'Trust but Verify' Means 'I Don't Trust You'

Netanyahu, glasses
Building trust is a process. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ronald Reagan made the phrase "trust but verify" famous in 1987 during the cold war. The phrase has seeped into management as a guideline to accepting the promises of workers.

Many leaders consider the phrase to be an oxymoron. Does trust exist if I must verify?

"Did you turn in your expense report to accounting?"

When a worker tells me they did turn in the form, must I really verify the submission of the form? If I verify it was received by accounting, have I trusted the work of my team member?

In ministries, it seems to almost be a sin to verify the work of ministry teams. As leaders, we want to trust. We want to believe everything that everyone tells us. Yet, we feel icky when we verify that a job has been performed.

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There are many leaders who have learned the hard way the high cost of trusting too much. The desire of our heart is perhaps to let go of a project. Sadly, at a later date, we find the project has not moved forward. The leader will correctly be the one held accountable for the lack of performance.

The leader's error was placing trust in his team to perform. Most top-level leaders would fault the team leader for not verifying work progress.

"Why didn't you check up on your team?"

"Because I trusted them."

The defense simply isn't plausible.

Leaders work hard to build their own trust bank. Some say we must give trust in order to receive it.


Leaders are in place to get things done. Blind trust is simply naive.

I won't ever forget the feeling I had prior to a baptismal service. Fifteen minutes prior to the start of service, I learned the baptismal had not been filled. The only person I could blame was myself for not verifying the existence of water upon the planet. Do you think anyone in the church would blame anyone but the pastor?

Perhaps a better way to think of this concept is to alter the phrase to read, "trust and confirm." We simply confirm that our expectations have been met. This seems to be more palatable as due diligence.

"But" seems negative. "And" seems positive.

In working with our teams, words matter. When a team hears the phrase "trust but verify," it probably does not produce a trust deposit. But when a leader says her style is to "trust and confirm," the words seem to ascribe power. I trust a leader who confirms.

Effective leaders confirm people, processes and projects are moving forward in the mission. 

Today's Scripture

"Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy" (Rom. 15:8-9).


Here's something I'm trying or thinking about today ...

This is not an endorsement or recommendation. It's just noodling.

Check out the TYPORAMA app. The app automatically transforms your text and photos into designs. Very helpful for creating social media posts.


We cannot manipulate our way into creating authority.

A recognized "authority" on a topic, movement or industry must first develop credibility and trust.

We develop trust by how often we show up and demonstrate our expertise. We develop credibility based on our frequency and quality of platform appearances.

To build trust, keep showing up. Over and over again.



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Dr. Steve Greene is the publisher and executive vice president of the media group at Charisma Media and executive producer of the Charisma Podcast Network. His book, Love Leads: The Spiritual Connection Between Your Relationships and Productivity, is now available.

Leaders, Dr. Greene wants to help you understand the spiritual connection between relationships and productivity. Read his new blog, here.

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