Why Don’t We Trust Our Leaders?

Leaders may possess charisma, clearly articulate a clear vision, make big deals, and create positive buzz in the media.  But if their words don’t match their actions consistently over time, they surely won’t be trusted.  Are the former or embattled leaders in Middle East trusted by their people?  They certainly have talked the talk for decades but haven’t walked the walk when it comes to reforming freedom of speech, creating jobs, or reducing nepotism.  Are the leaders of large government or NGOs trusted more today than 10, 20, or 40 years ago?  Do we even trust the news sources we get our information from? Why is it that trust in our leaders seems to be eroding at exponential pace?

As the speed and availability of information has increased our trust in leadership has decreased.  Information flow has fundamentally changed over the years.  Leaders were once looked to provide the answers to our questions because they were the ones in the know.  Now they seem out of touch, and somehow removed from what happens on a day-to-day basis.  The erosion of trust in our leaders isn’t because the fundamental DNA of people has changed. It is due to the fact that our once heralded organizational systems and the subsequent actions that we expect of leaders have dramatically shifted.

We no longer expect our leaders to be autocratic like Patton, Churchill, or Lincoln.  We demand that they help to facilitate the discovery of solutions not possesses all the answers.  The world we live in today is simply too fast with too much information for someone to “know” and act upon the right answers.  In short, we expect our leaders to be transformational leaders and not traditional leaders.

James MacGregor Burns, a presidential biographer and authority on leadership studies first introduced the concept of transforming leadership in 1978. According to Burns, transforming leadership is a process in which "leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher level of morale and motivation". This shifted the discussion from studying the traits of leaders and transactional management to a focus on the interaction of leaders and how they collaborate with others to create trusted bonds.  This isn’t a top-down theory on management but a more inclusive approach of “I win if we all win”.

Mark McCloskey, a professor at Bethel University greatly simplified the inner workings of transformational leadership in his article “The 4R Model of Leadership: A Virtue-Based Curricular Model for Business Education in a Global Context.”  This model focuses on the BASICTM virtues a leader must possess and practice to build trusted relationships.  These core virtues aren’t anything new, as they have always existed as part of humanity, as Plato and Aristotle clearly articulated.  They may just have been pushed aside for a while to make room for what used to be an effective autocratic management approach.   These virtues impact every role, exhibited behavior, responsibility, and set of results a leader will produce.  The virtues are:

Beneficial Partnerships are where a leader fosters collaborative relationships. These relationships are interdependent to achieve common ends.

Aligned Emotions are based on the emotional maturity of the leader and knowing one's passions, wants, needs, and the emotional states of followers.

Sustained Determination is the inner strength to initiate action in the face of obstacles, not shrink in the face of resistance, and to sustain momentum in the face of adversity.

Intellectual Flexibility is the capacity of the leader to adapt to the world accurately with the help of others.

Character is one's moral integrity, which is the inner strength to live in accordance with high moral standards.

How can a leader become transformational?
To become a transformational leader, not just a traditional leader, you first become a trusted one to attract ardent followers.   As we begin to emerge from the latest recession the soon-to-be retired will finally create the forecasted brain drain, the wounded employees whose trust was breached during the downturn will start seeking new opportunities and the newly arriving workforce will create the next global war – the war for talent.  This war will know no borders or boundaries.  Thus it is imperative that leaders of today and the future start by going on a trust building campaign and build the relationships that will help them navigate a world that is flat and the knowledge of mankind is doubling every six years. Without the guidance of a transformational leader, the battle could be lost before we start.

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