Can trust be demanded unconditionally?

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I recently had a conversation with someone about issues of ‘trust’ between leaders and the teams they lead and manage, and the dialogue led me to reflect on the following question:  Can trust be demanded unconditionally?

Hoy and Miskel (2005) said that “leaders who want to gain the confidence of their followers must make themselves vulnerable to them by being open, reliable, kind and honest” (cited in Hoy & Smith, 2007, p.162), and leaders “must open themselves up to receive, to become bound with others by reciprocity” (Smythe and Norton, 2007, p.74).  But making yourself vulnerable and exposing your authentic self, requires that you and others in your team feel emotionally safe.  And in order for emotional safety to occur, trustworthy conditions are required.

Trust plays a crucial role in leadership, and followers must trust their leaders, otherwise they will not follow, but what of leaders trusting their followers?  Well, now we are talking about ‘reciprocity’ and ‘reciprocal relationships’. The relationship between leader and follower is not a one-way process, and just as a follower seeks a trustworthy leader, so does a leader seek trustworthy followers.  It works both ways.

Furthermore, trust cannot be unconditional.  Trust cannot be demanded.  Trust can only be earned. And, it is earned over an extended period of time – not overnight.  It requires whatever time it takes to create the conditions in which ‘trust’ can flourish.

So, how do we create the conditions in which trust can flourish?  By demonstrating our trustworthiness and earning each others’ trust. And how do we earn each others’ trust?  By demonstrating consistency.  Consistency in behaviours, attitudes, and responses is required in order for trust in one other to deepen.  This is an essential ingredient in relationship building.  Then, as trust deepens, so does influence.  The more a person is able to consistently demonstrate qualities of trustworthiness, the greater the likelihood of their ability to influence others.

When a leader or a follower says “Trust Me”; they are more likely to gain support if they have proven time and time again, that they are consistent; accountable; reliable and dependable; thorough and accurate; flexible and adaptable; and intentional in their words and deeds.  Only then, and over time, and under the required conditions – will they earn the trust of others in their circle of influence.  And not a minute earlier.

Gaynor Clarke

Reach. Teach. Lead.

Reach Education Ltd

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 Hoy, W.K., & Smith, P.A. (2007).  Influence : a key to successful leadership. International

            Journal of Educational Management.  21(2), 158-167.

Smythe, E., & Norton, A. (2007). Thinking as leadership/Leadership as thinking.

Leadership, 3 (1), 65-90.