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The Trust Factor - Columbia Business School

In frightening circumstances, trust in our leaders is indispensable. This raises the question: What are the essential building blocks of trust?

There are five key pillars of trust:

They understand my needs

Leadership is not about power; it is about service. The first task of a leader is to “tune in” to the needs and expectations of their followers.

They have the skills to solve my problem

Empathy alone is not sufficient. Leaders must have the ability to act on it. They must demonstrate competence.

They care about my success

Effective leaders are selfless, always placing the interests of their followers above their own. Motive is determinative in issues of trust, and people feel betrayed when a leader is seen to be pursuing self-serving aims.  It is in our actions that we reveal our true intentions. “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say,” said the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.

They keep promises

Consistency lies at the heart of effective leadership. Good leaders keep their promises, large and small. If we break our small promises, we won’t be believed when we make large ones.

Promises should be made with care, not bravado.

They are truth-tellers

To tell the truth is to have faith in your people. Leaders sometimes believe that they can handle bad news, but that the people below them are unable to do so. This assumption is not only arrogant; it is false. Character and fortitude are not functions of rank. People can usually handle unpleasant truths, but have difficulty dealing with the withholding of truth.

The golden rule, particularly in times of crisis is to tell the unvarnished truth – no sugar coating, no spin.

Mistakes are inevitable. But it is important for leaders to have the humility to admit their mistakes.

Truth and trust – there’s only one letter that’s different in those two words, and maybe that’s because the one leads to the other. By striving for honesty in the face of adversity we strengthen the bonds that help us all get through the crisis together.

To read the full article from W. Pietersen, published by the Columbia Business School, please click here.


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