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Leadership and the people’s trust


Taiwo Odukoya

Taiwo Odukoya

Leadership’s strongest currency is trust. No matter how visionary, strategic, skilful or eloquent leaders are, they cannot achieve significant results, if they fail to earn the people’s trust. It is trust that binds leadership to the led and unlocks the doors of cooperation, required to succeed. Someone once said: “The first job of a leader is to inspire trust.” I agree.

When leaders lose the people’s trust, they invariably create a chain reaction of distrust, and the consequences are usually dire. A research by Dr. Paul J Zak, a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University, discovered that trust is one of the strongest predictors of national wealth. According to Dr. Zak, nations with low levels of trust tend to be poor. An environment, where people trust their leaders and each other, is usually a breeding ground for ideas with the cooperation needed for effective execution being readily available. And generally, disagreements and differences are better managed in such an environment.

Some of the finest moments in human history, where people demonstrated resilience, empathy, and innovation, were brought about by leaders, who inspired an environment of trust. Think of Winston Churchill and the resilience of the British through the Second World War; FDR and the cocktail of ideas that pulled America through the great depression; Mandela and the generosity of spirit that broke apartheid and forestalled anarchy. Trust is important, all the more so today.


We live in times of great distrust. To say people across the world are growing increasingly wary of leadership and where it stands between the interests of the common people and the concerns of the elites would be stating the obvious. Disappointments and the failures of leadership to keep its promises are also some of the reasons people are losing trust in leadership. This is as true for nations as it is for organisations. Recent research shows that only 49 percent of employees trust senior management, and only 28 percent believe CEOs are a credible source of information. Also, Edelman, a company that has been surveying people around the world on their trust in government institutions for the past sixteen years, found that in 2016, people viewed people like themselves to be twice as credible as a government leader. It is, therefore, important that leaders everywhere redouble their efforts and build bridges of trust connecting them to the people. To do this, we must prioritise and reassert our commitment to:

• Respecting the people: We have to respect the people we have been called upon to serve, by making their welfare a priority.

• Truth and transparency: Being upfront with the people about the challenges we’re facing and what we’re doing to tackle them, also goes a long way to building trust. There is equally the need to accept responsibility, when mistakes are made.

• Celebrating small victories: Results are important. More than anything, people want leaders to achieve results that would affect their lives positively. Even when the achievements are small, celebrate it. People are encouraged, when we make progress. Only make sure the results are real and not propaganda.

• Keeping promises: Keep promises, no matter what and communicate clearly why they are no longer tenable in the event.

It is true that Nigeria has a long history of leadership distrust, and the reasons are not farfetched. The gap between the political class and the people, between the rich and the poor, still remains a yawning one.


So, not even sixteen years of democratic rule has been able to repair the breaches of trust. The current administration, in spite of the huge amount of goodwill that attended its ascension to power, has not been able to change that mindset.

The widespread economic hardship has seen a swift dissipation of hope across the country. People are losing trust in the government’s ability to deal with the issues by the day. Something drastic has to be done to reverse the tide and restore hope and trust. A lot of this will ride on concrete steps, small but continuing and measurable victories and strategic communication to allay people’s fears, thus reigniting their sense of optimism.

While there is no illusion that the problems facing us today would be resolved by the wave of a wand, seeing it took years to get us here, and it will take a while to get us out, continuous improvement should be visible. We have to demonstrate strong ability to solve the problems we are currently facing. Without that, gaining and sustaining the people’s trust may be an illusion. God forbid.

Nigeria Has A Great Future

In this article:
Paul J ZakTaiwo Odukoya
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