The Currency of Trust

Years ago, I learned that trust is the foundation of leadership. You can build nothing lasting, nothing that will stand the test of time, without trust. Trust makes leadership possible.

I also learned that integrity and character makes trust possible and without it  there is no foundation to build on.

Whenever you lead people, it’s as if they agree to take a journey with you. The result of  that trip is predicted by your character. With good character, no matter how long the trip is, the better it seems. But if your character is flawed, the longer the trip is, the worse it gets. Why? Because no one enjoys spending time with someone he or she doesn’t trust.

People will usually forgive occasional mistakes based on ability, especially if they can see that you’re still growing as a leader and  they will give you some time to connect. But they won’t trust someone who has consistent slips in character. In that regard, even occasional lapses are deadly. All effective leaders know this truth.

I've learned that people will tolerate honest mistakes, but if you violate their trust, you will find it very difficult to ever regain their confidence. That is one reason that you need to treat trust as your most precious asset.

Trust is like change in a leader’s pocket. Each time you make good leadership decisions, you earn more change which are deposits in your leadership account.  Each time you make poor decisions, you pay out some of your change to the people which are withdrawals out of your leadership account.  All leaders have a certain amount of change in their pocket when they start in a new Leadership position.

Whatever you do either builds up your change account or depletes it. If leaders make one bad decision after another, you keep paying out change. Then one day, after making one last bad decision, you suddenly—and irreparably—run out of change. It doesn’t even matter if the last blunder was big or small. At that point it’s too late. When you’re out of change, you’re out as the leader.  Your account is empty.

The only thing that walks back from the tomb with the mourners and refuses to be buried is the character of a man. This is true. What a man is survives him. It can never be buried. —J. R. MILLER

Here is my simple equation for trust…

Integrity + Time = Trust

A person’s character quickly communicates many things to others. Here are a few of the most important ones:

1. Character communicates consistency and predictability

Leaders without inner strength can’t be counted on day after day because their ability to perform changes constantly. NBA great Jerry West commented, “You can’t get too much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good.” If your people don’t know what to expect from you as a leader, at some point they won’t look to you for leadership. Moody, emotionally unpredictable leaders won’t make it.

Character makes trust possible. And trust makes leadership possible.

When I think of leaders who epitomize consistency of character, the first person who comes to mind is Billy Graham. Regardless of personal religious beliefs, everybody trusts him. Why? Because he has modeled high character for more than half a century. He lives out his values every day.

He never makes a commitment unless he is going to keep it. And he goes out of his way to personify integrity.

2. Character communicates potential

“No man can climb out beyond the limitation of his own character." - John Morley

Weak character is limiting. Who do you think has the greater potential to achieve great dreams and have a positive impact on others: someone who is honest, disciplined, and hardworking, or someone who is deceitful, impulsive, and lazy? It sounds obvious when it’s phrased that way, doesn’t it?

Talent alone is never enough. It must be supported by solid character if a person desires to go far. Think of all the extremely talented people you know, yet they seem unable to get along with their fellow teammates, If they keep going on the same track, they will never fulfill their potential and they will end up very lonely in life.

Poor character is like a time bomb ticking away. It’s only a matter of time before it blows up a person’s ability to perform and the capacity to lead. Why? Because people with weak character are not trustworthy, and trust is the foundation of leadership.

You cannot build trust by talking about it. You build it by achieving results, always with integrity and in a manner that shows real personal regard for the people you are working with.  

When a leader’s character is strong, people trust him, and they trust in his ability to develop them and release their potential. That not only gives his followers hope for the future, but it also promotes a strong belief in themselves and their organization.

3. Character communicates respect

When you don’t have character within, you can’t earn respect without. And respect is absolutely essential for lasting leadership. How do leaders earn respect?

By making sound decisions, by admitting their mistakes, by learning to say I’m sorry and by putting what’s best for their followers and the organization ahead of their own personal agendas.

I want to encourage you to make sure your character continues to grow and continues to remain consistent. In doing so, you lay the foundation to earn the vital currency of trust. Then when it's time to lead and you have to make the tough decisions, you then can tap into the necessary amount of trust to get God’s mandates done. Spend your trust wisely.  Its one of the greatest resources you have.