08/15/2013 09:48 am ET Updated Sep 25, 2013

Stephen M. R. Covey's guide to building trust

In today's federal environment, resources are constrained but the demand for services is higher than ever. Tom Fox spoke with best-selling author Stephen M. R. Covey about how federal managers can build a culture of trust in their agencies to help produce better results with tighter budgets. In Covey's book, "The Speed of Trust," he challenges the assumption that trust is merely a soft, social virtue and argues that it is a learnable, measurable skill that makes organizations more profitable, people more promotable and relationships more energizing.

Covey is the son of Stephen R. Covey, well-known leadership author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," and served as CEO of the Covey Leadership Center. He spoke with Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads the Partnership's Center for Government Leadership.

What are the most important components to developing trust?

Credibility and behavior. Credibility flows from having both character and competence. Our character is who we are; our competence is what we can do. If we're strong in one area and weak in the other, we won't sustain trust in the long run. I might trust an individual with high character but low competence if I went on vacation and needed someone to watch my home, because they're honest. But I may not trust them on a key project if they don't have a track record of performing. The reverse is true as well. Someone could be high in competence but low in character. They might get things done, but in doing so they might also violate the beliefs and values of the agency. That lack of character will undermine trust and credibility.

Behavior is what we do and how we do it. My father, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, had an expression, "You can't talk yourself out of a problem that you behaved yourself into." The only way out is to behave your way out. Too often, people focus only on delivering results, but how we get there will determine whether we sustain trust. Also, if you want to be trusted, you'll need to extend trust, because trust is reciprocal. One reason why, in many agencies and organizations today, employees don't trust their management is simply because the management doesn't trust the employees, and the employees reciprocate that distrust. Leaders ought to take the first step to extend trust to their employees.