The famous psychoanalyst Erik Erikson suggested in his developmental model that basic trust is developed in the earlystages of life. Success at this development stage results in security & optimism in later life, whilst failure results in insecurity and mistrust. [1]

Trust is the fabric of successful relationships and is the cornerstone of values such as integrity, loyalty and honesty. So, not surprisingly, trust is the foundation of leadership. Research shows that only 49% of employees trust senior management or their bosses. In “The leadership Challenge” by Kouzes & Posner, the number one characteristic that employees ranked in their world wide research as the most desired or admired in a leader was honesty. [2] More than 80% of respondents ranked honesty as the most admired characteristic in a leader. As humans, we will follow someone that inspires us, someone with integrity, someone with strong character, someone we feel like we can trust. Think of great leaders of our time, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill or Barack Obama.

We also want our leaders to be honest because their honesty is also a reflection of our own honesty. This is because most people hold honesty as an important value. Therefore, if we follow someone that we discover is dishonest, we realize we have compromised our own integrity and we lose respect for him or her and ourselves.

Why would people be dishonest?

There are multiple reasons; If we link back to the opening paragraph of this post, some people may be be driven to deceive or be dishonest due to personal insecurities or a fragile value system. The unconscious belief ‘I’m not good enough’ can motivate an individual to deceive or be dishonest because of a need to project a façade of confidence. In addition, people can be dishonest for more conscious reasons of self-interest. Self-Interest is a fundamental of economics; the need to maximise personal gains. As Thomas Hobbes wrote in the Leviathan, self-interest is the cardinal human motive.

Who do I trust now?

Alas, Thomas Hobbes does have his critics. Not all views of human motivations are as negative or impoverished. As economies grow and change, companies have to adapt to the demands of the market place. To attract and retain high performing individuals companies must have a strong value proposition, they must be value driven and they must have leaders who steward those values. Leaders we cannot trust don’t last long. The best leaders build trust in others, have strength of character and always act with integrity.