Instead of trying to build trust between them and their citizens, today’s leaders should be looking at how to rebuild it. That is a more difficult predicament, especially for those who are new to the scene yet do not exactly have a clean slate, as they have to prove that they are different than their predecessors. The People (and here I capitalize “people” because they are an important part of all of this) have lived through years of built up dissatisfaction with the status quo, whether economically, politically, socially or environmentally; in their eyes, any leader today is probably no different than those they have seen… why should he be?
I believe that for a leader to start rebuilding trust, the key is to begin by admitting his mistakes, whether it is his own or those or his predecessors, for in the public’s eye, he is still “one of them”. Open, honest and transparent communication is vital, and admitting mistakes is courageous. The leader can speak about what was done wrong in the past, what motivated those decisions, how they were believed to be what is best at that time, and importantly, show how things will be done differently in the future, what difference it will make and why. Although some may argue that by doing so, the leader will appear weak, I strongly believe that the world today needs a refreshing change of honesty, humbleness, transparency and genuineness. It will help break down a barrier felt by most People between them and their leaders. The People are human beings, they know when things are said and done for an ulterior motive.
The leader should also be fair, treating his People with no prejudice, favoritism or enjoyment of personal benefits. The leader should remain objective, neutral to a degree, and though he is understanding of, helpful and attentive to his People, he should remain firm and fair.
Here we come to another important point, which is the degree of true genuineness of the leader, in terms of placing the People and the country at the forefront of all matters. The focus is not the person of the leader, but it is of the greater cause, which is served by keeping the greater good at the forefront, thus, the People. If the leader is not genuinely and passionately in love with his People and his country and if he is not willing to put them above himself, then the leader will not be able to rebuild any kind of trust, let alone lead any change, therefore nothing else matters.
Trust can only be earned, and those who seek it should be willing to “step down” per say, shed their ego, and embrace humbleness, giving, honesty, and transparency, never forgetting that it takes a long time to build trust, but it can be broken in just seconds. It has become a rare commodity in today’s world, almost driven to extinction by history, experience, deception, egotism, vagueness, greed, and the blatant disregard of both the common and greater good.
Once the leader has come clean, he needs to build credibility by consistently delivering on one’s promises. The leader is not a miracle worker, but with actions that improve the status quo on a long-term basis, he gains the People’s patience, support and trust. Since patience is scarce, and changes at a country and population level takes a long time, focusing on quick wins is a good place to start.
How can leaders begin to rebuild trust between them and their People? By admitting past mistakes, being human, transparent, genuine, fair and passionately in love with his People and country. How can they maintain this trust? By consistently fulfilling promises, keeping one’s word, and continually maintaining all of the above. However, it is a two-way street, and the People do have to uphold their responsibilities as well for the whole formula to work.