Trust – The Currency of Leadership

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Earning the trust of one’s subordinates is not just a soft, nice-to-have asset.  It is hard currency that can make the difference between success and failure.  There are hardly any professions today in which individuals can be successful without the help of team members. To ensure you have enough trust from your subordinates, consider the 20:60:20 strategies and make sure your top 20%
performers fully trust you, and the next 60% adequately respect you.  A good place to start might be to try and honestly answer each of the six-C questions.

Leaders need to ensure that they have the trust of the 20+60% of their followers. By and large, leadership trust is a combination of these six factors:

  1. Commitment

Commitment is the cause or purpose the leader pursues.  It is the vision she has for a better future.  If this vision provides hope and inspiration to people, they willingly give their trust and followership.  On the other hand, if they don’t connect with the leader’s vision at an emotional level, or doubt the commitment of the leader towards the vision, they will find it difficult to trust the leader.  Commitment towards a purpose is the primary driver of leadership trust.  If one is to follow a leader with full commitment, there should be no doubt that the leader is also fully committed to the stated purpose.

  1. Character

Character is the set of values that the leader lives by.  Not only is it important for followers to know that the leader is committed to a worthy purpose, they must also believe that the leader wants to pursue that purpose by playing according to the right set of values.  Imagine two leaders are fighting for a just cause that you strongly believe in.  One is pursuing success through violent means, while the other is using peaceful means.  Which one will you trust more and follow?  The answer will depend on your own set of values.  The goal here is not to differentiate between right and wrong. Rather, it is to highlight the fact that character (deeply held values) plays a huge role in earning trust.

  1. Competence

In today’s increasingly complex world, just having strong people skills is not enough.  To earn trust, a leader must have core competence in her chosen field.  The old school of management says that a general manager need not be a subject matter expert.  In today’s highly complex markets, it has become almost impossible for a rank outsider who does not have sufficient knowledge and expertise about the business to earn the respect of his subordinates.

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  1. Consistency

Consistency is about delivering on your commitments without fail.  If you do what you say, and deliver what you promise, people will trust you. If you don’t, they won’t; simple.  It is hard to trust someone who is inconsistent with their dependability and in today’s increasingly competitive world of business there is very little room for error.  One member’s inconsistency can cost the entire team dearly.

  1. Caring

There are two types of bosses in the world, ones that genuinely care for their people and others that don’t.  If I know that my boss will always take care of my best interests, I will be more willing to give her my very best efforts and energy.  If, on the other hand, I have a boss that is likely to throw me under the bus to save his own skin, I will use a big part of my energy in taking care of myself.

  1. Centricity

Finally, the focus of the boss’ actions and intentions determines his trust worthiness. Some bosses are self-centric and some are other-centric.  Self-centric people care most about themselves, and strive hard to create a better future for themselves.  In the words of Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, such people are Takers i.e. they take more from society than they give.  Their worldview is one of self-preservation: “If I don’t take care of myself and maximize my own gain, no one else will.” Other-centric people are Givers i.e. they give more than they take from society.  Their worldview is one of win-win: “If I take care of others, my interests will be taken care of automatically.”  It is well documented through research that Givers enjoy a much higher level of trust from their subordinates than Takers; and that in the long run, Givers are more successful.


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