Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
June 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Trust Builds Acceptance

When good leaders introduce new initiatives they are often met with resistance that creates conflict and discomfort for the very people who are resisting their efforts. So why is it that so many people resist leadership, when accepting it would lead to far better outcomes? Followers will always resist leaders they do not fully trust, and trust has to be earned. Leaders earn it by demonstrating they will not hurt the one whose trust they wish to earn.

A recent experience with my nine year old quarter horse, Boone, struck me as a good illustration for something every leader should pay careful attention to. I've owned Boone for four years now and he has been wary of new experiences - allowing me to approach him while he is lying down, crossing a river or the dreaded tar lines in the road, and our latest milestone, allowing me to put his rain blanket on. I was always convinced that he wanted to trust me with these things, he just had to learn that he could.

Aware of the rain blanket issue I had formed the habit of tying Boone before I went for the blanket but last Sunday morning I was in a hurry and decided to try it without the tying routine. I grabbed the blanket and slipped under the rails to approach him. He immediately startled, but then he did something he has never done, he stood still. I slowly approached him, stroked his grey neck and slipped the blanket on without incident. It occurred to me that trusting me with the blanket in hand was a little scary the first time but the payoff was he spent the afternoon warm and cozy in a cold rain.

My mind went back to the last time I tried without the halter and rope, over a year earlier. It was a dreadfully cold night with rain bordering on snow and I chased him in six inches of sticky mud with no success. I ended up cold and drenched to the skin. I left him sweating and fearful in the cold rain, without the blanket. The lesson - there is no point in chasing someone who is not ready to trust you and be helped. If I'm honest with myself, as I try to be, my stubbornness in wanting to overcome him was a big part of why I stayed out there so long. I'm sure I set our progress back with that mistake.

Horses have taught me a lot about leadership. I don't think people are so different than Boone. Followers have to learn to trust leaders; leaders have to earn their trust. Until this exchange takes place the leader can end up cold and wet; the follower sweaty and fearful. While I'd like to think Boone learned from consequences alone (it's cold without the blanket and warm with it) and this was probably part of it, something else changed – Boone reached the point where he decided to trust me.

Many followers have been burned by poor leaders who hurt them, it's no wonder they don't immediately trust the first good one who comes on the scene. I believe Boone learned to trust me for the same reason followers learn to trust a good leader. I have spent countless hours with him, grooming, feeding, just hanging out and yes, riding. Along the way he's also learned that the blanket is warm. Watching Boone these past four years learn to trust me and accept my leadership with each new experience has been very satisfying. Boone has moved from cautious to willing partner and it has made us a better team.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Think about the leaders who have broken trust with you. Who were they? What were they doing?
  2. What do you believe are the keys to earning trust?
  3. How does trust pave the way for leading change?

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
June 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor


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