The Bregman Leadership Podcast
Episode 109

Stephen M. R. Covey

The Speed of Trust

How can you inspire trust in others? Start by trusting yourself, says Stephen M. R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust. The good news is, there’s a fairly simple process for developing trust in yourself. Discover how to set goals that develop your self-confidence, why “trust but verify” isn’t quite right, and why trust has to be an inside-out process.


Book: The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything
Bio: Stephen M. R. Covey is cofounder and CEO of CoveyLink Worldwide. A sought-after and compelling keynote speaker, author, and advisor on trust, leadership, ethics, and high performance, Covey speaks to audiences around the world. A Harvard MBA, he is the former CEO of Covey Leadership Center, which under his stewardship became the largest leadership development company in the world. Covey resides with his wife and children in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.



Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership podcast, I’m Peter Bregman your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.

We are lucky today in the podcast, we have with us, Stephen M. R. Covey. You probably know him for his book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. It’s an excellent book, I really, really loved it and that’s what we’re here to talk about today. He is the co-founder and CEO of CoveyLink Worldwide, he used to be the CEO of Covey Leadership Center, which under his stewardship became the largest leadership development company in the world.

You also probably know his father of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, who is the author of that. But Stephen M. R. Covey comes with his own independent credentials and I’ve just enjoyed meeting you, Stephen, myself here. We have been on each other’s radar and so it’s really, really nice to actually connect in person. I’m excited to talk to you about the book.

Stephen: Well thank you Peter and I’m absolutely delighted to have this conversation with you. I admire you and your work and to be on your leadership podcast is a thrill so I’m really looking forward to this.

Peter: You’re kind, thank you. So Stephen, I loved reading the forward by your father, you know you clearly had his trust and just from an outcome perspective of what this is all about, I wonder if you could talk just a few moments about what it feels like to have that kind of a blessing from your father, that kind of trust.

Stephen: Yeah, yeah. Well, really unbelievable and in fact, I remember it from my earliest years in the Seven Habits book my father’s one of his signature stories is he calls green and clean. Where he’s trying to teach his son, which was me, how to take care of the lawn and it really was a trust story because here I was a seven year old boy and he was trusting me to take care of the lawn. And this is back when you had to do manual sprinklers and everything and at first, I kinda felt but it just stayed with the trust and then I rose to the occasion and as a seven year old, became pretty responsible.

And it shows you the power of trust and I felt that my entire life and so, my father not only is my father but he was really the single greatest influence in my life and clearly on my professional work because of what I learned from him. But also what I experienced from him and I learned trust from my father in that I experienced it from him, he extended trust to me and that inspires. And it inspired me and so, I couldn’t be more thankful for such an amazing blessing.

Peter: You know I love that story that you just told and that was in Seven Habits. And I love it and I want to delve a little more deeply into this and I’m going to just name it and then we’re going to come back to it.

Stephen: Okay.

Peter: Which is this moment when you say he trusted me to do the lawn, I didn’t do such a great job but he continued to trust me and I rose to the occasion. And I think that little snapshot is so indicative of the dilemma that so many of us face, which is someone disappoints us and that confirms for us the idea or maybe introduces to us the idea I can’t trust this person. So now I’m going to have to do a whole bunch of things in order to make sure that my failures are not related to this person’s failures. Like I just can’t trust them.

And the point that you just made is really, really important and the challenge is how do we get over that feeling when someone disappoints us? To actually trust them enough for them to be able to rise to the occasion because there’s some situations where we’ll keep trusting them and we’re fools because they continue to do things that end up losing our trust. But before I do that, before I get there that’s just a place setter to make sure I get back. What is trust? How do you define trust?

Stephen: Okay, here’s kinda a simple way of thinking about it. Trust is simply confidence. Confidence, that in many languages, trust and confidence are the exact same word. Like in Spanish, French, same word. In English, we have two words for it, so think in terms of confidence and it’s a confidence that comes from having both character and competence. Both are vital and sometimes we only speak in terms, we kinda only think in terms of character to have trust. And you gotta have character, that’s the foundation but you also need competence. And you have to deliver/perform because someone could be honest but not able to deliver.

