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Leadership Development

The #1 Leadership Competency That You Should Cultivate


It's most important for leaders to foster trust

Leaders must engender trust. It’s one of the most important competencies – without establishing trust in their vision and actions, leaders cannot effectively engage others in achieving that vision.

So how do leaders establish trust?

The Leadership Challenge authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have found over decades of research that in order for people to follow a leader willingly, they must believe that leader is honest. This #1 characteristic of outstanding leaders is consistent across many countries around the world too, from Australia to Brazil to Japan to Mexico (The Leadership Challenge, 6th ed., p. 31).

Kouzes and Posner’s research discusses how being honest establishes trust among those you lead because of the relationship it has with values and ethics:

“Honesty is strongly tied to values and ethics. Constituents appreciate leaders who take a stand on important principles… People simply don’t trust leaders who can’t or won’t disclose or live by a clear set of values, ethics, and standards” (The Leadership Challenge, 6th ed., p. 34).

Being honest is not just “telling the truth” – it’s about giving those who follow you a clear look at where your values lie (and, as they follow you, how their values align with yours).


Trust is important to leaders worldwide

Leaders around the world agree, according to the Harvard Business Review article, The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World. Organizational scientist Sunnie Giles surveyed 195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations and reported that the most important leadership competency worldwide is: High ethical and moral standards.

In other words, it’s critical for leaders to be fair, ethical, and honest, as well as create feelings of safety and help employees align organizational values with personal values.

"A leader with high ethical standards conveys a commitment to fairness, instilling confidence that both they and their employees will honor the rules of the game," Giles writes. "Similarly, when leaders clearly communicate their expectations, they avoid blindsiding people and ensure that everyone is on the same page. In a safe environment, employees can relax, invoking the brain’s higher capacity for social engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition."

Here are her findings: 


Now that you understand the vital importance of trust, how do you establish it? We suggest digging deeper into the teachings of The Leadership Challenge (starting with Enable Others to Act) or attending one of our in-person sessions.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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Rachel Semple

Rachel Semple works across the FlashPoint client journey, from crafting initial proposals to developing and reviewing program deliverables.