Nelson Mandela - trustworthy leader

Trustworthy Leaders

To be trusted, people must be trustworthy. We judge that not by compliance with rules but by their personal presence and behaviour

Trust is in short supply, especially since the recession. We need leaders we can trust but this is not about processes or procedures. It’s about being trustworthy.

For our institutions trust is a problem – not least in the developed world. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2014, trust in business has partially recovered from the battering it received in the depths of the recession. Meanwhile the level of trust in governments continues to decline.

The CIPD recently published a report entitled ‘Cultivating Trustworthy Leaders‘. Following up a 2012 report, which indicated that the decline in trust started before the recession, this second study focuses on the role of HR in helping to recruit and develop trustworthy leaders.

The reports argues that while people still face high levels of uncertainty in their futures, now more than ever they need ‘a greater and more overt demonstration of trustworthiness from their leaders.’

Being trustworthy

Naturally, the CIPD is keen to show how HR professionals can help leaders to be more trustworthy but acknowledges that rules and policies may actually get in the way of trust. This is not surprising. Mere compliance with rules makes you a bureaucrat rather than a leader.

The report identifies four broad factors that determine whether people are seen as trustworthy: ability, predictability, benevolence and integrity.

The first two may be susceptible to objective measurement – i.e. whether people are competent and capable of doing their job and whether they deliver, doing what they say they will do. But there is no real basis for measuring benevolence – what people’s intentions are – or integrity.

CIPD suggest that leaders need to reveal their personal side to be seen as more trustworthy. Openness is clearly part of it, but it seems to me that if you are to appear trustworthy then you have to be trustworthy. People have to know what you stand for. If it is an act or insincere, they will simply see through it.

At the end of the day, we judge whether people are trustworthy by their personal presence and behaviour. Is there congruence in what they think, what they say and what they do?

Authority and gravitas

People follow those who they feel have a genuine, heartfelt intention. Leaders with presence have authority and gravitas. They are authentic, comfortable in their own skin. They draw others towards them, put them at ease and enable them to feel confident and willing to contribute. They are instinctively trusted.

Jo Ouston