Peter: Right.

Stephen: To perform, so I might trust them to watch my home or my apartment if I go on a vacation, right? Because they’re honest but I might not trust them on the key project or the key client, the key deliverable if they don’t have a track record of performing. So, I need to see the competence as well as the character and the combination of that creates a confidence that enables us to have trust. And so, that’s kinda the simple definition: confidence.

Peter: That’s a great two pronged question to be asking. Is there a difference between having confidence in someone and trusting them? Or are they really synonymous?

Stephen: The way I’m talking about it is kinda becomes the same. I will say this, the confidence implies a little bit more around the competence side. That they can deliver and sometimes the trust implies a little bit more around the character side but I’m trying to say it’s really the same. True trust real, sustainable trust, smart trust has to gotta have both character and competence and not just the idea of someone’s trustworthy meaning that they’re honorable. But also, that they deliver, they perform, their current, their relevant, that’s important too. And confidence sometimes conveys that a little bit stronger, so sometimes I use the term interchangeably but for my purposes, when I say trust I mean confidence.

Peter: Great. I love it. Now I want to delve into the specifics of the book but one more question. There is a phrase that was made famous by Ronald Reagan, focusing on nuclear disarmament with Russia that’s always sort of bugged me and I’ve never really fully understood it but I wanted to ask you about it because I think it could shed light on what we mean by trust and I also want to learn as to whether I’ve been thinking about it as wrong.

You probably know what I’m talking about, but it’s this sort of trust but verify. Right? I’m gonna trust but verify and I wonder if you could talk about whether that makes sense and whether that’s a smart thing to do and whether the but verify discounts the trust or it doesn’t discount the trust. What are your thoughts?

Stephen: Yeah, it’s a great question that a lot of people have so let me just frame it this way. When I talk about trust, I’m really talking about a smart trust as opposed to a blind trust. See a blind trust is when the person just kind of indiscriminately trusts anyone and everyone and that’s not very smart in today’s world. Not everyone can be trusted or it’s when people trust without expectations and without an agreed upon process for accountability and you can be too trusting in a low trust world and get burned.

But the other extreme, if blind trust is one extreme, the other extreme is distrust and suspicion characterized by the person that doesn’t trust anyone. Or hardly anyone, maybe, because of the fact they can’t trust some. And I’ve seen many people fall into the trap, that’s probably the more common trap to fall into where people are afraid to trust people because maybe they’ve been burned before. And they say hey it’s just too risky so I’m calling it smart trust, and in a sense there is an element of that trust but verify.

But I like how you already express it, I don’t like the word but. Because the but negates everything in front of it so often what people say trust but verify, that’s usually just an excuse to never trust anyone. It’s not trusting at all and they’re all verify, verify, verify they never started with trust but the premise behind the verify could be smart if it’s a trust and verify.

So, for example, I’m gonna shortly get on a plane to go fly and when I get on that plane I’m hardly gonna think about the safety issue because I know there’s an FAA and there’s standards and rules of safety. And there’s verification that’s taking place because that verification does take place, it enables me to trust.

So because someone verifies it, I can now trust. What if there were no FAA? What if it were just all up to the airlines to do their own thing? There’s no standards, no expectations and what if an airline were having a really lousy financial quarter? And doing that and they had to cut costs, it’d be very easy to cut maintenance wouldn’t it? And to maybe not follow through?

Stephen: You’ve gotta be smart.

Peter: It almost seems like it’s the reverse, it shouldn’t be trust but verify or trust and verify it should be verify so I trust.

Stephen: Well, yes I would say in some situations when there’s high risk like if you’re getting on a plane that sometimes the verification enables people to trust. But I think in the work that you and I are doing and that our listeners are doing, the leadership work, people working in relationships and on teams and leading teams and leading change initiatives I really believe that as a starting point, starting with trust, giving trust, extending trust is probably a better starting point. As long as we have clear expectations of what we’re trusting on and an agreed upon process for accountability, so that it’s smart because let me tell you what it does.

