• Wiehann de Klerk

Trust-Based Leadership

The power of trust in leadership. Without trust, you are speaking, not leading.


When people trust you, they do business with you

Just because you speak does not mean that someone is listening. Trust is the door that opens up your words to the ears of others. If a follower doesn't trust you, they will purposely disregard the words that you speak. A leader must ensure that the words they speak are not disregarded, and, in order to do this without using manipulation, a leader must establish trust in everything they do. Trust occurs when you are confident in someone's ability to speak with certainty and to match that certainty, with action; when there is reliance and assurance. The end result is confidence - when there is trust, there is confidence. A leader wants their followers to be confident in his/her leadership capabilities. Moreover, Trust-Based Leadership occurs when followers are assured that the leader has integrity, strength and credibility, and when the leader is consistent.


"If people like you, they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they will do business with you." Zig Ziglar

First, a leader must have integrity; be honest. Everything you say must adhere to your moral and ethical principles. The Enron fiasco is a perfect example of leaders in business that lacked integrity. Lacking integrity leads to detrimental consequences. The Enron employees (followers) questioned the accounting methods of Enron on numerous occasions. Enron's accounting firm, Arthur Anderson were secretly sliding paperwork left right and centre - hiding losses to keep Enron above the success pile. However, integrity always wins over a lack of it. Solid rectitude caused Enron to implode. A shockwave occurred causing damage that rippled for years thereafter. Over 30,000 jobs were lost in total. A lack of integrity in a select few leaders caused turmoil in the lives of many. Many hard-working individuals lost their retirement plans simply because they invested their lives and efforts into Enron. There are four signs that indicate a lack of integrity:

  1. Selfishness: The consideration of yourself above others. Selfish people end up selling fish, not buying it. In the short term, they do well, in the long-term, they starve. When there is selfishness, there is self-action - an action that benefits self - actions that result in the benefit of self and the demise of others. Leaders that have integrity are selfless, not selfish.

  2. Lack of Disclosure: Disclosing less in order to hide more. It's never good to disclose everything to everyone. However, leaders that lack integrity purposely hide the things that they should disclose. For example, not disclosing the correct financials on your profit and loss statement isn't a good idea.

  3. Breaking promises: Over-promise and under-deliver, or promising and not following through. A classic flaw that to my amazement, still happens in leadership today. Our brains want consistency so when we receive a promise from someone, we believe that it will happen. This belief provides our brains with comfort. When, however, the promise is broken, that consistency disappears - trust is broken almost immediately. When a leader breaks a promise, it alters the perception that followers have of the leader and alters their interaction with the leader. What many leaders fail to understand about a promise is that it is a debt. A debt must be repaid. If it is not repaid, there are consequences. A study called "Promises Come At A Price," by Manuela Vieth, indicates that promises that are broken cause the victim to want revenge. Those individuals in the Enron scandal that lost their jobs would undoubtedly have wanted revenge. Leaders that have integrity only promise what they can deliver. Their intentions match their results.

  4. Compromising Values: Adopting new values or compromising beliefs to impress or gain favour. Values and beliefs provide leaders with certainty - it is their confidence in a fact or a body of facts. When a leader compromises their values, they are reducing their confidence and certainty, two essential things that every leader needs in order to lead. They must be certain, and they must be confident. Leaders that have integrity know that they can't be all things to all people - they know that some people will have different values and choose not to follow. A leader that is confident and certain is okay with this fact. A leader must be who they are. Values are a leaders compass. Compromise your values, and you lose direction of where you are going. Leaders that have integrity protect their values and beliefs, have it written down and use it as a guide for decision making.


Proverbs 28:6 - Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a wicked man who is crooked in his ways.

Second, a leader must have credibility. Are you qualified to say what you say or to do what you do? Are you credited as someone that has ability? Ability is another word for power - an enabling factor to do things well. Everyone can do things, but not everyone can do things well. Nobody will trust you if they are not convinced that you have the authority, or the power to say what you say or do what you do; people believe the words spoken when they trust the person that's speaking. To portray yourself as someone that has ability, you must first indicate that you are qualified, that you have credibility - otherwise you are run the risk of having ability without permission. You may be able to do things well but no one believes that you have the ability, and if no one believes that you have the ability, no one will permit you to lead. When people don't feel like they can believe you, they will not allow you to orchestrate your ability. Ability without credibility diminishes your leadership; a lacking in credibility results in a lacking of loyalty. Credibility occurs when people believe you to be competent, and to be competent, you must continually develop yourself. Leaders are learners - they know that competency is like a wet sponge in the hot sun that loses its moisture over time; to keep their competency, they throw some water on the sponge every now and again. Leaders are learners because they understand the importance of credibility - they understand that credibility establishes loyalty amongst followers and lack thereof establishes doubt, and no matter who you are, whether your the CEO of a giant multi-national corporation or the chef at a local cafe, when people doubt, you have problems. When you don't have credibility, you don't have power.


