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Trust and leadership

Von John Kazadi / 26. April 2023
picture alliance / Westend61 | Oscar Carrascosa Martinez

What is the secret behind strong and consolidated relationships? The answer: establishing trust.

We cannot ignore that each relationship comes with challenges and benefits, but a healthy one must be mutually beneficial to both parties and based on trust. Only with trust, the impossible is made possible. With trust, it is easy to merge powers and abilities in order to tackle rising obstacles.

According to the famous Oxford English Dictionary trust is defined as “A firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something”. We all have someone or people we trust. But why do we trust them? Are they of worth, truthful and reliable? And what about not just somebody, but your own leaders?

To trust someone means to believe in their competence of being satisfactory to one’s need or demand. Growing up, there is always someone to look up to, it could be parents, community or religious leaders or even: state presidents. There’s always an individual or individuals that are entrusted with responsibilities to offer valid directions and strive for goals. It takes a strong belief in them to feel safe. Yet, it can also be comfortable having them in front.

Trust based on power

Why does trust matter in leadership? In the end, it’s a relationship of powers, isn’t it? I do believe each person has (at least once in their lifetime) been entrusted to lead others. Yes, you too. Now you might ask yourself, why did the people you were called to lead accept you in the position? Yes, one can become a group’s head if they merit it. But what else is the motivation of a group of people with different expertise to rely on you personally? The obvious response is trust. Trust is the centre of every relationship, ranging from friendship, marriage and even professionally.

Especially leadership positions come along with a lot of privileges, but most importantly: They also need to be based on domination or power. Power is having the ability to impact and influence others or to take crucial decisions. The easiest way to destroy or break followers’ trust as a leader is to abuse one’s power. Or even to willingly create fear as a sort of bonding agent. To be clear here, trust is often broken when a leader despises people’s voices while forgetting they themselves are the exact same people that put him or her into power. In a democratic society, the anger of followers is all it takes to destroy leadership – and the leader.

Like children, we believe that parents know exactly what we want and will do everything in our interest. I have learned that, in the quest of trust one must be willing to drop their logic on the basis that, whosoever is assigned to lead them should be well informed on what is expected from them. I remember in 2018, when I founded a youth led organization, hundreds of young people supported me and believed in my ability to deliver, and I so did. I expanded the organization’s network, connecting with other youth groups doing similar projects in the country and approached NGOs for help which was all a success.

I do not consider myself as the winner. Above all, I was in fact motivated to do everything I did for the sake of the people behind me. I could not let them down because I knew: Trust is like a mud-cup, once broken, it’s not easy to fix. Therefore a good leader must be able to perform duties given to them to the maximum in order not to disappoint followers. Ultimately, failure to meet the demands of people will result into conflicts.

How to earn trust

A lot of authors have discussed various practical tips on how to earn trust. In the words of Lolly Daskal: “Trust is built and maintained by many small actions over time”. Coach Daskal simply meant that, being trusted is not everything, but being able to treasure the trust is the most ideal thing to do. We have seen a lot of failed states particularly here in Africa. Where citizens will, for instance, vote on the basis of ethnicity and automatically trust that if someone from their tribe will be elected into power, then everything will be alright. This traditional thinking model has misled so many times.

I do believe that, trust must be earned on the following grounds: commitment and the ability to accept criticism. Let’s break this down from a relationship perspective. It is obviously easy to have feelings for someone, which we all have done at some point. What is most crucial is getting the person one is in love with to trust them. This is not a one time process, it comes into reality over time. And how does it become real? First and foremost through commitment.

No matter the sort of realtionship we’re talking, but very much so in a coupledom: One is required to be committed, committed in the sense that they must care about the other person. And therefore, good partners must be willing and open to criticism.

Of course, there is no leadership without mistakes. Thus, a great leader must be open to admit their mistakes and not hesitate towards adjusting them. In other words, trust requires action, without action nothing really matters. Trust has to be kept safe, because once it lost, it will be hard getting it back.

(Die deutsche Übersetzung von Bianca Walther gibt es hier.)

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