By starting with trust, it brings out the best in people. And they rise to the occasion and they perform better and they also give the trust back to you. It generates a reciprocity, so my father back to the story because this kind of relates to the way you framed this, this trust but verify. My father he trusted me and I was a seven year old boy but here’s the key thing, he had very clear expectations. I want the yard to be green and clean, clear expectations.

And those are results oriented words, green and clean. And then he also had an agreed upon process for accountability, which was that once a week we would walk around the yard and I would report back how we’re doing against the criteria of green and clean. And so, in that process when I wasn’t doing very good, he said why don’t we walk around like we agreed we’d do once a week, it’s that time now. And let’s see how you’re doing.

And that’s when I kind of acknowledged that hey I’m not doing very good, dad and I need help, would you help me and he said sure, I’m your … I agreed I’d help you if I got time and I’ve got time. And it was from that moment that I realized he trusts me. And this is my job and he’s gonna help me and so, I think it was a smart trust my dad gave me as a seven year old boy because he had clear expectations, and an agreed upon process for accountability. And if you start with that, I think the better starting point is to start with trust with your people.

Unless there’s extreme risk, like an airplane or where the person’s not ready for that much trust yet, you don’t wanna set someone up to lose when you’re trusting them too much on something with too great of risk. And not enough credibility yet, but by starting with trust you generate a reciprocity, you also inspire people to bring out the best in them and I think that most of our leaders need more trust, not less.

Peter: That’s great. Stephen, if you could very briefly talk about the five waves of trust just to give a map for us and then we’ll delve in.

Stephen: I just use a metaphor of a ripple effect, the drop water coming down, the ripples, the waves moving out and it starts with self trust. That’s the first wave, if I trust myself. Do I give to my team? A leader they can trust. And then it ripples out to the next wave, relationship trust. One on one and then I ripple out to the next wave, which is team or group or organizational trust. Could be me as the CEO of the company, could be as the leader of the team. Then I ripple out to the next wave, which is market trust. That’s my stakeholder trust. And then I ripple out to the next wave, which is societal trust. And my point is that you move from the inside out, that trust starts with yourself and then it ripples out.

It’s hard to have trust with other people if you don’t trust yourself. It’s hard to have trust in a team if there’s not trust in relationships, so moving inside out is a more sustainable and a better way to build trust than going outside in, which is saying hey I can’t trust anyone. I don’t trust them instead say hey I need to look in the mirror, do I give to them a partner that they can trust? Go inside out, it’s a better approach.

Peter: So, the first wave self trust, you talk about these four cores of credibility: integrity, intent, capabilities and results. And that feels like it’s an important place to start, which is do you trust yourself? How do you help people build these cores? Because they’re challenging.Integrity, you would almost think is a yes or no but it’s not, it’s more complicated than that. And people struggle with the tension between what they want and how they want to show up and also what they want, and that’s where integrity can get weak a little bit for people.

I’m curious to hear you talk about your experiences of developing this in people and some of the lessons you’ve learned around that.

Stephen: Yeah, it’s a really great question because this is where it starts, in fact I’ll never forget one time I was doing a seminar session on the speed of trust I presented the five ways, how trust has to be inside out. We have to start with ourselves and this guy came up to me at a break and said hey Stephen, this is really helpful because I think I see what’s going on in my life.

And then he kinda acknowledged, he goes look I’m not happy with where I’m at. And I’m not where I thought I’d be in my career and I’ve always blamed everybody else, my whole life can’t trust my boss. Can’t trust the company, can’t trust management. Then I go home to the community, can’t trust my kids. Can’t trust my neighbor, and then he goes I realize what my problem was. And then he kinda leaned in and whispered to me and he said I don’t trust myself.

I don’t trust myself and I realized that that distrust of self, I’m now projecting that out onto everybody else. So what do I do? Now you’re key question, where do I start? And my answer was this very simple thing and it’s tied to this integrity you mentioned and that is to learn to make and keep commitments to yourself. It’s interesting, Peter, the fastest way to build trust with another person is to make that person a commitment and to keep it.

