Tag Archives: trust

Can Trust Be Earned If It Is not Given?

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We all understand that trust is essential to the development and continuity of personal relations. But for some reason, many tend to discount the need for trust in business relationships. This is especially true for those in a position of authority or leadership; and that’s a big mistake. While it is true that trust is not needed for others to follow your orders, trust is indispensable if you want them to follow your lead.

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Power is to Command as Trust is to Leadership

With power, you can make others do things for you. With trust, others will want to do things for you.

The business world is fixated on power and leadership. For the denizens of the corporate conclave, the endgame is to achieve status as a powerful leader. In pursuit of this aspiration, many become addicted to the supposed performance-enhancing properties of power, because they are led to believe that with power comes coronation as a leader.

It is a false premise.

Leadership is incubated in an atmosphere of trust, not by the acquisition of raw power. No matter how much power one may have in hand, without trust it will in due course be nullified. At the same time, power born of trust will in the long run be magnified. Power is a license to command, but it is trust that bequeaths the power to lead.

A Surefire Political Promise Misfires

There is no better example of this than the 2012 presidential election. By all accounts Mitt Romney should have won; and, if the election had been a poker game, he would have. The cards held by Obama included a stagnant economy, distressfully high unemployment, a government in gridlock, out-of-control Trustdeficit spending and a skyrocketing national debt. No president had ever been reelected when the country faced such dreadful economic conditions. Against this, Romney held powerful cards that included a disenchanted populous, a sterling resume of success in both government and business and the unfettered backing of hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy interests. And yet, Romney lost decisively. The reason for Romney’s loss will be debated for years, but those performing the autopsy can save their time. Romney lost for one simple reason: Trust trumps power.

The majority of American voters simply did not trust Romney. In the end, the people did not believe that Romney had their best interests at heart. And because of this, despite the pain and frustration they were feeling, no power on earth could convince them to vote for him. As a result, the one who seemed to have all the power on his side, ended up powerless. It may seem incongruous – especially to those preoccupied with power – but followers will sacrifice, endure hardship, distress and even the uncertainty of the future for a leader they trust.


American history serves up two validating examples of trust motivating followers to do what they would not do themselves and a willingness to accept uncertainty to follow a leader they trusted. George Washington has the worst won-loss record of any general in the history of America. His troops were asked to endure hardships that would be difficult to imagine: malnutrition, lack of basic fighting equipment, intolerable living conditions, and at times, miserably frigid weather, not to mention the ever-present possibility of maiming and even death on the battlefield. Yet troops willingly endured the unendurable when Washington asked. And there was but one reason for this: These soldiers implicitly trusted that Washington cared about their best interests. This trust allowed them to buy-in to Washington’s vision of freedom, no matter how distant, difficult or improbable it may have seemed at the time.

One hundred and fifty years later, in another time of crisis, a leader – Franklin Roosevelt – emerged to corroborate the power of trust. FDR became president at the very nadir of the deepest financial crisis in the history of the United States; when people were living at the corner of fear and despair. Radical times called for radical actions and Roosevelt was given the license to take on the traditional powers of the system, empowered by only one thing: the trust of the people that he cared for them, while others who had power did not. Despite the fact that the economy remained mired in depression, the people handily reelected Roosevelt three times, because he never lost their trust that he cared about the people first. (Roosevelt’s fourth election in 1944 was driven by the trust the people had in his conduct of the war.)

A Most Underrated Facet of Leadership

Trust is the most underrated aspect of a business or political relationship, even though its presence makes any effort possible, while its absence corrodes any relationship until nothing is possible. For the business leader, the most powerful residue of trust is flexibility. Trust encourages the followers to buy-in to the vision of the leader and to adopt it as their own. The trusted leader has the power to change and maneuver in response to a changing environment just so long as the vision and the actions that spawned trust remain consistent.

Trust creates the opportunity to lead because others will follow when they believe that what is being done is in their own best interests; even if they don’t Washingtonunderstand it at the moment. It is trust that pollinates the power of the leader. On the other hand, power without trust constricts power and limits options. If you need an example: Just ask the British in the American Revolution; the Communists in the Soviet Union and the Americans in Viet Nam. Power can command people to do as they are told, but it can never make them want to do it or more importantly, motivate them to do their best. This is left for the leader who has earned the trust of the followers.

Don’t get me wrong, power is important, but it is the subtle understanding of power that creates the powerful leader, not the possession of raw power itself. True leadership comes about when an individual uses the power vested in them to empower others to do what they never thought they could do. The most effective leaders use their power as solution facilitators rather than dictators of decisions. This viewpoint may differ from the old rule of leadership that positioned the leader as an all-powerful deity who rules with an intimidating iron hand. You will be more successful and trusted as a leader if you develop a style of management that provides the tools to others so that they might solve the problems and receive the credit for doing so.

Still, if trust is so important, the important question is this: What is it that engenders trust and makes someone a true leader?

The first step to building trust in any political or business relationship is to recognize that it is a process, not a procedure. Power can be mandated, but trust must be earned. True deep-seated trust cannot be achieved overnight, it must be cultivated and nurtured over time. It cannot be stressed enough that trust is the accumulated residue of transparency, openness, integrity, clarity of expression and – maybe most important – constancy of purpose and actions. Trust is the product of constantly and consistency demonstrating concern for the best interests of the followers. Attempting to lead from the basis of power without simultaneously building trust from those sought to be led is the prescription for both the loss of power and failed leadership.

The Moral of the Story …

Power alone – no matter how overpowering – does not define leadership. Trust bequeaths leadership and leadership based on trust creates power.

