Mark Tager

We live in an era of decreasing trust in many organizations and institutions. Ongoing Gallup polls document the erosion of trust that people have in leaders of government, religion, military, health care and business. While fostering trust is always important, it takes on greater significance when the environment becomes unpredictable.

In a predictable environment, people have one foot firmly planted in the system. So, even if leadership is lacking, they can at least count on the system. In an environment marked by transition, however, the stability of the system is taken away. Striving for grounding, people turn to the source most likely to provide stability — their leaders — and hope to find a measure of consistency and trustworthiness. 

During times of upheaval, people are operating from states of withdrawal and hypervigilance that alter their perceptions.

They are looking to leadership for cues as to what is going to happen next. They are scrutinizing your words, body language and tone of voice and comparing it with their picture of the “normal” you. And, because human beings have the tendency to “awfulize,” they may create in their minds unimaginably bad scenarios just from the frown on your brow or the sigh in your voice.

By focusing on the elements below that build and reinforce trust, you can help to minimize anxiety and regain the focus of your people.


Remain humble

Continuous improvement is both an important perspective and a useful process for any leader to entertain. Your personal and organizational journey is not finished. Little can be gained from resting on your past accomplishments. Humility helps foster trust.


Use self-deprecating humor

Having a good laugh at your own expense will go a long way toward fostering a sense in others that you are approachable. Self-deprecating humor is also infectious. It encourages others to lighten up as well and be more open about their issues and concerns.


Admit to being wrong

Few things score more trust points than your ability to admit your mistakes. Changing environments are, by definition, mistake prone as people proceed by trial and error. Externalizing those mistakes has a double benefit. First, it fosters trust — the fact that you’re human. Second, it actually sets up a forum for defining and solving problems.


Honor your word

In an unstable environment, you may find that you give your word in good faith, but then something happens and you have to go back on what you said. Such reversals are normal in change. When they happen, however, be proactive in telling people what happened and why you had to reverse yourself. As long as you’re straight with people, they will trust you and work to deal with the situation.


Project openness

Studies show that people who disclose information — and get others to share — are perceived as trustworthy. Openness allows communication to proceed in two directions. It gives permission for people to approach you not only with feelings, but also with the information and suggestions that you need to become a more effective leader.


Name: Dr. Mark J. Tager

Title: CEO

Company: ChangeWell Inc.

Changewell Inc. is a San Diego-based consulting and training company that works with clients to guide personal and organizational change and increase productivity. The company provides training, speaking and consulting programs to guide transformation. Mark’s latest book, “Transforming Stress into Power,” is available on


How to reach: Changewell Inc., or


If your organization offers an annual wellness-screening program, you are in good company. According to a report by The Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of all U.S. companies with more than 200 employees provide wellness screenings. These programs provide workers the opportunity to have their height, weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol conveniently tested on site.

Participants receive a printout of their results and, if the test values are abnormal, they are encouraged to see their primary care physician for a follow-up appointment.

Employers are provided with a confidential report of aggregate health data. This allows companies to tailor on-site educational programs and incentives to best match employees’ risk status. The new Affordable Care Act rules, set to take effect this year, provide companies more power to align insurance premiums with specific health goals.

For the employee, the tests provide a snapshot of their health status and at-risk participants may become more aware of and better motivated to make health behavior changes.

At issue, however, is the idea that traditional finger stick testing for total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) can create a “false negative” by providing the employee with reassurance that they have little or no near-term risk for a cardiovascular event.

According to the American Heart Association, 50 percent of all heart attacks and strokes occur in individuals with normal cholesterol. It’s estimated that for 30 percent of patients with cardiovascular disease, their first sign of disease is death. Clearly, something is missing if, after intense efforts by the medical community over the last 20 years to identify lipid abnormalities, we cannot provide employees with a more accurate assessment of their risk.

In 1976, Russell Ross, Ph.D., at the University of Washington, published a sentinel paper entitled “Atherosclerosis: An Inflammatory Disease.” Ross clearly outlined two components that lead to the clogging of arteries: an injury and a response.

It is inflammation, the response to the insult, that is the culprit in arterial disease. Oxidized cholesterol is but one of many independent factors that can damage the body’s 60,000 miles of blood vessels. Others include dental cavities, sleep apnea, insulin resistance (pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome), cigarette smoking and stress.

Making work site screenings better

A growing body of research is showing that a multi-marker approach — adding several additional inflammation-specific blood tests to the traditional screening panel — can identify at-risk employees who would previously have gone undetected.

A recent study by Marc Penn, M.D., PhD. , and Andrea Klemes, D.O., published in Future Cardiology, evaluated 95,144 patients assessed by MDVIP physicians at their annual physicals. Based on a lipid-only wellness panel, approximately 30 percent of patients presented as being at risk. When the additional tests for inflammation were added, an additional 40 percent were identified.

These advanced inflammatory biomarkers are able to detect employees with “vulnerable plaque” that is likely to rupture into the artery lumen, thereby blocking blood flow, leading to heart attack or stroke. Studies conducted by Cleveland Heart Lab, provider of an advanced inflammation panel, have shown that approximately 10 percent of a screened population fit into this category.

Clearly, a multi-marker approach provides additive information. Employees deserve cardiovascular risk information that is better than the flip of a coin. Companies need the data to target resources to best promote individual and organizational well-being.

Dr. Mark J. Tager is CEO of ChangeWell Inc., a San Diego-based consulting and training company focused on maximizing the health/productivity connection. For more information, visit