Make another commitment and keep it, repeat that process, make, keep, commit. Make, keep, repeat. Make, keep, repeat. You can build trust fast that way, but guess what? That’s also the fastest way to build trust with yourself. Make yourself a commitment in the little things and keep it, and another and keep it in those small little things, that’s integrity. That’s clarity, that’s power. And so, it is not easy. It’s an ongoing process, we never fully arrive, we’re always striving. But the sense of clarity, of integrity, of power starting with ourselves and the little things, the little commitments is where we begin.

That’s the integrity, that’s the roots of the tree. I talk about a tree, these four cores of credibility, the roots, the trunk, the branches, the fruits, those are the four things you said the integrity, the intent, the capabilities, the results. But you start with the roots, the integrity is trusting yourself and the key to that: learn to make and keep commitments to yourself.

I will just give as a side, I love this new book out, you maybe have seen it, by Admiral William McRaven former head of special operations for the military. He’s the one that got Bin Laden, his team did and he wrote a book and it’s simple, it’s called Make Your Bed. Make Your Bed and the whole point is every day you can start out with a victory and with integrity, by just doing a simple act of making your bed.

And the whole idea is that that’s one small commitment that you can keep, it’s in your circle of influence, you can control it, you can do it every day, and by starting with that small thing it leads to other commitments that you keep. And that integrity that comes.

Peter: You know it’s interesting because a lot of high performers have very high expectations of themselves and of others.Unreasonably high expectations, which actually allows them to hit the goal 60% of the time, which serves them in some ways. But what I’m also hearing you say is that it also erodes their trust in themselves and other people because they set a bar that they can’t possibly reach and then their failure to reach it in some ways detracts from their belief or trust in their ability to follow through. Am I seeing this right?

Stephen: That absolutely can happen, and I wanna distinguish, Peter, between having high expectations and then the actual making of a commitment because like you say, high expectations is a good thing it brings out the best in us. We tend to rise or fall to the level of our expectations. So, having high expectations can be a good thing. Now, as we put that into a commitment, it’s important that we don’t … That we treat a commitment as real, as genuine, and so often with ourselves we throw out all kinds of things we never intend to do.

And then we don’t do it. And what happens is that that does erode, our sense of self confidence and clarity. That I don’t deliver, I don’t perform to myself and so distinguish between expectations and commitments and keep commitments almost at all costs. Or at least communicate when you can’t and yet at the same time, I’m not afraid to have good high expectations because that brings out the best in us. I just distinguish between the two but the important thing is to build a reputation, a brand with others and also with yourself that you do what you say you’re going to do.

Peter: So it’s actually like I’m hearing a distinction that I want to bring out because it feels important. Which is the distinction between process and results and that ultimately what I’m hearing you say is commit 100% to what you’re going to do but don’t necessarily commit 100% to the results that that’s going to create. Because the result that that’s going to create, the impact, it’s the difference between intent and impact. The impact that you’re going to have may not be entirely under your control.

But how you show up and what you do in order to create that impact is in your control and that you are 100% trustworthy if you are clear about and follow through on intent and what you agree to do. But be a little careful about the result that you’re committing to because that may not be 100% in your control. I’m curious to have your reaction to that.

Stephen: Yeah, no I find many like that. I mean especially if you can’t control the outcome, you can maybe influence it and so you then focus on what you can control. And you do commit to that and you give 100% but if you can’t control the outcome, to then promise an outcome that you can’t control and then not deliver on it you’ll lose trust. With others and even with yourself. But what you can control when it’s process oriented, that you deliver on that.

Now the more you can focus your activities and your process on outcomes, the better. But not everything is controllable, and you gotta … Sports, I coached a flag football team and my kids growing up, so I did this for 12 years every year and we always had six goals and we could actually control the first five. Which was that we were good sports, that we were team players, that we played hard, that we had fun, and that we learned something.

But the sixth goal was we’re gonna compete to win. And we couldn’t control for sure that we would win because there’s another team-

Peter: No, the way you stated that you can totally control, which is, we’re going to compete to win. You didn’t say we’re gonna win.

Stephen: We’re gonna compete to win and we can control that.

Peter: If that sixth one was we’re going to win, you can’t control that. But you can control that you’re going to compete to win.

