If we cannot trust our own decisions and judgements, how will we be able to trust others? asks Cathy Harris

Trust is the most critical value to being an effective Assistant, collaborator, and team member, both in the workplace and your personal space. Trust defines relationships, whether professional or personal, whether with your CEO or your 4-year-old. Trust is the cornerstone to building great and lasting relationships and successful careers, and it promotes ethical decision-making.

Let’s think of it this way: how much do you trust your government to deliver on its promises? Do you trust that the business is doing well because it is a trustworthy organization? Do you believe everything you see on social media? What about the credibility of your team or executive?

Statistics show that trust in business is just 56%, CEO credibility only 47%, social media ranks at 43%, and in terms of politics, only 1 in 6 people believes the politicians are getting it right. Where does this leave us in our working environment? How do we ensure that we are trustworthy, and what questions should we ask ourselves to determine how reliable and trustworthy we are?

According to Frances Frei, a professor at Harvard, there are three drivers to trust: authenticity, logic, and empathy.


Who are you? Are you true to yourself? Are you the person that you claim to be? Our behavior – the way we react to situations, respond to challenges, and listen to others – can define our authenticity and who we are, especially when no one is looking. Are you different with family than you are with friends and colleagues? This is a potential giveaway that you are not your authentic self. Sometimes we treat our executives one way, maybe because we feel they are that important, and we treat our co-workers another way because we feel they are less important. This behavior drives distrust, and you will be seen as not being authentic. Perhaps there is fear of knowing you may be different from others that leads you to create a different persona. This behavior takes away your self-confidence.

We need to be vulnerable so that we can grow in ourselves, and we need to accept criticism that will help us with this personal growth. The moment you feel as if you are being judged or you feel offended, you need to consider the strength of your emotional intelligence (EQ) and practice putting it to work. You are good enough. If you were not, you would not hold the current position you have, nor would your organization have employed you. Be gentle with yourself.

I read a great question: “Do you pay more attention to what you think people want to hear, or more attention to what you need to say?” When we pay attention to what we need to say, we give ourselves the power of fear and the power of rejection, and our authenticity shines through.


As Assistants, we need to ensure we grow this culture of trust and logic and, if we are to be accepted at the boardroom table, ensure we are confident enough to trust our own judgement and know that our opinions hold truth, empathy, and mindfulness. There will always be a form of logic which accompanies the trust factor. We cannot gain respect by rambling on and not getting to the crux of a matter. Our logic needs to be aligned with truth and verifiable sources of data and firsthand information as opposed to hearsay and misguided perceptions based on someone else’s bias. Our executives and team members expect us to know the details, which must be accurate and true.

Another angle to logic in truth is whether you are willing to acknowledge that you don’t always have the answers and humble enough to say you can get it wrong sometimes. It can be difficult to articulate this if you are arrogant or believe you are better than others. Trust is easily broken when we show signs of arrogance and self-righteousness. Admitting we can be wrong earns respect and trust.


This driver of trust is one that people who are easily frustrated or impatient, or who are (possibly) high-achieving academics and fast-tracked executives, will find difficult to navigate. This is where the lowly 56% trust in business is illustrated. That missing 44% is because of exactly this lack of empathy! Does this sound like your executive, or a co-worker, a team member, or a client? Perhaps this is you? Having empathy gains you a huge amount of respect. Being aware and mindful of how you respond to those around you means that people will willingly support you, especially in times of challenges, just by a show of empathy and kindness on your part.

Our executives rely on us, their support, to ensure that we uphold their credibility within the business. We do this by ensuring they do not arrive late for meetings and external appointments, and that they arrive at their destinations on time. When we neglect to support them on these seemingly not-so-important things, we break the trust built – not just between them and us, but also between the people that are affected. It shows disrespect and kills the trust relationship.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes people in your management meetings are disengaged with the meeting because they are scrolling through emails, or responding to text messages? This is very unprofessional and shows a lack of respect, thereby eliminating any trust that may exist.

Trust Begins With You

You need to be the example, and if you are fortunate enough, you may have an executive who is professional and trustworthy, mindful, empathetic, aware of others’ needs, and a real example of how to lead from the front with purpose and truth.

The real challenge lies in trusting others. As Assistants, we often find it exceedingly difficult to trust others with things we need to get done. Handing over a project to another Assistant can be very difficult sometimes. We need to ask ourselves whether it is the person we do not trust with this project or if we are not confident enough in ourselves to be able to delegate constructively. Many of us work in teams, and we need to collaborate as a team. A team that works together succeeds together, and trust is key in ensuring we are accountable for what we need to deliver, and agreeing on what outcome needs to be achieved. This is where you need to practice transparency and honesty and acknowledge when you make mistakes.

Trust is an action that needs to be practised, to be experienced and acknowledged. Trust is humble and authentic; trust is logical and has empathy. If we cannot trust our own decisions and judgements, how will we be able to trust others? Be honest and open in discussions of trust and ownership. Never give up your power to voice an opinion that adds value for you and your team. Be a trusting and reliable person in the workplace, at home, and in society.

Cathy Harris is Executive PA to the CEO of Discovery Invest, with over 43 years of experience in the administrative profession, having commenced her career as an office professional way back in 1980. Cathy is the author of The Executive Support Guide to ... (Read More)

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