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  • Writer's pictureScott Munden

Family Trust: A Vault of Goodwill

Updated: May 13, 2023

I always tell people that I start my relationships with Trust. I tell them to think of Trust as residing in a kind of Vault… Let’s call it a “Vault of Goodwill.” Like any Vault, individuals can make deposits or withdrawals. There is no such thing as an overdraft when it comes to Trust and the “Vault of Goodwill.” Once the Vault is empty and in overdraft, there is no replenishing Trust. At that point Trust is broken and beyond repair.

I have had many Clients tell me that they operate according to the same standard. I always wonder if that is true however. I also wonder, if my own maxim is true. Could it be that relationships do not begin on a foundation of Trust? Might it be that Trust is something that is earned after all? I think there is merit to both questions. I think people like to believe that they initiate relationships from a place of trust. Why not after all? It provides a sort of a comfy-cozy feeling. All is good it would seem, until it isn’t.

These days, I am of the opinion that Trust is indeed something that is earned. The “Vault of Goodwill” is still there, but when you start a relationship the bank balance is at Zero. The Vault is filled over time by deposits made by Employees who are systematically on the road towards earning the Trust of their Employers.

So how does one earn the Trust of an Employer?

I think the process begins with a simple question… Am I a trustworthy person? Of course, most people will immediately answer the question in the affirmative. If you are truly interested in building trust with your Employer and making those all important goodwill deposits into the Vault, then the question requires candour. People do see through facades, perhaps not immediately, but at some point an unveiling of character occurs. So ask yourself, do you have self respect? Are you an honest person? Do you tell people directly, albeit diplomatically, how you feel and think on any given issue?

This last item is important for any Employee / Employer relationship. Do you communicate bravely? This entails relaying good messages along with the bad. It also involves accountability. I have met far too many Managers who are prepared to throw a junior Employee under the bus in order to save their own hides. It might work for a little while, but Employers did not achieve their position by being fools. Eventually, they will read the tea leaves and see you for what you are. In other words, the Employee who is accountable for their mistakes and takes the necessary steps to make amends, is an Employee who makes deposits of Trust into the “Vault of Goodwill.”

The trustworthy Employee is a person who commits to their word,

even when their word becomes inconvenient.

Revisionist History is not the hallmark of a trustworthy Employee. Remember your word and do good by it. This is not just towards Employers, it is also a valid maxim for the Employees you manage. If they cannot trust you, why should your Employer?

Household Managers are often placed in difficult positions when confidences are shared with them by an Employee. To manage potentially difficult situations, I always remind the Employee before they share a confidence, that I work for our mutual Employer. Sometimes that chastens the Employee, and other times the confidence is still shared. I manage situations like this by asking the Employee how they wish me to proceed. We have an open and candid conversation about process and how to move forward. More often than not, a “confidence” is simply an attempt by an Employee to vent. Once the "monkey" is off the Employee’s back, the matter comes to a tidy close. The important thing is that the Household Manager has not breached their loyalty with the Employer and they have been completely transparent with the Employee while, together, they attempt to resolve whatever issue is on the table.

Keep small things small.

In other words, know when it is important to go to your Employer about an issue. And when you do, make sure not to exaggerate the matter. Keep things in perspective. Frame issues in a correct context. I have known Managers that bring every little detail to their Employer’s attention. I like to believe that they feel they are doing their job. I think, however, that in most cases the Manager is simply trying to ingratiate themselves with the Employer. Once again, attempts at ingratiation might work for a while, but at some point, the Employer will cotton onto the difference between being kept informed and a Manager who is more an informer than a manager.

The self-confident person is usually someone who is perceived to be trustworthy. This may or may not be fair, but my sense is that it is true. Timidity and self-doubt are often construed as indicators that the person is less than trustworthy. The trustworthy Manager is someone who is confident, and bravely communicates information - good and bad - in a direct and accurate fashion.

The unreliable Manager, the Manager who does not meet deadlines or promises, is a Manager who quickly loses the confidence of their Employer. To make deposits into that “Vault of Goodwill,” it is essential to follow through, adhere to commitments, stick to timelines, and not over-promise and under-deliver.

Projects have a beginning, middle and end. The trustworthy Manager is someone who manages such projects through every stage of the process. They keep projects on track, both in terms of timeline and budget, and their performance is absorbed by their employer. Typically, one successful project is followed up by an Employer assigning a larger, and more demanding project. That is always a good sign that Trust is being developed.

There are many ways to build Trust with an Employer, and all of them are important. one thing is certain, however, once Trust is lost, it is and always will be impossible to regain. It has always been my belief that it is for this very reason that constant vigilance over Trust be maintained by Household Managers. Trust can be gained. It cannot be regained.

© Portico Inc., 2017

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