Trust – The Key to Leadership

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

To aspire to leadership is an honourable ambition. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not!

By Njeri Muchunu

Do those you lead TRUST you? How do you know if they do (or if they don’t)?

Trust and leadership go hand in hand. However, trust doesn’t come with your title. It needs to be earned. Trust is the glue which binds the leader to his/her followers and provides the capacity for organizational and leadership success.

I recall one leadership experience which included an exceedingly awkward Board meeting where the Director did his level best to be invisible. Once the Board meeting officially started, these otherwise friendly, loving, and intelligent team members became an unloving, judgemental and disgruntled horde of dysfunction. The change was so immediate and complete that at first, I thought they were all kidding around. I quickly found out I was wrong; it was genuine and severe organizational dysfunction.

The problems discussed by each member were assumed to be “someone else’s” stubbornness or inadequacies. No one offered to help solve issues outside their own narrow responsibility. They were very serious about minor issues but completely ignored the most important responsibilities (and opportunities). The only thing they all could agree on was that ultimately, it was the fault of the Leadership. I felt sorry for the Director; he kept his head down throughout the meetings and seemed completely absorbed in whatever he was writing.

This unfortunate Director was the victim of high-level distrust by almost everyone in leadership. A team without trust is NOT a team, it’s a nightmare! I pray that no one reading this would ever endure such high-level dysfunction!

What is trust? What does it look like when an organization trusts its leader?

The question “Can I trust you?” is always on our minds whenever we interact with other people (particularly when we meet them for the first time) though we usually aren’t consciously aware of asking it. When I trust my surgeon, I allow him to use his scalpel to open me up. When I trust my accountant, I allow him to access to what I buy, spend, invest and waste. When I trust my spouse, I keep no secrets. Trust is the ability to rely on someone, to have confidence in their character, their strengths, abilities, and intentions. Trust requires vulnerability; allowing people to see the “real you.” Unless you create an atmosphere of trust as you lead your organization, business, school, home, Church, effective leadership is not possible.

Trust is the foundation of all the characteristics of a Leader. Without it our efforts to cast a vision, or to live a life of character and virtue, or to serve others sacrificially will fail. The leader must have an unshakeable confidence and trust God every step of the way. The greatest leaders do not, at the end of the day, trust themselves – they trust in a Higher power because they realize and understand that they too are fallible beings. When those they lead falter and doubt, the true leader models a deep and abiding faith and looks within for wisdom that is beyond all understanding. Such wisdom kindles a passion that then encourages others to persevere. This is leadership!

Our families, our businesses, our country, our churches, our places of work, and our communities desperately need genuine leadership.

Below are six keys to developing trust based on one of the best leaders that every lived – Nehemiah. If you have a moment, turn to Nehemiah and familiarize yourself with his story before continuing.

Seek God
Many of us are Type-A leaders who like to charge ahead and make things happen. Yet, we must resist the temptation to rush ahead of God’s plans. Start by processing your honest emotions with God, seeking His will, and submit your plans to him. Spend time alone and as a team praying for God’s vision and wisdom as you plot your course. The team’s confidence in the vision and strategy is closely connected to our dependence and submission to Jesus.

Know Yourself
Another aspect of seeking God’s direction is to know yourself. You must be clear on your highest values, the non-negotiables, as well as the lower priorities you can be flexible about. You need to have an accurate view of your strengths and vulnerabilities. You need to know what pushes your buttons so when situations arise, you can be calm, decisive, and proactive rather than reactive. Then, those under our leadership can anticipate a consistent and supportive response.

Face Reality
As leaders, it is vitally important that we deal with what is actually happening and not what we wish were happening. We can become adept at using creative metrics to hide lacklustre performance, glossing over programs that aren’t working, and avoiding difficult conversations. The first step toward becoming a trustworthy leader is to have and share an objective view of the facts and define reality for the team. We must resist tangling up the facts with our ego, misplacing blame, or over-spiritualizing poor performance. When we face reality and say what everyone knows but does not want to publicly acknowledge, we demonstrate a commitment to truth and instil confidence in our leadership.

As Leaders, we are called to be serve—those who tend to the needs of others above our own. A servant leader leads by example, humbly rolling up their sleeves and doing whatever needs to be done to accomplish the goal. A servant leader might have positional authority over others on their team, but does not lord it over the team. They are quick to admit mistakes, do the grunt work, take the blame from the outside, and shine the spotlight on others. A leader who consistently serves others builds trust and develops a team that is not only effective, but also joyful.

Pay Attention
Make eye contact, and hold it—both when you are speaking and listening. Nod from time to time to show you are understanding what is being said to you (and if you don’t understand, ask). Smile, especially when they do. And above all else, really focus and internalize what is being said to you—everyone needs to feel that they have been heard, even when you can’t give them what they are asking for.

Trust Others First
Human beings have a deeply-rooted tendency toward reciprocity. We are naturally inclined to want to do favours, give gifts, and work to promote those who have done these things for us in the past. And the same holds true when it comes to trust—we are more likely to feel we can trust someone who has trusted us first. So, assign tasks and projects that reflect this trust. Socially, share personal (but appropriate!) stories, talk about your struggles and challenges, let them see your fallible, human side. Allowing yourself to be a bit vulnerable is a great way to project warmth.

In closing, let me share a story which maybe a number of you have heard before:

A little girl and her father were crossing a bridge. The father was kind of scared so he asked his little daughter, “Sweetheart, please hold my hand so that you don’t fall into the river.” The little girl said: “No, Dad. You hold my hand.” “What’s the difference?” asked the puzzled father. “There’s a big difference,” replied the little girl. “If I hold your hand and something happens to me, chances are that I may let your hand go. But if you hold my hand, I know for sure that no matter what happens, you will never let my hand go“.

In any relationship, the essence of trust is not in its bind, but in its bond. So, hold the hand of the person whom you put faith and trust in rather than expecting them to hold yours.

How about you? Can you relate? How have great leaders earned your trust?

Speak to us, we would love to hear your story.

Njeri Muchunu is an impeccable, transformational and highly intuitive Leadership Curator. She is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. She has extensive experience in the legal profession spanning well over 17 years. She has worked in private legal practice, as an executive in the Corporate sector as well as the Public sector. Her latest engagement was with Government of Kenya where she worked with the Central Bank of Kenya and the Financial Reporting Centre respectively.