6: The Law of Solid Ground
A leader must rely on the trust of his followers in order to maintain their followership. Making decisions that achieve positive results will win approval, but making decisions that people understand, regardless of the outcome, will win their loyalty, and their forgiveness even if the outcome is not positive.
The author speaks of trust as a kind of credit: just by being named to a leadership position, people give you a modicum of trust. When you make good decisions, you earn more credit; when you make bad ones, you spend it. And when your account is overdrawn, you will have bankrupted your stock of trust, and can no longer lead.
People will abide a negative outcome if they understand the reason a course of action was taken, and they will even forgive someone who makes an honest mistake. But over time, it will erode their confidence in a leader's ability to succeed.
The Importance of Character
A metaphor for leadership is that in involves getting people to consent to take a journey with you. Their willingness to follow is based on their belief that the place you are taking them will be better than the place that they are, and better by a degree that makes the journey worth the effort. In terms of leadership, people look to the character of a leader as an method of predicting these things - and more importantly, to sooth their uncertainty.
Character communicates many things to followers, among them:
- Consistency. Because a leader has integrity, people will have faith that he will follow through. His actions and decisions will make sense, and will not be random.
- Potential. Because a leader has determination, people will have faith that he will follow through. He will not give up on a goal or be reluctant to do what must be done.
- Respect. Because a leader gives respect, people will have faith that he will consider the welfare of his followers. This is about respecting others, not demanding respect of them.
- Trust. Because a leader trusts in his followers, they in turn trust in him. Some of the greatest leaders are not men who told others what to do, but gave them direction and support, trusting them to succeed.
(EN: This still seems rather vague to me. The notion of character is difficult to pin down, and the author doesn't quite do it justice here.)
Trust Before Support
The author provides a bit of wending example about the Vietnam War, which is a common example of the way in which failing to earn the trust of the people leads to failing to gain their support, leads to failing at the objective.
As such, it is a mistake to count on earning trust by achieving a positive outcome: you need to have trust in order to achieve it in the first place.