Trustworthy leadership

The key to leadership performance is technical mastery of one’s discipline and working with people to earn their trust and confidence. Trust is critical to leadership effectiveness.

Experts assert that trust stands out among all attributes of the most outstanding leaders of our time and that trust affects a leader’s impact and an organisation’s bottom line more than any single thing. People do not follow those they do not trust.

Trust expresses the degree to which an individual or a team can rely on the promises of a leader. People trust a leader to the degree they believe in the leader’s character, competence, consistency, and commitment to achieving a group’s objectives. When a leader’s actions do not match the words or promises, followers believe that the leader is hypocritical. Hypocrisy erodes a leader’s credibility, leading to low morale and scepticism, and ultimately affects the bottom line or objectives of the organisation.

Trust is a two-way relationship as no amount of interaction will add up to trust if the efforts are all unilateral

Again, trust is arguably one of the most important values in the leadership quadrant. Therefore, a high level of trust is required of those offering themselves for a leadership position. Hogan and Kaiser, in their book, “What We Know About Leadership,” stress that the most critical question we ask of potential leaders is, ‘can we trust you not to abuse the privilege of authority?’ Leaders who engender trust provide a strong ethical foundation that followers will emulate.

We know that trust is important both heuristically and empirically. Therefore, trust requires leaders to demonstrate what they say they will do, and the truth is a value that connotes trust. To be faithful in thoughts, words, and acts aligns our outer lives with the highest truth of which we are conscious.

Trust is a two-way relationship as no amount of interaction will add up to trust if the efforts are all unilateral. It is central to relationships, whether intimate or not. You cannot force trust because it is personal; it is not institutional because at its core is relationships. A genuine or honest relationship cannot exist without trust. This is the case for or in the relationship between leaders and followers.

Due to cultural differences, leading across cultures or in groups where diversity exists creates a trust deficit. The leader with a global mindset needs to navigate those differences wisely by focusing on people and building strong relationships, which serve as the foundation for influence. Leaders with a global perspective inspire people from different cultural traditions to build communities of trust, who follow the leaders to achieve compelling visions of faith. Trusted leaders achieve great results. However, trust is built through consistent effort and over time.

How do leaders engender trust? A leader builds trust by developing clarity, compassion, character, contribution, competency, commitment, and consistency. Trust is enhanced by the leader’s openness, dependability, and candour, but the most common failure of building trust is often a lack of intimacy. In addition, integrity is the foundation for character, it is required for sustainable leadership success, and without it, leaders cannot engender the goodwill and trust needed for effective leadership.

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Maister, Green, and Galford highlighted the trust equation by listing credibility (words), reliability (actions), intimacy (emotions), and self-orientation (motives) as the core elements of trust. For example, credibility is “I can trust what he says about…”, reliability is “I can trust her to…” intimacy is “I feel comfortable discussing this….” Self-orientation is “I can trust that he cares about…”. So, embracing and living by these four essential components of trust is fundamental for leadership success. Therefore, developing trust in the leadership exchange involves the following five basic steps:

Engage: This requires the skills of being credibly noticed using the language of interest and concern. Engaging your team members or followers remains the first step because they must think there is an issue worth talking about you are worth talking to on that issue.

Listen: The purpose is to earn the right to engage in a mutual exploration of ideas. Good listening must be active, incisive, conscious, involved, and interactive. This act represents the ability to understand another human being using the language of empathy and understanding.

Frame: This is an act of crystallising and clarifying complex issues and emotions into a problem statement for creative insights and emotional courage using the language of perspective and candour.

Envision: The role is to concretise a specific choice among possible future states, and it requires a spirit of collaboration and creativity using the language of possibility and foresight.

Commit: This requires the ability to generate enthusiasm and ensure that the team members and followers understand what it will take to achieve organisational objectives, take risks, solve problems, and overcome challenges.

From the foregoing, it is established that trust plays a significant role in the life of a leader, and one of the most important lessons to learn in earning trust is to bet on the long-term benefit of the relationship, as all relationships are cyclical. There are no relationships that exist without their rough spots. Lao Tzu once said, “No trust given, not trust received.” As leaders, trust must be earned and properly deserved. You must be willing to give to get. Trust is a key value for which positive transformational change occurs and where ethical leaders stand.

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