Stephen: And that’s why we framed it that way, compete to win.

Peter: Right, I love that.

Stephen: We can control that.

Peter: That feels really important. And also really important to have an outcome that you’re focused on, but saying look I’m going to make 10 million dollars in sales next year and you can bank on it, I’m going to do it and then you fall short. Then you lose trust. But if you go, here are the things I’m going to do to create those sales, here are the things I’m going to commit to you and I’m going to keep you in track and I’m going to let you know how I am every month and then to follow through on all of those things, that creates trust.

Stephen: That creates trust and it creates trust with yourself first and that self trust creates relationship trust, inside out. That’s truly the kinda core message of how trust is built and human nature tends to be outside in, we’re waiting on everybody else, we’re waiting on the boss, we’re waiting on the peer or the colleague or the partner, the customer … To change, to be trustworthy and I’m saying create it from the inside out, trust yourself, give them a partner they can trust, extend trust to them smartly, and then begin to create it and move out.

Peter: Right. We’re running out of time and I, Stephen, can talk for the next 10 hours and this would be really interesting and fun. At least for me, but-

Stephen: And for me-

Peter: So I want to touch on one element of the relationship trust.You’ve got 18 behaviors I think, 13 behaviors-

Stephen: 13.

Peter: 13, you have 13 behaviors. One of the behaviors was around transparency, it’s behavior number 3. I think transparency’s very hard for people and it’s hard because it’s emotionally challenging for people to be totally open and honest,et cetera. I’d love to hear you speak for a moment on ways in which, especially in business, we can create more transparency or overcome our emotional resistance to kind of putting out there what we might be embarrassed about or we might be worried might come back to us in a way that would hurt us. How do you build enough trust in order to then be transparent which creates trust in relationships?

Stephen: Yeah, it’s interesting and I love the way you framed this because the relationship trust, the behavior is transparency but again we didn’t start with relationship trust, we started with self trust. The higher self trust you have, the more credible you are, the more courage that gives you to be open, to be vulnerable, to be transparent. The more clout that gives you, the more influence it gives you, the more permission it gives you. But I know part of your work is around courage.

And emotional courage and the more clarity you have, the more integrity you have, that gives you more courage and to be vulnerable, to be open because you know who you are. And then you recognize this is how I build trust with others. I’m open, I’m transparent, there’s nothing to hide here. I don’t have a hidden agenda, I have an open agenda.

And it does take a risk to do that. And sometimes people might say gosh, that’s too risky and I’m afraid to do that but we’ve gotta be working at the fringe of our circle of influence. And we’ve gotta challenge ourselves, be it the outside of our comfort zone, the fringe of our comfort zone.

Always pushing ourselves with openness, with vulnerability, the key to that is increasing your credibility, your self trust, it opens you up, it gives you the courage to do it, which is a big part of your work and mine as well. And so, that helps you become more transparent and I like to say that in a very practical sense, transparency is kind of just you’re telling the truth in a way that people can see and verify for themselves.

And it’s opening it up and so I use the expression don’t operate with a hidden agenda, open your agenda. And you’d be amazed at what that does to build the mutual trust, the relationship trust in a relationship but the key to that: self trust. That gives you the courage to do just that.

Peter: That’s really such a big takeaway from this conversation, which is how important it is to show up and be the kind of person that you trust. That that’s the foundation of everything, I’m taking both from the conversation and now coloring the book, it’s the integrity piece. And it’s like if you have a gap of integrity to yourself that nobody else knows about, that probably does more damage to your ability to trust others and your own sense of your trustworthiness than anything else.

Stephen: I think so, I think as you were capturing a great key takeaway because the essence of my message is that trust is created from the inside out. And it requires our credibility and our behavior, but if we just focus on the behavior alone without that foundation of credibility those behaviors they could just become techniques. They could become manipulation, think of a con man. A con man is short for confidence man, right? And it’s someone that’s gonna try to earn your trust in order to deceive or hurt you later.

