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3.1 What Is Trustworthy Leadership?

Trustworthiness can be thought of as the quality of someone being competent and benevolent so that others can safely be in partnership with that person. As Brian Tracy suggests earlier, trustworthiness is important to all human relationships, but it is essential for leadership effectiveness and the ability to prepare for and drive organizational change.

All change requires a partnership between leaders and followers. In any partnership situation, the leader must first demonstrate competence. After all, why should anyone follow the leader if the leader first does not demonstrate skill or competence in envisioning the future, making that vision a reality, or both? Certainly, followers are compliant every day with those in authority, but compliance is largely effective only in stable and unchanging situations. In unstable and changing situations, a trusting disposition among a critical mass of the employees is essential. If the followers’ disposition is largely compliant, change will be temporary or nonexistent. Indeed, it is foolish for anyone to follow a leader who is not deemed competent to lead. In other words, it is appropriate for followers to resist change when the leader has not demonstrated competence in leading.Kelley (1992).

But competence must be coupled with benevolence for one to have sufficient trust in a leader to agree to be led. Competence is a reflection of skill and followers want and need their leaders to be skillful, but what if the leader skillfully takes advantage of his or her followers? This implies that to be skillful or competent as a leader is necessary, but not sufficient grounds for leading change.

The popular press focuses on charisma as the mark of leadership, but history is replete with charismatic leaders who attracted lots of followers and then led them in self-centered and manipulative ways. Thus, the leader must benevolently care for his or her followers’ well-being, and they must be convinced that they are being cared for.

A metaphor that I like to use with executives when discussing the importance of benevolence is that of a knife. Knives are tools that can be handled with great skill, such as preparing food for a meal or defending from an attack. However, if the followers turn the knife over to the leader, they first want to be sure that the leader will not use the knife on them. The knife is a metaphor for power, and leadership involves the proper use of power. All knife-wielding leaders need to show that they know how to use a knife, and that they will not use that knife against their followers.

Some argue that those in authority positions within an organizational pyramid are the leaders of the organization, and that all that is needed to lead is for the followers to respect the authority of the position. This conception worked in the past, but works less and less in today’s organizations, as I will discuss later in this chapter. Indeed, many observers now argue that we are seeing the decline of authority and rise of trust as an organizing principle.Hardy (2007). Clearly, to be effective today, strategic leaders need to combine trust with authority. Authority is helpful, but it is not enough to lead others effectively.