Defining Trusted Leaders Does Not Have to be a Tight Rope Act

In our last newsletter, I wrote about the difference between brand and reputation and the importance of building fundamental trust within an organization for its leaders, its employees, its products and services, and its customers in order to be a successful organization. When determining the difference between brand and reputation, we discovered that brand is what you say your organization is, and reputation is what others say and how they respond to your organization. Our research has shown that if an organization wants to build trust, the very first place to start is with building trusted leaders.

In this issue of our newsletter, I would like to explore the concept of trusted leaders and answer the question:  “How do we define trust and what defines a trusted leader?”

“How do we define trust?”

My wife and I recently watched Nik Wallenda, a professional high-wire artist who makes a living performing stunts all over the globe, walk across Niagara Falls in a live televised event. It was interesting to see that ABC required Nik to wear a safety harness, despite his arguments against it.  This led me to wonder whether or not ABC completely trusted Nik—whose father and grandfather performed similar stunts and has worked with Nik all of his life—to complete the walk without falling to his death? Based off of Nik’s arguments, he obviously trusted himself to perform the stunt without any mishaps. And for ABC, there must have been some level of trust since it was aired on live TV, but on another level there were obviously reservations too.

In a 2011 article in the Journal of Trust Research, “Measuring Trust in Organizational Research: Review and Recommendations,” Bill McEvily and Marco Tortoriello conducted a comprehensive review of trust research and literature created over the last 50 years.  McEvily and Tortoriello concluded in their article that the academic research they drew on was “rudimentary and highly fragmented,” discovering 129 different measures and definitions of trust. Within the variety of definitions exposed, McEvily and Tortoriello found three similar components that make up the definition of trust: Trustworthiness beliefs, Trusting intentions, and Trusting behaviors.

  1. 1. Trustworthiness beliefs — this is the expectation that the other party has our best interest in mind and positive results will be the outcome of the interaction
  1. 2. Trusting intentions — this is the internal willingness or decision to make yourself vulnerable to another party
  1. 3. Trusting behaviors — this is the behavioral response to take risks and work together with another party

We find these definitions useful.  Through our own review of the literature and research, we leveraged a validated definition and developed a 4R Model for Transformational Leadership ™ for measuring and building trust in leaders and organizations. The 4R Leadership Model puts trusted leadership in the context of a business organization by defining what are the Relationships, Roles, Responsibilities and Results expected of a leader in an organization.

What is a trusted leader?

Like the definition of trust, there are many definitions of what signifies a trusted leader.  Some of these definitions include leaders who motivate, inspire, and communicate well with their employees. In our own research of analyzing leaders and organizational survey results over the last 15 years, combined and reviewing over 400 leadership models, we developed a conceptual model of leadership called the 4R Leadership model™.   This 4R model™ is an integrative paradigm that identifies both the macro and micro foundations of leadership.  Specifically, the 4R Model pictures the critical linkage between the collaborative nature of partnerships the leader practices (Relationships), the culture-shaping work of the leader (Roles), and the effective practice of leadership (Responsibilities). Together, these concepts align the vision, strategy, objectives, and values of the organization.

In an article published in the International Journal of Leadership Studies (2006), Bruce E. Winston and Kathleen Patterson of Regent University discovered there were over 26,000 published articles on the definition of leadership.  Of those definitions, Winston and Patterson uncovered 90 common variables that comprise leadership’s definition. One of the most frequently occurring dimensions in all these definitions was trust.

Winston and Patterson write:

“The leader, in this process of leading, enables the follower(s) to be innovative as well as self-directed within the scope of individual-follower assignments and allows the follower(s) to learn about their own, as well as others’, successes, mistakes, and failures along the process of completing the organization’s objectives.

The leader accomplishes this by building credibility and trust with the followers through interaction and feedback to and with the followers that shapes the followers’ values, attitudes, and behaviors towards risk, failure, and success.”

These transformational leaders serve as catalysts that prompt and create the movement within the organization through charisma, inspiration, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. These skills that transformational leaders encompass have been linked to numerous positive outcomes, including increased employee satisfaction, more employee effort, and satisfaction with the leader. With the help of the 4R model, leaders are able to become leaders who are able to effectively motivate and inspire the organization.

Nik Wallenda’s trust in his training and in his talent gave him the ability to successfully complete that historic walk over Niagara Falls. While there may have been some reservations as to whether or not Nik would be able to successfully complete the walk over Niagara Falls, it was the safety harness that allowed ABC and Nik to be cooperatively successful.  ABC believed that Nik could perform the stunt; this is why they agreed to air it on live television. But because they had his best interest in mind, they asked him to wear a safety harness. Nik agreed to this and made himself open to the will of ABC. Together, ABC and Nik Wallenda worked together, took a risk, and successfully led one of the most magnificent and inspiring events I have seen in a long time.

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