It is the job of leaders to create trust between leader and led, between the institutions of governance and those who are governed.
It is the job of leaders to create trust between leader and led, between the institutions of governance and those who are governed. My comments on trust were recently published in FastCompany Magazine. My friend, Payam Zamani, tech entrepreneur and CEO of OnePlanet also just published an article on the national crisis of trust and the danger of the decline of this nation.
For fear of mixing business and politics I have been hesitant to speak out on the current crisis in this country, which is much larger than the Covid19 pandemic. It is the crisis that will determine whether this country (the U.S.) remains a great nation. We have been great, precisely because we have been open to immigration and because we have embraced alliances around the world, promoting democracy and human rights, the values of this country. We have, in the past been united around the core values that did make this country great – opportunity, equality, democracy and justice for all – but, greatness requires vigilance and now is the time for us all to be vigilant.
Trust is the social glue that unites a cultures. All cultures are either in the process of integrating or disintegrating, creating cultural cohesion or dissension, and economic growth has proven to be correlated with high levels of trust and economic decline correlated with the absence of trust (see Francis Fukuyama’s book Trust). Trust is social capital and the World Bank has recognized the essential nature of building social capital to achieve economic development. The same is true within a corporation as it is in nations. High levels of internal trust result in high levels of creativity and problem solving. We create and expand in an environment of trust, and the reverse is true. We retreat when we fear the outside world, our competitors, and that retreat is followed by disintegration of brand equity. Leaders create trust and expansion; anti-leaders create fear and retreat.
Arnold Toynbee studied the rise and fall of 23 civilizations and among his conclusions was that great civilizations are never defeated by the external barbarians, but always by internal disintegration and what he called the “loss of self-determination.” They decline when they are at their most powerful and most wealthy, when they reach a “condition of ease.”
This is also a failure of leadership. Leaders emerge from the culture but they also shape and give direction to the culture. The first job of leaders is to create unity of purpose, common cause, common challenge and unite people in shared effort. Leaders must define our ennobling purpose, and challenge us to arise to that purpose. Purpose creates unity. If we don’t select leaders who will do that we will continue to disintegrate and decline. When leaders spread distrust they are essentially engaged in an act of collective suicide.
I know the above comments have swung back and forth between business and larger societal issues. Principles that matter apply to leadership of self, company and country in almost identical ways. I tried, in my course on Transformational Leadership to capture the most important principles that I feel are essential for leaders who will build trust. It is the essence of leadership.