August 1, 2017

If You Want to be Trustworthy You Must be Humble

A key quality of exceptional leaders is humility. What I have found over decades of consulting experience is that humility in a leader is strongly related to employee trust in the leader. Trust in leadership is itself a critical variable in enabling the success of an enterprise.

While the Care and Growth leadership model provides a framework to understand how and why trust in the leadership of an organization develops over time, it is useful to explore the explicit relationship between the perceived trustworthiness of a leader and the leader’s humility.

To be Trustworthy, you must be Trusting

In the course of some fieldwork I was conducting on a goldmine, I asked an employee why he did not trust management. His answer was straight forward:

“I can’t trust a man who does not trust me.”

At the time the comment struck me as being insightful in a folksy way, but it took some time for the profundity of what the man said to sink in. If I don’t trust someone I clearly feel that they are dangerous to me. My attitude to them will, therefore, be combative, I will seek to control them or disable them in some way to protect myself. If I don’t trust them I will therefore probably behave in ways that will make them not trust me. This suggests that the there is a direct relationship between the trustworthiness of the leader and the degree to which the leader trusts.

To be Trusting, you must be Grateful

So, if the ability of the leader to trust is a key variable in cultivating his trustworthiness, then it is important to understand the what is involved in trusting. Trust looks forward in time. You trust what someone may do. You trust that something will happen. When you trust, you feel assured that things will be fine.

In this sense, trust is the opposite of control. When you control you are trying to guarantee an outcome. You, therefore, assume that the outcome cannot be entrusted to the other, and so you are driven to control the other.

This ability to look forward in trust,  without the felt need to control, is based on gratitude for the past. If I look at the past and recognize that things have consistently gone well for me, then it is easy for me to trust. In short, the degree to which I am grateful for what has happened to me in the past is the degree to which I am able to trust the future. The degree to which I look backward in gratitude is the degree to which I am able to look forward in trust.

To be Grateful, you must be Humble

Gratitude is the experience we have when we have been given a gift. If you believe that you are solely responsible for everything you have, then the assistance and help of others is of no account. If a person expresses gratitude under these conditions it is with very little sincerity.

For gratitude to be genuine it must be based on a genuine appreciation of the contribution of others. This indicates a measure of vulnerability in the leader, which is what it means to be humble. To recognize that you are not solely responsible for everything you have but rather own a debt of gratitude to the good auspices of others.

So, the gratitude of the leader is manifest in a humble demeanor. It is precisely this gratitude which enables the leader to trust. The degree to which the leader trusts is the degree to which he/she is trustworthy. There is a strong connection between the humility and trustworthiness of the leader.