Thoughts from Guy

Trust and Leadership

Leaders, followers, scholars and consultants agree that trust is the foundation of effective leadership. Most often, we concentrate on the trust that followers must have in leaders, and we focus on how leaders can earn this trust. However, we often overlook two other essential aspects of trust: leaders’ trust in themselves and leaders’ trust in their followers.

I believe there are three vital aspects of leadership trust:

Trust in oneself, or self-confidence, is essential for effective leadership. To accept the responsibilities of leadership and to make decisions that impact others, leaders must have confidence in their vision, judgment and skill. Self-confidence is critical to having the “will to lead” – the fundamental drive to influence others. Self-confidence helps leaders remain resolute in the face of challenges. Self-confidence enables leaders to credit others for success, because their own egos do not need bolstering. Self-confidence also fosters non-defensiveness, allowing leaders to learn from their experience and profit from others’ input.

Trust in others is essential for great leadership. Leaders must have the ability to entrust others with meaningful levels of authority and autonomy. When leaders trust followers and empower them accordingly, this fosters ownership, initiative and capacity within an organization. A leader’s trust should not be extended blindly, of course. It is important for leaders to be clear about the skills and qualities others must display in order to earn their trust.

Sometimes, leaders may feel that trusting others requires ceding control or adopting an overly passive approach. This would be an unfortunate misunderstanding of trust. In fact, leaders can wield tremendous influence while empowering others to take action. The key is for leaders to hire people who have the necessary skills and personal qualities, ensure people understand what is valued in terms of purpose, strategy, goals and behavior, and then to follow up and establish accountability.

Trust from others is the third requirement for great leadership. Leaders earn others’ trust via their character and credibility. In terms of character, people must perceive that leaders act with consistency, place the well-being of the organization/team ahead of their own self-interests, and have the courage to make the right things happen. Credibility is a key to earning trust, and is earned by making the right decisions, communicating decisions and supporting rationale, and implementing those decisions skillfully (often through delegation).

Trust is essential to great leadership, and three kinds of trust lie at the heart of effective leadership: trust in oneself, trust in followers and trust from followers. These forms of trust are interconnected. For example, to gain trust from others, leaders should remember that people tend to trust leaders who trust themselves – who are confident but humble. People also tend to trust leaders who trust them.

© 2015 Guy Cornelius