Last winter my Uncle John (91 and still living in his own home) called me because his daughter was out of town and he was not feeling well.  He said he was “woozy” and wanted to know if he should call his doctor or just wait.   Of course, I took him to his doctor immediately and fortunately, it was just the onset of a mild case of the flu.

Woozy.  That word is not in a medical dictionary.  But I knew what he meant.   I’ve been there too.   In the Miriam Webster dictionary the definition includes the words aswoon, hazy, unfocused,  swimmy and vertiginous.  Swimmy??  Got the picture, right?  Woozy is hard to define, but easy to empathize with.

“Trust” is just like “woozy.”  We know it when we feel it, experience it, hear about it, or don’t have it.  But it’s hard to define.  And if we struggle to define it, how can we actively build it, preserve it or repair it?

Trust is a gift we give to a person or organization that is trustworthy.  A gift.  A rare, valuable, precious gift to be treasured and protected by both the giver and the receiver.     Trust is a belief in the reliability, truth, ability, vision, strengths, and assurances of character of a person or organization.

There are five circles of trust: self, family and personal relationships, organization, market and society.


An individual who has self trust is one who has high character and high competence as demonstrated by a healthy balance between self confidence and self esteem.   As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Self Trust is the first secret of Success”.   It is also the foundation for all of the other circles of trust.

As we move outwards, the next circle is trust in family and personal relationships.  This trust circle encompasses the loyalty, accountability and love of our families and close relationships.   The organization trust circle is the relationship of trust and trustworthiness we have inside our businesses.  It is the organizational alignment that builds efficiency and effectiveness.  Trust in the market is the open relationships between your business and its customers, suppliers, competitors and collaborators.   It is the basis of your reputation and brand.   Societal trust is trust within the general community as evidenced by contribution and giving back and looks like global citizenship.

The five circles of trust describe the realms of trusting relationships that build on each other.   It’s hard to picture a business that’s trusted in the market if the key leaders are not trustworthy.  And it would be a challenge to be trusted by others if we don’t trust ourselves.  So, the trust circles are built upon each other and reflect backwards as well.

But how do we build trust within each circle?  There are five domains of trust that exist within each circle.  They are:

  1. Competence – talent, attitude, skills, culture and knowledge
  2. Integrity – doing the right thing when nobody is watching; walking the talk
  3. Openness – willingness to accept and be accepted; personal authenticity
  4. Benevolence – having the best interest of others in mind
  5. Shared Vision – individual visions and the vision of the organizations are congruent; vision and action are congruent

When we think about trust in this way, it sounds a little less woozy, right?  Now we can talk about strategies for building trust in specific circles and developing strategies within certain domains of trust. And, we can work on the difficult challenge of rebuilding trust when it is damaged.   Less woozy, more actionable.