Leading people: Trust in behaviour, not charisma

Winning people's trust means doing a few simple things, but it's not easy.

How do leaders gain trust and how do they lose it? According to the media, it would seem that our Prime Minister has lost the trust of the nation. Much of the analysis says it's because he lacks charisma and social skills. I don't know if that's true because I don't know him. He seems all right to me.

But even if he does lack interpersonal skills, I'm not convinced that is a genuine cause for loss of trust. In my view, that's analysis at a very superficial level.

Keeping their word

In my experience, trust is less to do with personality than it is to do with behaviour. That is, we trust people who keep their word, who do what they said they would, who take hard decisions and stick by them - people who are consistent in what they say and consistent in delivering on it, even if we don't agree with them. And I suspect this is why even die-hard Labour voters are feeling a bit wobbly. It's possible they've lost trust because Brown appears to be inconsistent and wobbly himself.

The fact is that, generally, the people we don't trust are those whom we don't believe we can rely on. We can even trust people we actually dislike if our experience shows that they are strong and committed, stick to their principles and, above all, practise what they preach.

Don't confuse popularity with trust. Don't worry too much if members of your team don't think you are God's gift to management. It's not your job to be liked. It's your job to deliver on the objectives of your charity. That's not, of course, giving you carte blanche to be Attila the Hun. You need to be caring and understanding, of course, but don't use that as an excuse to be weak.

Gaining the trust of people is simple, but not easy. I would suggest that you really need to do only a few simple things. Be clear about what you stand for. Be consistent. Stick by your decisions. Set high standards and hold yourself and others to them. And, importantly, admit when you are wrong or have made a mistake.

 - Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Changeand a trustee of MedicAlert

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