What the Ides of March Can Teach Us About Rebuilding Trust

Reconstructing trust by settling debts on the Ides of March

Shakespeare’s soothsayer made famous the line, “Beware the ides of March.” But it has more to do with rebuilding trust than betrayal.

In a small Italian town near the Adriatic Sea and not far from my grandparents’ birthplace, there’s an ancient farm where a stone wall is host to a timeworn Roman inscription. It says, “Take all this as true advice, whoever wants to live really well and freely… Earn others’ trust. Don’t speak or listen to slander. If you don’t harm or betray anyone, you will lead a pleasant life, uprightly and happily, giving no offense.”

The Ides of March, celebrated on March 15 on the Roman calendar, was during the first month of new year and the date of many religious celebrations in different imperial eras of ancient Rome. The day was simply the deadline for settling debts.   

This quote speaks to me because it captures so much of what I value. Thanks to those who have come before us, we understand the importance of earning each other’s trust. Yet somehow, whether on purpose or by accident, we have continued to break the bonds of trust throughout history. And today’s workplace is no exception. Much has been written and discussed about how trust is broken, but an article I saw recently prompted me to think, instead, about how trust is regained.

The common themes I discovered about trust recovery fall into three main categories:

Acknowledge your wrongdoing (humility).

Does your recognition of the offense carry the right level of gravity?

Accept responsibility (honesty).

Does your acceptance convey your ownership or are you portraying yourself as simply the passenger?

Resume reliable behavior (humanity).

Ask yourself if you’re acting with good intentions. What does your behavior look like to you from the outside looking in?

As I pondered these themes, it became clear to me that my emphasis on what I call the “3H-Core,” for humility, honesty and heart, are unmistakably linked to rebuilding trust and the essence of being trustworthy.

Can you earn back another’s trust if you still owe them acknowledgement, responsibility, and reliable behavior?

The values embedded in trustworthy behavior are also critical characteristics to discuss during the hiring process. One of the best techniques for hiring great people is to ask questions that invite applicants to recall past behavior in the context of their performance. This allows your interviewers to predict future reliability because past behavior is a helpful marker.

Caesar: The ides of March are come.
Soothsayer: Aye, Caesar, but not gone.

—Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1

Why is it so important to flesh out trustworthiness before someone is hired? Because it’s costly to do otherwise. For instance, when someone exhibits unreliable behavior, they’ve disrupted others’ ability to work effectively. What’s more, people leave untrustworthy work environments. According to an Ethics & Workplace Survey by Deloitte, 34 percent of employees planned to leave their job, and 48 percent of those planning to leave reported loss of trust in their leaders as the reason.

The Latin root of ides meant “to divide”, and the day marked the middle of the month. The ides of March, May, July, and October fell on the 15th. It fell on the 13th for other months.

The Romans had a fierce commitment to the ideal actions and qualities of what it meant to be a citizen and leader. Based on the inscription I mentioned earlier and its relevance today, there’s no question that honesty and trustworthiness are timeless values. When we share these qualities of ourselves, we honor one another’s efforts in the workplace and, ultimately, can enjoy living “uprightly and happily.”


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  1. paul larkins says:

    So true…Trust is core and critical. But it is very hard to interview for. It is certainly worth trying to determine trustworthiness, and references can be invaluable. But trust is earned and becomes a bond between professionals working together. Once people “have each other’s backs” the power of trust becomes exponential.

    Another great read Walt. Thanks!

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