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Trust is the glue that bonds all human relationships. Without some level of trust, we have no certainty as we move forward. Leadership is fundamentally a relationship between a person who leads and a person who responds to that leader. People will follow to the degree that they trust the leader.

Trust is never taken; it is always given. Actually, loaned. Trust resides only with followers, and they decide if they will extend or withdraw their trust. They chose based upon the ongoing flow of impressions provided by the leader. Trustworthy actions generally motivate a follower to extend more trust. Untrustworthy behaviors lead followers to withdraw trust. Trust is a loan that can be called at anytime. The degree to which trust is extended or withdrawn depends on the intensity of the leader’s positive or negative impressions.

For example, your friend tells you to buy stock in company A, so you buy 100 shares. One month later it has doubled in value. Your trust in your friend has grown and when he recommends stock B, you buy 500 shares. One month later it has doubled in price, and you extend more trust. He recommends stock C, so you buy 1000 shares. One month later the company goes bankrupt and you lose all your money. What has happened to your trust in your friend’s stock picking ability? What do you do when he recommends stock D? Are you still a follower? Is he still a leader?

At church, your pastor is a good man. He is always smiling, preaches well, knows your name, his children are well behaved, his wife is active and involved, he runs a good business meeting – you trust him. One day it comes to light that he is having an affair with the church secretary and $100,000 is missing from the building fund. What just happened to your trust in him?

What happened to his ability to lead?

All leaders can do is make trustworthy choices and display trustworthy behavior. Every action, attitude, statement, and decision a leader makes can increase or decrease the level trust he or she earns from followers. The bond of trust is strengthened or weakened based on perception of reliability.

Elections in the United States have degenerated into smear campaigns in which candidates attempt to create distrust in the minds of potential voters. They highlight their opponent’s incompetence, character flaws, and inconsistencies. The choice becomes, which bum do we mistrust the least?

So, how do we build trust? How do we live trustworthy lives that will generate legitimate impressions and authenticate trust? Trust in a leader is extended or withdrawn based upon the perceived character and competence demonstrated over time. The next few Trustworthy Sayings will explore how a leader develops and displays character and competence to nurture the fertile soil in which the trust of followers can grow.

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