As leaders, one of our most important jobs is to build a community of trust within our organization.

“Almost all of the work of the world is done through relationships with people and in organizations. But what is communication like when there is no trust? It’s impossible. It’s like walking through a minefield. What if your communication is clear and precise, yet there is no trust? You’ll always be looking for hidden meanings and the hidden agenda. A lack of trust is the very definition of a bad relationship.”
-Stephen Covey | The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

Consider Covey’s concept of the Emotional Bank Account, a bank governing one’s relationships. A person can make withdrawals or deposits into that account which will either build up relationships or cause them to deteriorate. Read Covey’s list of deposits and withdrawals, and contemplate the impact they have on our work in schools:

Deposits Withdrawals
Seek first to understand Seek first to be understood
Keeping promises Breaking promises
Honesty, openness Smooth manipulation
Kindnesses, courtesies Unkindnesses, discourtesies
Win-win or No Deal thinking Win-Lose or Lose-Win thinking
Clarifying expectations Violating expectations
Loyalty to the absent Disloyalty, duplicity
Apologies Pride, conceit, arrogance
Receiving feedback and giving “I messages” Not receiving feedback and giving “You” messages
Forgiveness Holding grudges

These ten deposits share a number of characteristics. First, they require initiative. One must make a concerted effort to listen for understanding, show kindness to others, apologize, and forgive. These acts require personal strength from within. When a leader demonstrates he is capable of these influences, trust is built in relationships. Another shared trait of the deposits is that they require a person to look at the big picture and examine life from outside the realm of “me.” This leads to an appreciation of the value of everyone within the system and a realization of how the decisions we make impact their lives. Third, following through with deposits requires a certain amount of sacrifice. Covey defines a sacrifice as “giving up something, even if it’s something good, for something better.”

We have all personally developed ineffective habits in relation to the way we interact with others in our schools and our lives. By creating an awareness of how our influences and actions can strengthen trust in our organizations, thus leading to improved learning opportunities for our students, we can begin to replace our ineffective personal habits with actions that will build relationships, not strain them.

“Trust becomes a verb when you communicate to others their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.”

As leaders, how do we inspire others to recognize their potential and worth in our schools? What steps do we take to ensure trust is being built at all levels? Parent-teacher? Teacher-student? Community-school? Administrator-teacher? Administrator-student? What can we do to repair trust that has been weakened?

Even the smallest deposits- looking someone in the eye and smiling when speaking with them, having an open-door policy for parents to drop in and have conversations about their children, asking teachers to take the lead on new initiatives, reading to a child, celebrating staff successes, saying “thank you” to someone who has helped you, making a positive phone call home, playing kickball at recess – can impact someone’s life in a positive way and help build the foundation of trust every learning organization needs.


  1. A terrific post and reminder of the many deposits that we can make to improve relationships around our schools. It is truly amazing how even the smallest of deposits (a sincere compliment or a heartfelt public thank you, for example) can make such a huge difference. While I find this espcially true when working with my staff, I am always humbled when I hear the emotion in a parent’s voice when you give them a “good news” call and you know they were expecting a “bad news” call. It makes me realize that we really do have the ability and the means to make people’s day every day. We just need to make more “deposits”!

    Well done Lyn!

    November 16, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thanks for your comments, Cale! This is a great concept to introduce with children as well. We use the “drops in the bucket” stories to help children recognize the value in adding to others’ (and their own!) buckets with kindness and thoughtful acts, and how negative actions can cause drops to spill out of their buckets, and their own.
      I loved the examples you shared… I just had a similar phone call, the parent was convinced I was calling to deliver bad news, but I could feel the appreciation in her voice as we chatted about something wonderful her daughter did!

      November 16, 2010
  2. This is great, Lynn, and so important, an essential element without which all we wish to do to improve learning will fail.

    I love what you write about taking initiative to promote trust; we can’t hang back and wait for it to happen. I think we can also believe mistakenly that if we only take care not to lie or deceive, that will be enough for trust to flourish.

    Open-door policies are necessary but not sufficient; we need to spend more time outside of our office than inside, going to other offices and classrooms and to where parents are and making ourselves visible and available where the people we are leading spend their time. We should try to never summon people to our office, where we can hold over them our mantle of authority, but go to their places with an genuine spirit of inquiry to understand first.

    Great stuff– terrific to be in collaboration with you here at ConPrin!

    November 16, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Jonathan, I always appreciate your thoughtful comments! You make an excellent point that we can’t sit back and wait for trust to build itself- thanks for reminding us to make sure we spend time in our classrooms and with our other important stakeholders. I love that you said we must “go to their places with an genuine spirit of inquiry to understand first.” Perfectly stated!! Thanks again for commenting!

      November 16, 2010
  3. Remi Collins said:

    Thank you for writing this. As a principal it is important for me to remember that I need to model what I expect from my staff, students and parents. We can all make mistakes, we all need help at some point and we all need to treat each other with respect. It sounds so simple and basic and yet when confronted with a challenging situation it is important to not let ourselves short-circuit and fall into anger or pride mode.

    Thanks again for the important reminders.

    November 16, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Hi, Remi,
      Thanks for your comments! I agree, it seems like developing trust would be someone what of a given considering the ease at which we can make the “deposits.” In relationships there is inevitable conflict, as you mention, and I think addressing those challenges eloquently in order to maintain trust is one of the most important skills a leader can have. Very appreciative of your comments!

      November 16, 2010

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