a range of 1 – 100 (low to high).

Let’s say, you’re awesome at what you do, so your Credibility (C) = 100; you’ve never let your people down, so your Reliability (R) = 100; and you know each of your people at a deep level, you know their families, you’ve hung out with them and they love you, so your Intimacy (I) = 100. So far, your numerator is 300 – a perfect score.

Now, let’s also say that you have a reputation for making sure that nothing bad is ever your fault and everything good was totally your idea. No matter what, you always come out smelling like a rose – whether or not the people around you suffer. So, your Self-orientation (S) = 100 – another perfect. Wow! You’re a perfect jerk.

That’s a BIG S!

Let’s do the math.

Trust = (100 [C] + 100 [R] + 100 [I]) / 100 [S] = 3 [T]

Now, let’s change up the situation. Make it a little more realistic. I know none of you are perfect jerks. However, let’s say there’s prevalent gossip (even though it’s totally a myth) that you’ve taken credit for other people’s work. And, maybe you haven’t always stood your ground with Management. So, your Self-orientation rating is more like a 30. Granted, you’ve still got a lot of work to do, but there’s hope.

Now, what does your level of Trust look like?

Trust = 300 / 30 = 10

Still not great, but much better than 3. However, it doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that even a small amount of S can tank your T. So, what can you do?

Here’s what:

Get your head out of you S.

This is not about you. This is about them.

Unless it goes south. Then it’s about you.

The only way to earn extraordinary levels of Trust is to get yourself out of the picture altogether. If you make it about your people, you’ll find that your levels of S become fractional. When people see that you’re just guiding the process and that they are the ones responsible for the success, your S will drop from 30 to 0.3. Let’s do that math.

Trust = 300 / 0.3 = 1,000

The hard part about this is that your equation resets in each new scenario.

Every time you get a new person on your team, you’ve got to rebuild your C, R & I and work really hard to overcome his/her perception of your S. Odds are, any new people are going to base their perception of your Self-orientation on their last leader. If they had a good leader with a small S, you’re in luck. However, if their last leader was an S-[w]hole (you know, a 100), you’re going to have to work extra hard to earn Trust from that person.

So, the next time you’re responsible for a project or an event, ask yourself:

Does this make my S look big?