There are those – especially in business – who discount the need for trust. It is an attitude of, “Why do I need trust when I have power?” This type of arrogance ultimately brings about the loss of the power that created this attitude. The arrogance of power and the absence of trust breeds suspicion that causes followers to withdraw into a self-preservation cocoon that turns their efforts and interests away from organizational focus to a purely personal focus. And why not? Because that is the attitude they see from those in power. The reality is that a lack of trust for those in power eats away at the very soul of an organization in a way that paralyzes effort and diminishes success; often leading to the loss of power that was so cherished.

For those who seek power and desire to wear the mantle of leadership, the process starts by understanding and respecting that the basis of all real leadership and power is trust.

Do You Have a License to Lead?

A license is needed for almost anything, but few recognize the need for a license to lead

There is very little we are allowed to do in the world today – at least legally – without first securing a valid license to do it. If we want to drive a car, get married or buy a gun (these two are not necessarily connected), catch a fish, hunt a deer or sell virtually anything, a valid license is required. (Bankers even have a license to be stupid.)

Aside from being a perfect scam to collect fees, a license issued by a governmental agency implies at least a basic competency on the part of the licensee to perform the certified activity, without being a risk to society. To obtain a license authorizing the performance of a specific task or to offer a service, the applicant must show at least a modicum of knowledge, experience and competency. Of course, there is no assurance that the licensee will, for example, satisfactorily cut your hair or reroof your house.

Leadership in Business

This bureaucratic, perfunctory licensing process is all well and good for the mundane, but it does not fit for what are the most important things in life – like being a successful leader. If you want to be successful in business, you do need a license to lead, but this license can’t be issued by a government agency. Nor does holding a title like  “CEO” or “Branch Manager” grant you authority or bestow a license to lead. A license to lead can only be issued by the followers and their basis for issuing this license is predicated on just one competency test:  trust. And that doesn’t come easily.

No matter what the title, how well educated, experienced or powerful, you will not have a license to lead unless those who you want to follow you trust you. And trust is not something you can study for, demand or buy – it must be earned.

The question is: How do you get the followers to issue you a license to lead?

Critical to earning your license to lead is the recognition that it is a process, not a procedure. True, deep-seated trust in the leader does not come overnight; it comes over time and cannot be mandated. Those seeking a license to lead start the process by setting standards for the organization. These principles must be clear, concise and rigorously followed.

Other touchstones of leadership include a clear vision of the group’s ultimate goal; a well-defined delineation of what is acceptable practice and what is not, and how people can expect to be treated. These standards must become a set of inviolate ideologies upon which the organization is led and form the phalanx of the effort to build trust. The irony is that members of the group do not have to agree with the standards in order to build trust. They only need to know what the standards are and that they will be consistently enforced, so at all times they know where they stand and how to plan.

The process of building trust boils down one word – consistency. Being consistent does not mean one has to be Mother Teresa, but it does mean that the individual seeking a license to lead can’t be a saint one day and the devil incarnate the next. Building trust comes from the individual being consistent, even if it is being consistently a self-centered jerk. For followers to issue a license to lead, it does not require that they necessarily like the boss, but they learn they can count on his consistency.

There is another secret to building a bond of trust that will encourage followers to issue a license to lead. It happens when the one seeking a license to lead sends a simple message to the followers: “Step out and do this for me and I’ve got your back.” Members of the organization are encouraged to put their heads down and plow forward, relying on the promise that the leader is there to provide support and cover. This offers workers the confidence that should something go wrong, the leader will be right with them to help. This forms a natural relationship between the leader and the followers that results in a reservoir of trust.

One of the best ways to encourage followers to issue a license to lead is to conscientiously and consistently share the success of an organization with those who participate in that success. When both victories – and even failures – are shared, then a trust is established that allows the followers to do their job with the confidence and assurance that their efforts will be recognized and rewarded.


In reality, there are very few licenses to lead issued. That’s because the traditional idea of leadership in business is based more on power and position than trust. Many in positions of authority do not place a high level of importance on establishing trust with rank and file followers because they don’t think it is necessary. They don’t understand why they need trust when they have the power. Typically for those with the power of position the idea of trust is expressed in an attitude that says, “The job of the employee is to follow my orders and I trust they will do it.”

Since  so many companies being run by those who have not been issued a license to lead, what is the value to be gained by making the effort to be obtain this  license, this wholehearted employee approval to lead?

In simple terms, a valid license to lead becomes a “get-out-of-jail-free” card the leader can play when needed. A license to lead bestows an operational freedom on a leader that is never enjoyed by the traditional boss. This is important because no matter how open and transparent the leader may wish to be, there are going to be times when total disclosure is not possible and times when some are simply not going to understand his actions. In times like this, only the licensed leader can move forward confidently and seamlessly knowing the followers will not only follow, but fully support the decisions made by the leader. This allows the licensed leader to act effectively in both good and bad times; and may be the ultimate difference that wards off failure and determines success.

And the Moral of the Story …

If you want a license to lead, you have to pass the test of trust. No matter what you title or power in an organization, trust cannot be demanded, but must be earned. A license to lead is earned over time and the most effective way to achieve it is to engage in a consistent process of communication and transparency. A license to lead is earned by being totally open with others regarding the issues, challenges, objective and plans of the organization.

Gaining the trust of followers comes down to demonstrating that you trust the followers even more than you expect them to trust you. If you are willing to respect the value of the followers and trust them with your future and the success of the organization, then in response, the followers will enthusiastically issue you the most important license of all – the license to lead.