How Servant Leaders Build Trust

As servant leaders, what is the relationship between taking action and building trust?

This week we are looking at key learnings from Robert Greenleaf‘s seminal work on leadership The Servant as Leader.  Yesterday we looked at the primacy of initiative: everything begins with the initiative of the individual.  Leadership is about going out ahead and showing the way. He or she says, “I will go, follow me!” when we know the path is uncertain, even dangerous, writes Robert.

Taking action is step one.  Building trust is step two.  

“The one who states the goal must elicit trust, especially if it is a high risk or visionary goal, because those who follow are asked to accept the risk along with the leader,” Robert writes.

To build trust, we must engender confidence in (1) our values, (2) our competence (including our judgement) and (3) what Robert calls “our sustaining spirit (entheos) that will support the tenacious pursuit of a goal.”

Robert’s formula for building trust mirrors that which Stephen L. Covey outlines in The Speed of Trust: character and competence.  Robert adds, however, the sustaining spirit which is so often required for success over the long-term.

The servant leader builds trust and trusts those who go with us.

These character strengths are captured in the story of Nikolaj Grundtvig.  Robert writes: “What he gave was his love for the peasants, his clear vision of what they must do for themselves, his long articulate dedication—some of it through very barren years, and his passionately communicated faith in the worth of these people and their strength to raise themselves—if only their spirit could be aroused.  It is a great story of the supremacy of the spirit.”

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Reflection:  How would I characterize the level of trust in my relationships? 

Action:  Take a specific action to build trust today.

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