Under the Hood of Trust


Leadership is a relationship. Relationships require trust. What is trust? That’s a big question. A conclusive definition of trust is almost as elusive as a conclusive definition of leadership. Also similar to leadership, while it may be hard to define, we definitely know trust when we see it and feel it when a relationship has it. But what is it?

I’m not going put a stake in the ground and claim a final answer to that question. However, I will explore one aspect of trust:

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, famous for their research that spawned the books and resources known as The Leadership Challenge and the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership,” have also applied their skills to the topic of credibility.

In their first-hand research and digging into the literature and surveys from others, they affirmed that credibility is an important element of leadership. After all, would you put your trust into a relationship with a leader who was not credible?

What is credibility, though? Let’s break that down quickly.

Kouzes and Posner, in their book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, presented four aspects of credibility that every leader needs to carefully consider:

  • Honest – By far the most sought-for characteristic among leaders, honesty is a basic requirement. Why would any follower devote themselves, their time, and often their personal resources to a leader who is not honest?
  • Forward-looking – Given that we’re talking about leadership (which could be described as influencing people to work for a better future), it’s not surprising that credibility also depends on being forward-looking. Followers already know what today is about. A credible leader is one who has a vision for the future.
  • Inspiring – Leaders need to be more than honest and forward-looking; they need to inspire people to take risks and pursue creation of a future that requires great personal investment. Followers already know the journey will be challenging. Inspiring leaders convince followers it will be worth it.
  • Competent – Competency in leadership comes down to being capable and effective. Credible leaders are able to get the job done. They are able to do the work that moves the organization forward.

Credible leaders are honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent.

Are they? Do two quick tests:

  1. Think about the best leader you’ve ever work under. Was he honest? Forward-looking? Inspiring? Competent?
  2. Think about the worst leader you’ve ever worked under. Was he honest? Forward-looking? Inspiring? Competent?

I’m pretty confident you said that yes, the best leader was indeed honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent. I’m also rather confident that the worst leader was weak in at least two of those same areas. (My gut tells me that marginal leaders are acceptable in three, but has serious deficiencies in the fourth. It is their “Achilles heel.”)

The most important question is how do you fare in these four aspects of credibility.

Ask three followers to give you feedback on whether they perceive you as honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo by Jean-Frederic Fortier. Available at Unsplash.com. Image modified for size and space.

1: Kouzes, James M. and Barry Z. Posner. Credibility: How leaders gain it and lose it, why people demand it. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1993.

2 thoughts on “Under the Hood of Trust

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.