Is Trust Essential to Leadership?

Trust and leadership seem to go hand-in-hand.

It does with politics anyway. Or should that read lack-of-trust? Almost every day we read about political scandals, in any country, where a politician or two, has destroyed the trust of the electorate, or the rate-payers, or the media at least.

Accepting a very public leadership role seems to mean assuming a huge responsibility: of maintaining the highest possible personal and professional standards of ethics, honesty, integrity, of being seen to be doing the right thing. The list could go on. There seems to be something quite absolute about leadership and trust at this level.

Do the same standards apply to the mere mortals amongst us who accept leadership roles in workplaces? Those who genuinely want to help build a better future? Is it really such a daunting responsibility?

I asked a group of trainee teachers what they wanted from a leader. Their listing was quick: respect for me, they listen, they do what they say they’ll do, confidentiality, they’re honest.

Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith, well respected researchers in leadership, argue in their ‘bible’ for new leaders, Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader, that to create trust you need four ingredients:

Competence: that you can do the job
Congruity: that you have integrity – what you say is what you do.
Your people feel you are on their side – ‘…in the heat of the battle, their leader will support them, defend them and come through with what they need to win’.
You care about your people – about the implications of your decisions and the results of your decisions.

Not so far different from the expectations of those students. We all know instinctively what we want from leaders.

As a leader, do they make sense? And do you have those ‘ingredients’ now? I think you probably do, even if some need ‘tweaking’ a bit.

Could you have the discussion with your staff?

Bennis, W & Goldsmith J. (2010) Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader. 4th ed. NY: Basic Books.

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