ATD Blog

Trust: The Role of Leaders

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Read Part One of this blog series here.

Have you ever met a leader you can trust? If you have, what did he or she look like? What did he do, how did he speak, and how did he behave? What motivated him—doing the right thing or doing things right? Did you spend time trying to understand what he had achieved or spend time realising how he had achieved it?

We have all met different leaders, be they your local priest, your boss, your kid’s sports team coach, or even a local politician. Think about them, and ask yourself why you remember them in particular. Is the memory a good one or a bad one? Why?

Take a few moments to ask yourself why you trusted these leaders. Were they really open and authentic? If they were less than truthful with you, did you know about it, and did they care? Were these leaders good? Or did you just respect them because of their positions?

Often we come across people we believe we can trust, but they are not good leaders. Alternately, we may interact with great leaders, but they are not always the best examples of trust or do not always display the moral standing we would expect of a leader. So maybe we should be asking ourselves if the terms “leadership,” “good,” and “trust” even belong together in one sentence.


Brian Tracy, author of How the Best Leaders Lead, argued that “the glue that holds all relationships together—including the relationship between the leader and the led—is trust, and trust is based on integrity.” We all prefer to work or vote for leaders whom we can trust, rather than those we cannot. Therefore, we could argue that leaders should be the standard bearer and dealers of trust.

But what does standard bearer and dealer actually mean? Does it mean we want our leaders to be more trustworthy than we? If this were true, it would theoretically imply that the rest of us do not need to follow the same moral code. And if so, would this not leave us susceptible to the risk of a leadership shortage because we cannot find anyone moral enough to fill these positions?


Or can we accept that it is OK for leaders to live by the same standards as the remainder of society? If the answer is yes, and considering the “public” role a leader inhabits, should we not be more diligent in sorting the wheat from the chaff and ensuring that rogue leaders cannot operate above the law, thereby holding them more accountable for wrongdoings? Surely, a leader cannot be “let off the moral hook?”

With all of this in mind, the biggest challenge a leader must face is not only to generate shareholder value, superior profits, competitive advantage, and so on, but to become a dealer in trust.

Stay tuned next week for Part Three: Dealing In Trust—The Toughest Leadership Challenge?

About the Author

David Watkins, British born and Swiss married, has more than 20 years of business and leadership experience collected across the world in global blue chip organisations. He has worked in a variety of segments and countries, including the customer service and loyalty-focused travel industry, brand-driven automotive industry, and, more recently, the boom and bust construction industry. These huge variations have provided him with a unique insight on some of the very real leadership and business challenges around the world today. David holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the United Kingdom, an MBA from Switzerland and the United States, has received awards for his writing on customer loyalty, and is certified in various leadership assessment models. He recently published his first leadership book, “Where’s my dog? The search for Honest Leadership,” available on Amazon. You can contact David at [email protected]

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