Throughout history, there have been larger than life figures such as George Washington, who led his young fractured nation’s army into a battle for independence. Corporate titans such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Steve Jobs have led the employees and shareholders of their organizations to financial success, while others like you and I have used our influence to lead family and friends to make improvements in their lives. I would like to point out that the key ingredient in all of these leadership interactions is that of the leader-follower relationship. Without this ingredient there would be no independence, no organizational successes, and no improvements in the lives of our friends and family (per these cases). But, what compels us to follow a given individual? What is it about certain individuals that makes us willing to follow them?
One of my dissertation committee members wrote a paper exploring the relationship between trust and leadership and the role that it plays in the leader-follower relationship. His research revealed that there is a correlation between the level of trust followers have in an individual’s ability to effectively serve their agenda and their willingness to follow his/her vision. Trust is a concept that has significant meaning for most of us, as many of us have deep seeded issues with the concept stemming from childhood and young adulthood.
A family member letting us down, time and time again, kids teasing us in our youth, or that first love that broke our heart can begin our subconscious process of erecting invisible walls around us for protection. These walls make it very difficult for many of us to trust others as we try to function in adulthood. This is why many of us tend to be skeptical or wary of the intentions of others. Nevertheless, history has taught us that trust is an essential ingredient when it comes to leadership. Therefore, work needs to be done by both follower and leader. The follower must work to overcome his/her barriers to trust, while the leader must consistently demonstrate the traits associated with trust to his/her followers. But, what is trust as it relates to leadership?
Trust in the context of leadership means that the follower believes that the leader has a shared commitment and the ability to effectively lead him/her towards a vision that he/she may not be able to pursue without the leader’s assistance and guidance. Trust is at the core of the leader-follower relationship. Without trust, little progress pertaining to a given vision can take place. Therefore, an individual who wants to lead must establish and maintain trust with his/her followers.
Here are some of the traits that an individual must have or develop if he/she is looking to establish and maintain trust in those that he/she may lead:
- A shared commitment to a given movement or cause with followers.
- A vision for the movement or cause.
- A commitment to his/her followers’ success.
- A satisfactory level of competence to plan and accomplish the tasks needed to achieve the movement as assessed and determined by the followers.
- The use of fairness when dealing with followers.
- The willingness and ability to meet the needs of followers, even if it may mean that at times he/she may sacrifice his/her own desires.
- The willingness and ability to listen to the views and ideas of followers.
These traits are essential to establishing and maintaining the leader-follower relationship. Do you possess these traits? If not, and your goal is to be a leader then you have work to do.
Mario Barrett has over twenty years of experience with organizations such as the United States Air Force and Verizon Communications. Currently, Mario is CEO of The Barrett Center for Leadership Development, a global leadership and organizational development firm. Mario is an author, frequent speaker, and blogger on leadership and organizational change issues. Mario has a PhD in Applied Management and Decision Sciences from Walden University, an MS in Organizational Leadership from Mercy College, BS in Organizational Management from Nyack College and is currently a full-time faculty member at the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer Universty.