When Stephen Covey attended the World Economic Forum in September 2008, he was surprised that global leaders who were asked to identify the world's No 1 challenge voted for "loss of trust and confidence."
At that time, the sudden collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers had plunged Wall Street into chaos, triggering serious ripple effects across the global financial system. "I was expecting 'financial crisis' to be the answer," Covey said.
His book Smart Trust: Creating Prosperity, Energy and Joy in a Low-trust World, published this year, is an extension of his 2006 book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything.
The co-founder and global practice leader of FranklinCovey, a training and consulting company, expects that the telling and inspiring examples he included in his second book will encourage people to become doers.
"People who attended my presentation came to me later and said: 'I like the idea of trust, but I don't know how it would work.' So here are the real examples of how people do it and what they have achieved."
What stops people from trusting each other? Covey believes two factors are in play.
The first is that people are trapped in the path of expediency. Establishing trust is time-consuming, meaning that not to trust is often more efficient. "However, the benefit of doing that will only stay for a while," Covey said.
Second, trust is something not easy to do. "Trust is common sense, but it is not common practice," Covey said. "People tend to make counterfeit behavior with a hidden agenda that results in loss of trust."
Covey hosted a workshop in Hong Kong last week on how to use trust to improve performance at work and in life.
Given what is happening on the global economic front, Covey admits that he holds conflicting views.
On the one hand, he feels discouraged to see trust levels are falling due to misbehavior. On the other hand, he has also sensed a "renaissance of trust," which sees leaders of various organizations counteracting that distrust by looking for ways to make a difference, such as emerging corporate social responsibility initiatives.
"A lot of organizations are focusing on the triple bottom line, not just financial results, but also social good and environment good," Covey said. "All in all, I am optimistic, believing that people will start to recognize that operating with high trust is the better way to operate."
In his latest book, he strikes a practical note by emphasizing that in a low- trust world we need to trust smartly. "It is not blind trust, but a blend of your heart and head," he said.
In the heart, there must be a high level of willingness to trust - however, that must be balanced with practical analysis, which includes three things to consider: what is the situation, what are the risks involved and what is the credibility of those involved.
Covey used the tech giant IBM as an example to explain how the three- step thinking can be applicable in a real business context.
Nowadays, half of IBM employees work from home. The situation is that some work doesn't have to fix an employee to the office.
The risk here is that an employee might, say, play with their children instead of working.
The last part is the chief executive's judgment call by thinking over who do we hire?
If they are winners and tremendous people, they deserve the trust.
Covey believes that smart trust is the third alternative between blind trust, which allows employees to do whatever they want, and distrust, which requires employees to stay in the office every minute.
It is trust on the basis of clear expectation and accountable procedure.
The line of thoughts is like this: "Here is clear expectation to do your job, here is the process for being accountable on that job, and we at IBM hire winners. We trust our people against those expectations to work from home, serve our customers and grow our business.
"The great thing about giving out trust is that it is reciprocal. When you extend it, people return it, which can create a cycle."
The son of Stephen Covey, the author of the best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, likens his father's thinking to the software of his mind.
"His influence on me is huge."
Building on his father's idea of the importance of trust, he looks into the question of how people can act out trust so that the idea goes deeper.
Website: www.franklincovey.com/ tc/
Four signed copies each of The Speed of Trust and Smart Trust are up for grabs. To enter, e-mail your choice of book title and contact details to Info@kashgroupinc.com