Successful role model leaders are trusted by their followers. A large part of the leader's role is to decide on new directions, to make change, to move the organization towards a new state. Imagine that you were blindfolded and told to walk along a narrow wooden plank over a deep gorge. Even if there was a pot of gold as a reward, you would not try this unless you could take the hand of someone you trusted.
Many people say “trust me” in communications with others and in cynical jokes. When you ask someone to trust you, in effect you are asking them to make a withdrawal from the emotional bank account that has been illed over time between you and the individual or organization. Leaders, by contrast, do not ask for trust; rather, they earn that trust from a large emotional bank account that is owned by the followers and that has been built by deposits from the leader.
Another reality is that unless and until a person (or organization) trusts you, that person (or organization) will answer “No!” to your requests for substantive change. You cannot be a leader unless you and your followers trust one another. A leader's role is to provide direction to others and to inluence them to make change – sometimes major change. Until you have the trust of those you are trying to inluence, the change you want to make cannot happen. That is because followers decide to follow – or not – based on whether they trust you.
Having said all that, a person can learn to be trustworthy. The following list might provide guidance on how an aspiring leader can develop trustworthiness. A role model leader who is trusted will be guided by these principles:
• Do what you say you will do.
• Be reliable over a long period.
• Be recognized as someone who shares successes, not just failures.
• Get trust by giving trust.
• Develop a history of correct decisions and of getting results from them. A CEO-engineer of an electronics company I know was judged by senior managers in his company to be untrustworthy. The company results were poor and deteriorating rapidly. This continued until the CEO recognized the prevailing opinion of the managers. He took action, by structuring a mentorship process with a retired CEO he knew and respected. Together they reinforced the importance of learning skills and character attributes for leading others, including trustworthiness. The company's results began to improve as the trust between the CEO and others improved.
It is important, but also dificult, to always do what you say you will. The importance is obvious, but the dificulty is equally necessary to understand. Leaders are engaged in changing things, not in doing the same things over and over again. Their task is not to control or stabilize things but to change them. So the possibility always exists that leaders will inluence people to make changes that have unforeseen negative consequences. When that happens, the people involved and observers on the sidelines may interpret this as the leader not doing what he said he would do. This in turn may cause a withdrawal from the “emotional bank account” of trust between leaders and followers. Is this possibility a good reason not to strive for change? No! The role model leaders will have prepared themselves – they will have developed an inventory of skills and various character attributes that will enable them to recover from the setback and regain the “balance” in the emotional bank account.
The aspiring leaders will have reached the goal of role model leadership when they have a history of correct decisions, positive changes, and achievement of results. Recovery is always possible from bad decisions and poor results, but not from a long and consistent history of negative results. That is the reality. The way to ensure a history of right decisions, right results, and positive change is to never stop learning the skills and character attributes required by role model leaders, along with the behaviours we will be discussing later on.