Provision #376: Trust Matters by Bob & Megan Tschannen-Moran

Laser Provision

Trust matters. It matters if we hope to be successful and fulfilled in life and work. But too often we fail to think about trust until it’s become damaged. Then we suffer the often catastrophic consequences. Fortunately, with the publication of my wife’s book on the subject, there’s a new resource available for educational leaders and others who want to make trust a permanent part of the landscape.

LifeTrek Provision

It brings me great joy to announce the publication of my wife’s new book, Trust Matters: Leadership for Successful Schools. This excellent book, published by Jossey-Bass, is available in bookstores everywhere. You can order it online from either Amazon or Barnes&Noble.

For this week’s Provision, I interview my wife, Megan Tschannen-Moran, regarding the background that led to the writing of this book as well as some of the key concepts that she works with in the book.

A more timely moment for the publication of this book could hardly have been found. Trust is everywhere in the news. Political candidates cast aspersions as to the trustworthiness of their opponents. Businesses suffer losses, and at times even bankruptcies, over untrustworthy behavior. Churches lose followers in the wake of scandal and controversy. And the media pounces on every breach of trust they can find.

So what’s a book on the impact of trust to school performance have to teach the general public? Plenty! Tim Sanders, the Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo!, goes so far as to suggest that trust is the currency of the new economy. We’re no longer just pushing commodities, goods, and services; we are creating experiences that hinge upon such key concepts as authenticity, transparency, and value. Without trust, we lose.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fishbowl of public education. Everyone’s an expert and everyone has an opinion. The only way to survive, let alone to thrive, is to be a trustworthy leader and to create a culture of trust from which students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the general public can together address the educational challenges of today.

It should come as no surprise, then, that a professor of educational leadership with background in the coaching industry might ply her talents in the service of such a critical construct. And she has written a book that’s both profound and readable, academic and enjoyable, as well as specific and yet universal enough to assist a broad range of people.

Q: So how did you decide to study the concept of trust in the first place?

A: This really grew out of my early professional experience as an educational leader in the context of an under-resourced, non-public, inner-city school in Chicago. I spent nearly 15 years of my life in this challenging setting and quickly learned that trust was essential to our success.

Our mission was to unleash the power of education early in the lives of disadvantaged students in order to break the cycle of poverty. We could not accomplish that mission without the support of everyone involved. Not only did school personnel need to support each other, but we also needed the support of parents, students, and the wider community.

We earned that support by being trustworthy. We didn’t always use that language at the time, and we certainly hadn’t developed a full-blown model of trust, but we did strive to embody what I now recognize as the five facets of trust and we did witness the difference that effort made not only in our own lives but in the performance and experience of our students.

Q: What are those facets and how do you define trust?

A: After a thorough literature review, I found two things to be true. First, trust was under-studied in the field of education. It was all the rage in business literature as well as in philosophy, psychology, and even economics. But educators had not focused much on the concept of trust.

In addition, I found that many people were working with incomplete and inadequate definitions of trust. Some would have a few facets and others would have different ones. So I worked hard to arrive at and to test through my research a comprehensive definition of trust that people could remember and use in real-life situations.

In my book, I define trust as “the willingness to be vulnerable to another based on the confidence that the other is benevolent, honest, open, reliable, and competent.” That definition packs a lot into just a few words:

  • Vulnerability. Trust matters most in situations of interdependence, in which the interest of one party cannot be achieved without reliance upon another. Given the increasing interdependence of our world, that makes trust ever more relevant and important.
  • Benevolence. We lay the groundwork for trust when we have another person’s best interests at heart. People trust us when they believe that we care about their well-being and will not harm their interests. Compassionate leaders are trustworthy leaders.
  • Honesty. This is probably the most common and fundamental of understandings when it comes to trust. We trust people who tell the truth. Apart from integrity and authenticity, no trust is possible.
  • Openness. Many people miss this facet of trust, but it’s a critical ingredient. We trust people who share appropriate levels of information, influence, and control. When these are withheld, it’s easy to become suspicious.
  • Reliability. It’s not enough to be trustworthy some of the time. We trust people who consistently talk the talk and walk the walk. When someone is unpredictable, let alone malicious, self-serving, or dishonest, we quickly lose faith in what they say and do.
  • Competence. This is an integral part of what it takes to build trust. If we don’t have the knowledge, skills, network, energy, and strength to do what the job requires, no one is going to believe we can be successful.

Q: Who is your target audience?

