How much trust do you give?

Written by
Lord Chris Holmes

26 Feb 2018

26 Feb 2018 • by Lord Chris Holmes

What's the truth about trust and how can it enable and empower us to be the best we can and unleash the talent around us? Future Talent 2018 speaker, Lord Chris Holmes, explains.

You can’t trust journalists, you can’t trust politicians and you certainly can’t trust lawyers. But enough about my three chosen professions!

It was a pleasure to speak at Future Talent 2017, particularly on the subject of trust. If you are to present in front of hundreds of people, you need trust, even in front of an audience as lovely as the Future Talent folk. By standing up and speaking, I was putting myself in a vulnerable position: without certainty of success or even survival. But it is this engendering of trust, through making oneself vulnerable, that is the key to shared success.

Trust in other species

It’s hard enough to make yourself vulnerable to other people, but imagine putting yourself in the hands – or paws – of another species. This is exactly my situation working with my guide dog, Lottie, and her predecessor. Imagine my first day of training, with my firstdog: I didn’t know her; she didn’t know me and was highly, and rightly, suspicious. “Who is this fool holding my harness?” I thought I heard her doggy brain saying. And as for me: I’m really nervous.

We walk towards a busy road, the sound of HGVs growing louder and louder, my palms sweating, heart pounding. And yet, with every atom of my being wanting to slow down, to stop, to drop the harness, I have to push on – not just tentatively, but with a show of external confidence and lightness. If I don’t appear confident, my dog won’t be empowered to do her job.

When she’s trained, when the relationship is at its best, it becomes the most incredible partnership – two, as one, bonded by trust, each confident in the other, fused through vulnerability and the mutual understanding that develops from this.

Getting to this stage involved me understanding the different ways in which she, and now Lottie, see – or I should say sniff – the world and how I needed to operate to enable my dogs to work at their best; I had to learn what their behaviours meant and what environment I needed to create, at home and work, to gain trust.

Trust in relationships

So what does trust mean in the world of sport? From an early age, I learned that it was all about relationships.

Why did I trust my first coach? He had never been a swimmer, and yet I trusted him with my sporting dreams. Why? He was introducing new techniques that had never been tested in the UK before. They were radical, revolutionary and risky.

The reason for my trust in him, and that of the entire team, was simple; it was based on clear, identifiable, verifiable behaviours. Our coach was reliable, open, communicative, collaborative and experienced. Crucially, he was also putting himself on the line so that we were bound in a joint endeavour; if we failed, he failed with us.

Giving trust to others

Similarly, when I was a team captain, I had to create a culture that would enable trust to be given; it was not built or brought. Without question, the most essential element of this culture was inclusion. Approaches are worthless without it.

I led a team comprising swimmers from all nations of Great Britain, of different ages, disabilities and disciplines, all needing to trust in each other. I knew I had to do things differently to allow diversity to flourish and become a genuine strength. We needed open meetings, in which everyone had a voice and everyone’s voice was heard. There’s no magic, it’s just a matter of identifying, agreeing and executing the basics – excellently.

It was this same inclusive approach that I took into my work at London 2012. We could only make the Games great if everyone believed we were worthy of their trust, not just to make it happen, but to do it in a way that was representative of our modern diverse, 21st century Britain. We wanted to put on a golden Games, and to enable this through being seen as trustworthy through inclusion.

And the outcome of the nation’s trust in us? A London 2012 Games delivered by incredible people; 20% BAME; 23% previously not in employment; a mix of ex-offenders, young people, older people, people from every part of our diverse land.

Trust creates freedom

Our approach was based solidly on the principle of ‘teach, train, test – and trust’. What did that trust mean in practical terms? Confidence in everyone, freedom for people to act within their roles, to speak up and to innovate.

Without trust in our people, there would have been no great Games. As leaders, we couldn’t be everywhere; we couldn’t be involved in every decision. With the Olympic Games, 26 World Championships happening simultaneously, as well as the Paralympic Games: we couldn’t be there at all times, we had to trust in others.

Difference matters so much and diversity makes the difference. Whether in sport, business or public policy, trust in different people, enable others to recognise you and your organisations as being worthy of trust. Become diverse or die: it’s as simple as that.