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Is Cultivating Trust a Leadership Imperative?

By Kasey Gildersleeve ’05

Perhaps one of the most controversial motion pictures in the past decade was [last] summer’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

In the film, director Michael Moore portrays the Bush administration as being deceptive and conniving from the 2000 presidential election to the war in Iraq. He depicts President George W. Bush as having ulterior motives and presents evidence that suggests the president and vice president are involved in business relationships that would allow them to benefit from engaging in war.

Though the legitimacy of the information presented in the film has been challenged by conservative pundits and the media, the film aroused discussion among the public about the government’s wartime actions.

In addition, many citizens began to question the “real” reasons for unseating Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, and if Bush could be trusted to lead the United States and not bow to private interests. Consequently, many people—stateside and abroad—became critical of Bush’s ability to be an effective leader and skeptical of his administration’s agenda. In light of these developments, one may ask if trust of the “followers” is a prerequisite for a leader to be effective.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has been quoted as saying that “trust is the essence of leadership.” His statement implies that the effectiveness of the leader is dependent upon the amount of trust that is vested in him.

Leadership is participative, not directive. It is just as important for a leader to be able to delegate and manage as it is for him or her to be able to interact and empathize. If the leader is deficient in those areas, the ability of the leader to perform his duties will be severely compromised. It takes trust on behalf of the followers to allow the leader to be responsible for the decision-making process.
It takes trust on behalf of the followers to be comfortable enough around the leader to foster a work environment that perpetuates the goals and objectives of the group. Thus, trust is the very crux of leadership; for, once this center of trust is established, the group has a solid center around which to form.

Trust, however, is not an easy goal to attain. It takes a concerted effort from both the followers and the leader. It is the responsibility of the leader to provide sound soil for the seeds of trust to be sown. Once these seeds are planted, the leader cultivates and promotes growth of the “trust tree” by watering the seeds with loyalty, exposing the seeds to rays of discipline, and nurturing the seeds with integrity and confidence. Once the leader has fostered an environment conducive to him being an effective leader, he is now able to root the group in a common goal and agenda.

It has been said that “a good leader inspires others with confidence in him; a great leader inspires others with confidence in themselves” (unknown). This confidence is entirely dependent upon the leaders proving themselves as trustworthy, which allows the followers to begin to vest confidence in him or her.

Once the followers have confidence and trust in the leader, confidence and trust in the vision of the leader and in each other will soon follow. Therefore, it is imperative for the leader to develop a sense of trust to ensure the continued success of the group. Without the roots of trust to hold the group together in times of wind, rain and storm, everyone in the group will surely falter.

Kasey Gildersleeve, a senior biology major, won first place in the 2005 Founder’s Day Essay Contest. After graduation, he plans to enter medical school and specialize in forensic pathology.

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