Trust is one of the most essential attributes that defines us as human beings. The dictionary defines trust as a firm belief and confidence in the reliability, truth, ability and strength of someone or something. Trust is indispensable for a relationship to succeed. Trust is the foundational component that informs all our endeavors with others in life and needs to be nurtured and preserved at all times.

In a marriage relationship you need to have trust and confidence in your partner to honor the marriage vow even in your absence and not engage in any act that will compromise the integrity of the union. Concerning finance, you need to have trust in your financial advisor to deploy your money in a manner that yields the expected returns and not help him/ herself at your expense. As business partners, there should be absolute trust that all your efforts will be directed to co-create a thriving enterprise without one of the partners secretly running a side show at the expense of the business. Being in a position of leadership demands a higher level of trust because you carry the hopes, aspirations and dreams of those you are leading.  

To say that we have a huge trust deficit in our society, is an understatement. We have a crisis of trust in government, the education system, health care delivery, the financial system, marriage and family life…. (not forgetting Eskom). There is deep distrust towards the corporate world, between labor and employers to name but a few.

Leaders should never lose sight of the higher purpose that informs the existence of the institutions they are leading. This should never be exchanged for short-term initiatives informed by self-interest. I read quite an insightful article recently by Hal Seed on the Three Unspoken Promises people expect their leaders to keep. Within this unwritten and unspoken exchange, is a covenant, agreement, contract, undertaking or pledge that all leaders make to their followers when they sign up for the cause. This unspoken covenant contains three promises:

  1. If you follow me, I will make your life better.
  2. If you follow me, I will care about you.
  3. If you follow me, I will take you where you cannot go on your own.

Our country comes from a very unfortunate past with some of the socio-economic challenges we’ve been bequeathed, still stubbornly abiding with us.  We were blessed as a country, by the innate virtues of the founding fathers of our new democratic dispensation, resulting in a constitutional order premised on equality and service above self. They will forever be etched in our minds as an embodiment of serving a higher purpose. Regrettably, nowadays in our leadership ranks, there are just too many instances of trust that has been betrayed, expedient abandonment of our founding values, exploitation and manipulation by very powerful people in society at large. In my observation, the major causative factor that systematically exacerbated the trust deficit in society is – a loss of perspective on the higher purpose.


I am sure you will agree with me that we have the potential to become a great country and hold our own amongst the community of nations. In many instances, we have already demonstrated our capability in this regard. We all have a responsibility to take collective stewardship at all levels of society to decisively narrow the trust deficit. Without trust, our country will not reach its optimal potential and no quality of life together as a society. I would like to put on the table for your consideration the following to rebuild trust:

1. It all starts at the top

There is a famous Chinese proverb that says the fish rots from the head. Likewise, if we want to reverse the downward trend and establish trust on a consistent level, it will have to start with all of us who are occupying leadership positions in our various spheres of influence. Our followers must be able to trust us as we walk the talk. Leadership is not only taught, but also caught.

2. Trusteeship

Leaders need to be mindful of the implications their actions and decisions might have on generations to come. We do not own our positions of authority; we are merely trustees and have to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries. Always treat your leadership role as rented space, you do not have any title deed on it.

3. Authentic communication

Our words, actions and attitudes must be truthful. If we deny or even withhold truth, we are living in deception. Authentic communication is as vital for effective leadership as your heart is to your body. An adult heart pumps on average 6000 – 7500 liters of blood daily through the body. This brings about two major effects. The arterial system carries not only oxygen-rich blood but all the vital nutriments to sustain the body. Whereas the venous system removes all the carbon dioxide and any other harmful waste products from the cells into the various organs to get rid of it. Likewise, in authentic communication we don’t just bring encouragement, motivation, understanding and ignite passion in people’s lives. Communication at times also carries an element of rebuke, correction, discipline and accountability to remove those things that can be harmful to our future well-being. Imagine if your heart stops to pump, it can be fatal. Likewise, if we stop to communicate effectively, trust goes out of the window and our leadership becomes defunct.

4. Risk taking

Trust is a willingness to sometimes be vulnerable in a team context in order to move closer to others with genuine and sincere intentions. Leadership is such a powerful yet vulnerable space. The one moment you can inspire people to accomplish the impossible in pursuit of the common good. The next moment there is the potential to do irreversible harm to people if there is an error of judgement on your side. At the heart of credible leadership, is the issue of trust.

5. Grace.

Developing trust is a process, takes time and sometimes warrants an approach of give and take. There will even be times when you yourself might fall into error as you engage with others; don’t give up on yourself. The question is – how serious are you to make it happen? Always be gracious in your approach and be open to the views of others in your team.

6. Celebration

Celebrate your team’s successes and do not neglect any opportunity to affirm those that made it happen. By not affirming those in your team that made it happen and always taking credit for the efforts of others, erodes the relationship of trust.

Trust is fragile; handle it with care!  Like a cracked vase, we might put all the pieces together with Super Glue but it will never be the same again. I am sure just like me, you also have your own catalogue of a myriad of instances where trust has been betrayed. Do not let these incidences cloud your objectivity to relate to others in a trustworthy manner. There are definite rewards for being trustworthy. ‘’ Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much….” (Luke 16:10). Destiny is determined by being consistently faithful and trustworthy in the small things in life. Never underestimate your contribution in ensuring that trust levels are enhanced in your sphere of influence.

Let’s go for it!

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