August 2011

Shannon Wells

Better Business | by Neil Ducoff


When the Inner Circle of

Trust is Compromised

At a recent congressional hearing on U.S. relations with Pakistan, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked, "How can we trust a country that lies to us?" Gates responded, "Governments lie to each other...that's how business is done."

Gates' statement sent a chill up my spine because it captured just how fragile "trusting" the words, decisions and actions of others can be -- especially in your own company.

All leaders have an "inner circle" of people who they trust, depend upon and confide in. They are members of their leadership team, advisers, peers and business associates. By design, your inner circle is a safe place for you to share confidential information, seek counsel and vent when necessary. Your inner circle is built entirely on trust, respect and confidentiality. That is why you feel comfortable letting your guard down.

As much as it pains me to write this, as Gates said, eventually, a member of your inner circle will compromise trust. To think otherwise is naive.

Here are some no-compromise strategies when it comes to trust within your inner circle:

Beware of the "Opportunist"

Have you ever said, "Don't tell anyone but..." Of course you have. Chances are, the information you shared in confidence spread like wildfire. Why is this? Because you just gave an opportunist a big juicy piece of drama to blab to others. It is nothing more than the "I know something you don't know" game.

FACT: Never share highly sensitive information with members of your inner circle who are less than 99 percent trustworthy. Anything less than 99 percent and chances are that someone will leak information. That missing one percent is to keep you grounded and make you question if the sensitivity of what you are about to disclose is equal to the trustworthiness of that individual.

You Still Need to Trust

I would go crazy if I could not trust members of my inner circle. I need to share, vent and collaborate openly with my team. That is how I lead and work best. Has my openness backfired on me? Of course it has -- at times painfully so. However, I regard my openness as a risk worth taking. I have met leaders that even have trust issues with members of their inner circle. In every case, this creates a culture of distrust among those they should trust most.

FACT: It is hard to grow a company when the key players are always looking for others' hidden agendas.

They Have Their Own Inner Circles

For example, someone entrusts me by sharing and seeking guidance on a highly sensitive issue. To ensure that I give the best advice, I turn to members of my inner circle where we reach consensus on a solution. Is it possible that members of my inner will disclose all or some of the conversation? Yes, it is, and I hope for the same reason I sought out their input.

FACT: When trust and integrity are core values in your culture, sensitive information is respected and therefore contained, 99 percent of the time. That one percent is reserved for the opportunist "drama spewer."

Yes, it Hurts

When a member of your inner circle compromises trust by lying or sharing private and confidential conversations for personal gain, it hurts…a lot. You could then crawl into your paranoid hole and shut down your trust in all inner circle members. If you take this route, you will trigger distrust, resentment and hurt feelings in those you should be trusting most.

FACT: It is easy to say, "Get over it," but that is exactly what you need to do. Learn from the experience. Grow from it. That is what the no-compromise leader does.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching salon specializing in the salon and spa industry. Ducoff is the author of Fast Forward, and his new book, No-Compromise Leadership, is available at For a signed copy, go to You can email Neil at