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Building Trust

Whether choosing the leader of a political party, or relying on the head of an organisation to turnaround its fortunes the issue of trust, and who to allot that to, comes into focus. It’s an aspect that is as central to business leadership as it is to political leadership.

According to a 2001 Ipsos MORI survey, only 29% of people believe business leaders can be trusted to tell the truth, meaning over two-thirds have little or no trust in leaders. Perhaps this isn’t surprising when you consider how the very public actions of some business leaders have led to the erosion of trust, such as the 2008 banking crisis and diesel emissions scandal at VW. And this is a serious matter because trust in the primary virtue that followers say they want in their leaders.

Reflecting on these examples, I think there are two key points to make:

  1. Trust is something that is build over time through an individual’s actions (often we refer to the need to ‘win trust’) yet it can be destroyed very quickly.
  2. Such actions are affected by a number of conflicting factors in the internal and external business environment. Balancing ethical behaviour with the pressure to make a profit can be tough.

What can be useful here is the concept of authentic leadership, an approach that emphasises the leader’s legitimacy through honest relationships with followers that value their input and are built on an ethical foundation. The result of authentic leadership is improved individual and team performance.

In authentic leadership there’s some debate over what it means in practice. The following qualities appear to have universal consensus:

  • Self-awareness– reflection and re-examination of own strengths, weaknesses and values.
  • Relational transparency– open sharing by the leader of thoughts and beliefs and minimisation of inappropriate emotions.
  • Balanced processing– seeking of alternative viewpoints and consideration of those viewpoints.
  • Internalised moral perspective– a positive ethical foundation which guides relationships and decisions, and which is resistant to outside pressures.

Authentic leadership appears to offer a great deal to help organisations build trust in its leaders and highlights the need to consider such traits when selecting and developing leaders of the future.

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