A: Although the book works as a textbook, and a number of college professors have already assigned it for their fall classes, it was not my intent to go through an academic exercise. My primary concern is to make our schools successful. I want them to become better, more humane places for children to learn and adults to work. I believe my book can make such a contribution and I hope it gets discovered by many practitioners.

Q: What has been the response so far?

A: I’m very encouraged, both by the early sales and by the responses I’ve been receiving. Within two weeks, Amazon had to order more copies! And I’ve received many positive email replies and as well as invitations to work with school districts who want to apply this material in real-life situations.

I just returned, for example, from a professional development retreat in New York State with a district that was struggling with some issues of trust and that wanted to use my work as a platform for moving forward on a different basis. Every administrator in the district is receiving my book as part of the process. At the retreat, we studied the core ideas and engaged in critical discussion about the dynamics of trust and distrust in professional relationships. This was tough but important work for them to be doing.

Q: Is it really possible to rebuild trust after it’s been broken?

A: That may be the most important and interesting part of the book. I have chapters on betrayal, revenge, and putting the pieces back together. Yes, it is possible to rebuild trust after it’s been broken, but it’s not easy. There’s a lot of work that goes into the process, which hinges upon the willingness of both parties to make the effort.

In the book I describe a process called the “Four A’s of Absolution”: we have to admit it, apologize, ask forgiveness, and amend our ways. That sounds simple enough, but it is challenging to practice as some of the participants in New York informed me after they tried it.

Although it ultimately takes the willingness of all parties to rebuild trust, there are things that a person can do unilaterally to start moving a distrustful situation in a more positive direction. We can, for example, articulate our intent to refrain from harming the other party, announce our intention to engage in cooperative behavior, reliably follow up on the announced action, and make an explicit invitation to the other party to reciprocate.

There are no guarantees, but setting forth our own trustworthy intentions and, of course, delivering on our promises may be the only chance we have of setting things right.

Q: LifeTrek Provisions has more than 56,000 readers in 143 countries. Which ones would benefit most from reading this book?

A: The target audience, as I’ve already mentioned, is school leaders and prospective school leaders. That’s where the illustrations, stories, and applications come from. Nevertheless, I continually hear from people who have found this model to be helpful in a wide variety of contexts. Any leader of people needs to be concerned about trust, as do husbands, wives, and other committed partnerships.

So I think the book has a kind of universal appeal. Just about anyone can benefit from reviewing and practicing the concepts in this book. If people are in interested in trust, in becoming more trustworthy, or in dealing with a situation of broken trust, then reading this book would be good.

I am quite interested in the international applications of this model. In different cultural contexts, with different expectations as to what we expect from others in situations of interdependence, this model might have more or less relevance. I would love to hear from the international readers of this book as to how they see things.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

A: I quote a philosopher in my book who noted that trust is like air: we tend to notice it only when it becomes polluted or scarce. But we don’t have to wait for trust to be contaminated or destroyed to make it a hallmark of our life and work. That’s like waiting for a heart attack before we get serious about our health and fitness. Better to lift up trust, early on, as one of the core values of an organization, and to practice the principles that make for trust, than to wait for problems.

Also, coaching can be an effective ally in both the establishment and in the repair of trust. There’s no way to work out all these dynamics in one professional development retreat. It takes consistent application over time in order to make them come alive, and there’s no better way to make that happen than with the assistance of an internal or external coach.

Educational leadership coaching is becoming increasingly common. Now that my book is available, it should be even easier for coaches to assist their clients to stay focused on and be successful with the things that make for trust.

Coaching Inquiries: Is trust a part of your personal or organizational mission statement? How often do you consider the benevolence, honesty, openness, reliability, and competence of your actions? Are there ways you could improve in this regard? Is there anything you need to admit to or anyone you need to apologize to in order to start the process of repairing trust?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


I loved Kate’s writing a week ago on “Coaching as Breath Work.” Click When my dad first died we were overwhelmed with the support and love that surrounded us…as days, weeks, and months go on it is easy to forget what wonderful people are with us…she reminded me. Thanks.


Congratulations to you on your Marathon finish in Alaska Click and to Megan on her new book! Thank you, too, for the virtual Alaskan trip. It was spectacular.


We looked at your whole online Alaska photo album and loved it!! It brought back some great memories. Looks like you had a wonderful time. It didn’t look like you missed a thing. Guess we’ll have to go back again.


I appreciate your messages very much, but haven’t taken time to thank you. Your write-up on the Olympics was very moving and truly exceptional; thanks for sharing. 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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