Trust in Leadership
Nancy Kaur
5 May 2021

Trust in Leadership

‘The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust in the key professional and personal competency of our time.’  Stephen Covey

Trust is an essential aspect of all human relationships, including romantic partnerships, family life, business operations, politics, and medical practices. If you do not trust your lawyer, doctor, or leader it is difficult to benefit from their professional expertise.

But what is trust?  Here are some examples from Dr Paul Thagard (2018):

  1. Trust is a set of behaviours, such as acting in ways that depend on another.
  2. Trust is a belief in a probability that a person will behave in certain ways.
  3. Trust is an abstract mental attitude toward a proposition that someone is dependable.
  4. Trust is a feeling of confidence and security that a partner or leader cares.
  5. Trust is a complex neural process that binds diverse representations into a semantic pointer that includes emotions.

What happens if someone abuses your trust or let us you day in personal life? How do we feel when a trusted colleague undermines us in the workplace, or a leader berates us in front of our teammates?  It feels awful, right?  So, what do we do when we feel let down or disappointed with our friends, family, colleagues, community, or even our politicians?

There are many ways we can respond to these feelings such as, when friends let us down then it is important to let them know.  When you left me alone at that party, I felt abandoned.  

Family trust issues are a little more difficult because some cultures there is an (unwritten) expectation that we should, keep the peace, right? So, speaking up might not be the best solution? I guess it depends on the closeness and the future of that relationship?

What if our leaders disappoint?  In most cases, people leave a job because of a dysfunctional or untrustworthy leader. But what if leaving is not an option?  How can we speak up about our disappointment? I think that it is best to have a mediation with a trust colleague. The future of that relationship will depend on the maturity and commitment of both parties to move forward in a more respectful and trustworthy manner.  Quite often, it is an unknown…

As a leadership capability, I believe that trust is closely aligned with courage.  Courage like character, is critical to effective leadership.  Yet many leaders find it difficult to find it difficult to make unexpected and bold decisions while protecting their own interests.  We see this lack of courage in our politicians when they won’t make those bold and necessary decisions that shape the integrity of their leadership role. Not surprisingly, then, the lack of courage is a main cause that makes leaders fail or derail in all positions of authority and responsibility. And if the lack of trust is too great then in most countries, we send a message of displeasure by voting against these untrustworthy leaders.  Mistrusting someone is not just a clarification of betrayal, but also a bad emotional feeling about the untrustworthy person.

‘To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.’ George Macdonald.

References: Thagard, P. 2018, What is trust?  Trust is an emotional brain state, not just an expectation of behaviour, cited on 5 May 2021 at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/hot-thought/201810/what-is-trust

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