Who Can I Trust at Work?

Knowing who to trust at work can reduce your stress and your workload and ultimately lead to professional success. The Public Speaker talks with author Dr. Greg Marcus who reveals a system for figuring out which of your colleagues is trustworthy. 

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #274

Most of us want to do the right thing. We want to be good team players and help our colleagues.

But what happens if we trust the wrong person?

It can lead to all kinds of negative consequences, such as not getting a promotion, doing someone else’s work, or seeing someone else get credit for your efforts. 

On the flip side, if we trust too little, we can end up not sufficiently delegating, micromanaging, and getting into conflict with others. Whether we are trusting the wrong person too much or not trusting our colleagues enough, misplaced trust contributes to overwork. Getting the trust right is a critical element for career success..


I recently talked with Dr. Greg Marcus, author of Busting Your Corporate Idol: Self-Help for the Chronically Overworked.  He has developed a system to help us identify whether someone is trustworthy.  Check out the interview below:

The Public Speaker: Dr. Greg, can you tell us a about your model and how you came up with it?

Greg Marcus:  The model is a based on different personality types that I got from fables and parables. You can divide people according to their motivations into Scorpions, Foxes, or Wolves. And by looking at how they behave, you can figure out what they are motivated by, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how to deal with them. Trust is a question about how people will act, which in turn is a reflection of their basic motivations and values.  If you know someone’s priorities, it becomes much easier to predict what they will do.

TPS:  So you identified the Scorpion, the Fox and the Wolf. Can you start by describing the Scorpion? 

GM:  The Scorpion at work has a single-minded vision of the world. The Scorpion can’t do anything other than act according to their vision, even when it is potentially self-defeating. When you work with a Scorpion, your happiness and needs are not on his or her radar. Chances are, sooner or later you will be stung. Let me be clear about one thing: The Scorpion is not evil, just inflexible. The Scorpion is someone who believes something so strongly, they can’t help but act in a certain way. Scorpions can be extremely effective leaders because they have such a great vision.

An example of a classic Scorpion is Steve Jobs.  He believed in his vision and he got the rest of us to believe it as well. However, his beliefs were so strong, they often got in the way. His vision of the world could distort the truth to such a degree that he ignored the advice of his family and doctors and did not get cancer treatment for 9 months of his illness based on a belief that he could cure himself with alternative methods such as acupuncture and eating a particular diet. 

When working with a Scorpion, you have to understand their vision and position every situation as a solution to their vision.  For example, ‘You know the best way to put our smartphone in every consumer’s hands is for me not to do this report and instead spend time thinking about how to get our smartphone in everyone’s hands." The idea is that the Scorpion will respond with, “Oh, yeah, you get my vision, take all the time you need,”

TPS: So what about the Fox, you say that the Fox is primarily out for his or herself, right?

GM: The Fox has a particular gift of convincing people to act in a certain way. While a Scorpion truly believes in his or her vision, the Fox does not. The Fox will spin a tale and you totally believe in it.  It all sounds reasonable. You think it might be part of the big picture, but they are just telling you what you want to hear.  They are very good at manipulating other people.  The Fox is a talker and not a doer. The Fox in the office can be charming or critical, but is always a master of “upward management.” At the end of the day, the Fox is thinking only about himself.

While Foxes will praise you for the great job you're doing, they will be secretly taking credit for your accomplishments. They may be really supportive of you when things are going badly, but secretly they are pointing the finger at you and blaming you for everything that is going wrong. 

The important thing to remember is that you will never out-talk a Fox. While a Fox can talk you into anything, the great weakness of the Fox is execution. If you don’t do the job for the Fox, it's unlikely that it will be done. Eventually, a Fox will be found out.  A good approach to deal with the Fox is to invite them to a meeting and ask them to explain their ideas and plans. 

TPS: The final one is the Wolf. You say the Wolf is unlike the Fox or the Scorpion in that they take the welfare of other people into account.  

GM:  Yes, the Wolf trusts too much.  The Wolf is a pack animal.  A Wolf will want to take care of himself, and might have an appreciation of a vision, but he actually cares about the big picture and the entire organization. 

A Wolf can be gruff and have a very loud bark, but they are also going to be a person with some level of integrity.  So if you don’t get distracted by the Wolf’s bark, you can safely partner and trust this person to reciprocate. You can do something for them and you can trust them that are going to do things for you.  CEOs are often Wolves.  The strength of the Wolf is both execution and developing relationships.

TPS:  So how do you recommend approaching these types?

GM:  Well, for the Scorpion I recommend following their guiding vision or, if necessary (or you don't agree with their vision), avoid or exit the situation.  For the Fox, force them to do more and talk less. And cooperate and partner with a Wolf. 

TPS: How do you identify each of these characters?

GM:  By listening and carefully observing their actions.  Again, with the Scorpion, watch for a single-minded focus - they will likely be totally inflexible and only focused on their own vision.  For the Fox, you’ll see someone who is always talking and agreeing with you, but will be poor on execution. You need to see if there is any disconnect between what they say and how they act.  The Wolf is actually harder to find because he may look like the other two characters. But as you build a relationship with the Wolf, you will see that he will be very good at execution. When a Wolf says that he will do something, not only will it be done, but he will also acknowledge the work of otherse.

Here’s the bottom line: When you are dealing with a Scorpion, find out their guiding vision, and plan to frame your work in alignment with that vision.  When you are dealing with a Fox, focus on actions not words, because they can out-talk you every day of the week.  When dealing with a Wolf, know that they do take the greater good into account when making decisions.


If you’d like to learn more about this model or you’d like to learn more about Greg’s book, Busting Your Corporate Idol, you can visit his website drgregmarcus.com or listen to my full length interview with Dr. Greg Marcus.  

This is Lisa B. Marshall, Helping you maximize sales, manage perceptions, and enhance leadership through keynotes, workshops, books, and online courses. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

If you want even more success in your life, I invite you to read my latest book, Smart Talk and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk: Inspiring Conversations with Exceptional People.

Fox, wolf, and scorpion images courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.