So they do the behavior, they maybe talk straight and they deliver and you’re starting to say yeah I can trust this person. But look, they don’t have that integrity, they don’t have that credibility at the foundation so the behavior helps earn your trust. But then they deceive you because they’re not integrated, they’re not congruent. So that behavior becomes a manipulation technique, a tool, and in the long run you won’t sustain the trust that way.

But when you behave in ways that build trust, built on that first starting foundation of credibility, personal credibility, trusting yourself, your character, your competence, those are equals. Character and competence, but character is first among equals. And that’s the integrity base, the roots, the foundation, trusting yourself and the courage, which is so much a part of your work.

I believe this that the reason it takes courage to have integrity is because it’s relatively easy to have integrity when there’s not a cost or a consequence to it. It’s easy for me to do the right thing when it doesn’t cost me anything. Ah-ha! The test of integrity is when there’s a cost or a consequence, what do I do then? That’s my test and until then I haven’t fully been tested. That takes courage. That courage creates integrity, clarity, power, that power becomes then a foundation of credibility, of self trust, which then extends and ripples out to build all kinds of other trusts.

And yes there’s other things we’ve gotta do, so it’s not sufficient to just do that but it always is the starting point and I’m thrilled that that’s kinda the key idea and takeaway you’re getting.

Peter: I’m thrilled with how you rift off of it because it’s really inspiring and so true and I’ve learned a lot. The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. Stephen M. R. Covey I can see why your father was so proud of you. And I’m so appreciative that you have continued in the lineage of really helping us to show up in a way that we can be proud of ourselves and we can accomplish the kinds of things we want to and have the kinds of relationships that we want to ultimately, which is what is more important. Stephen, thank you so much for being on the Bregman leadership podcast.

Stephen: Oh thank you so much, Peter. I’m really honored, glad to be here and I’ll conclude with just this thought. I believe this that the very first job of a leader is to inspire trust. And we do that through our credibility and our behavior, and the second job of a leader is to extend trust. But it happens in that order, we first inspire it through who we are we then extend it through our behavior.

Peter: That’s great, thank you so much for being here with us.

Stephen: Thank you, Peter.

Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman leadership podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review. A common problem that I see in companies is a lot of busyness, a lot of hard work that fails to move the organization as a whole forward. That’s the problem that we solve with our big arrow process, for more information about that or to access all of my articles, videos, and podcasts visit Thank Clare Marshall for producing this episode and thank you for listening.


  1. Caroline Mawer says:

    Hi Peter! I’ve been reading and listening to and learning from your very excellent podcasts for some long time now. Thankyou so much for sharing such great things! I wanted to comment this week that it was because I trust you that, a few months ago, after I heard you talking to Emily Fletcher, I investigated her Ziva Online course in more detail. It looked good on line. But the clincher for me was you and how you talked with her, and my trust in you. And you were right! Thankyou! I know its a big thankyou to Emily too, but – like I said – the clincher for me to try Ziva was my trust in you! I’ve completed the Ziva online course recently, and I think its had a big positive impact on my life. I’m still not 100% sure I’m doing the meditating right, but Emily is clear that you meditate to get better at life – not to get better at meditation! So thats all good! I’ve always read and thought a bit about your podcasts. But now I think I’m maybe more able to get even more out of them. After various not-so-positive events in my life, I was just thinking how I need to get back to trusting myself more. So, very fortuitously, whats in this weeks podcast … but some great ideas on that. I really hope (and you must surely know!) how valuable and thought provoking and generally wonderful your podcasts are! THANKYOU!

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Hi Caroline – thanks so much for sharing and I’m delighted that the meditations are valuable to you – I’m still doing them 2X a day. And thank you for your trust in me – that means A LOT to me. I forwarded your email to Emily and wanted to share her response which I thought you would enjoy:

      “Oh wow!
      Thank you so much for sharing this. Makes my day.
      So funny how people are convinced they are meditating wrong. Probably because of that dude telling everyone to clear their mind ;-)

      Thanks again! Peter

  2. Berna Cantwell says:

    I’ve just started a new job and I am part of a great team of people so your podcast is a great way for me to take some of the advice and put it into practice- really enjoyed the discussion

  3. Peter Bregman says:

    Thanks for letting em know! Good luck with the new job!

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