"Credibility is a leader's currency. With it, he or she is solvent; without it, he or she is bankrupt." John C. Maxwell

Third, a leader must be strong - courageous. Alexander the Great once said, "An army of sheep led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a sheep." How can anyone have trust in a sheep leading an army of lions? This will be absurd; a leader can only build a strong team when they first, are indeed strong. The times in my life where I lacked trust in a leader was not only when the leader lacked integrity or competency, but also when the leader was weaker than me. Here are three things that make a leader inherently weak:

  • Hesitation: A leader that hesitates is a leader that embraces fear. People don't like following people that are fearful. Hesitation occurs when a leader doesn't believe they have the answer or the ability, or when they are fearful of the impact their decision will have. Leadership is about action - having the tenacity to act trumps hesitation, and as a result, fear. A leader makes decisions, makes them intentionally and accepts full responsibility for the decisions he/she makes. Failing to act is an action, failing to make a choice is a choice, both of which are infested by fear. A good example of a leader that hesitated was George B. McClellan, Commander of the Army of the Potomac, under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln. McClellan made mistakes that cost the lives of thousands in the Civil War. He was always preparing - the army was never at a point of readiness he expected. More and more training was always required. He procrastinated so much that he missed unique opportunities to engage the enemy when the army had an advantage. After long periods of hesitation, he lost the confidence of Lincoln and his role as the Commander. There is a time to prepare and there is a time to take action. Many believe that there is only one time and that is time to prepare, but what about action? Is there no time for action? I have met many people that want to write books, or find another job because they don't like their current job, or launch a new product, but they just don't do it - they just don't take action. Hesitation is fueled substantially by perfectionism - trying to do everything perfectly. But this is impossible - you will never find the perfect time because the only time is now. In addition, no matter how hard we try, we can't do things perfectly because, well, were human. It's now or its never. Weak leaders hesitate to take action, strong leaders love to take action.

  • Excuses/Justifications: Leaders who say they lack resources, don't have enough followers, aren't paid enough etc., don't get very far. It doesn't matter in what area you lead, whether you own your own business and hire employees or merely lead your family, as a father or mother. You're in a place of leadership, a place where you lead, where you are in charge of delivering an outcome. Therefore, it is your job to find the resources when you lack resources or raise money when you don't make enough money. If a leader makes excuses, he's not making money, and if he makes money, he's not making excuses. You can make money, or you can make excuses, but you can't make both. To make an excuse means to release yourself from obligation. Weak leaders make excuses to release themselves from the obligations of leadership, but strong leaders feel obligated to release themselves from excuses. A great example of weak leaders are some politicians, especially those in Australia - there are continuous reports on politicians who try to excuse something they've said or done. Is it any wonder why people never have good things to say about politicians? Everyone has good things to say about Abraham Lincoln and maybe that is because he never made excuses. He took responsibility.

  • Blame: A leader that blames others is shunning their own responsibilities as a leader. Blaming is the action of disregarding responsibility. However, responsibility is a big part of leadership, and once you disregard it, you disregard leadership altogether. Blame is focused on the past and leadership is focused on the present and the future so when you blame, you are focusing on things that do not pertain to leadership. Weak leaders focus on the past. Again, if we look at McClellan - it is clear that he blamed everyone else for his mistakes. He even went as far to blame the president. Poor Lincoln! When he suffered a setback, he set someone else back with him so that he felt better. Strong leaders don't blame but instead do the opposite - they take ownership. Ownership and responsibility of all their actions, results and outcomes. I met this man by the name of Peter who got divorced four times and he was single at the time. I asked him, "what did you learn from all those divorces and what advice can you give me?" His response was a response of blame. He said, "all you have to do is make sure you don't marry a crazy women." I couldn't believe the answer he gave me. I was expecting some insight. Here was a man who blamed four woman for being crazy. He blamed and didn't take responsibility. After an hour of meaningful conversation, it was clear to me that he had some things that he needed to change, not the four women.

Additionally, a leader that is strong is a leader that is courageous. Courage springs forth consistency - when a leader is courageous, they are able to practice important virtues of leadership on a consistent basis. There are times when leadership is difficult, when leaders have to make tough decisions, and without courage, leaders will make inconsistent decisions. Without strength and courage, they will hesitate, make excuses, blame others and justify their actions - they will not take responsibility, in other words, they will lack the ability to respond. Followers trust leaders that have the ability to respond, that are able to take action, not those that live in reaction. Followers trust leaders that are consistent. How hard is it to trust someone that is not consistent? This leads us to the final requirement of Trust-Based Leadership, and that is consistency.


A leader must be consistent. To be consistent is to be the opposite of self-contradiction. When someone contradicts themselves, is it easy to trust them? Most certainly not! If trust was bricks, consistency would be the cement - consistency is what builds up trust in relationships. If you decided to go bungee jumping and find out that the ropes are only strong enough 95% of the time, you may change your mind about the activity. The rope is not consistent enough to justify the action of jumping. Say you are in the market for a car - you need a means of transport that is reliable; a car that consistently gets you from A to B. You will not buy a car that cannot guarantee consistency. In the same way, if a leader is not consistent enough, the action of following them will not be justified by a follower.


"Consistency builds trust, and trust builds strong relationships."

When there is a lack of trust in a leader-follower relationship, there is a lack of disclosure. When there is no trust, there is no disclosure of information. There is no disclosure of information because the leader is not trusted as a recipient of that information. How can you be in a relationship with someone who you are not comfortable relating to; you must relate in order to have a relationship. So, to be a Trust-Based Leader, you must ensure there is an abundance of trust in all your relations as a leader.


What can you do right now to be more consistent? Brainstorm ideas on what you can do to avoid hesitation and excuses. What leaders in your life are Trust-Based Leaders and what can you learn from them?


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