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FRANK OFILI

TRUST AND LEADERSHIP

Duane Tway Jr it was who said that trust is the “state of readiness for unguarded interaction with someone or something.”  It is assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. Trust emanates from the interaction and existence of three components viz:

The capacity for trusting – that is the total life experiences that have contributed to the development of your current capacity and willingness to risk trusting others,

The perception of competence – this is your opinion of your ability and the ability, sincerity, truthfulness or honesty of others with whom you enter into relationship to perform competently at whatever is needed in your current situation; and

The perception that the actions, words, mission or decisions of the parties in a relationship are motivated by mutually-beneficial rather than selfish motives.

Trust is difficult to maintain but easy to destroy. Trust is the basis for much of what we do every day whether in the workplace, church, group, community, family or wherever. Trust is the necessary precursor for feeling able to rely upon a person, cooperating with other people, taking thoughtful risks, and believing in what we read or hear.

Several times in my career, I have found myself in situations where I was a victim and also a culprit of trust. I have been a victim because I find that I have, like most Nigerians, often times suffered the consequences of believing someone when that person in whom I reposed my trust turns round to betray it; and culpable because I committed the offense of trusting. One particular incident would remain ever fresh in my mind, though today – all thanks to God – I have completely overcome that challenge.

A couple of years back, after I had just lost my small-scale distribution business for a first bottled water and beverage company in Nigeria, I trusted a colleague whom I thought was truly a friend. I paid dearly for it.

The long and short of the story is that I hired out to my friend the mini bus with which I used to distribute products for my principal.  The unwritten (gentleman agreement if you like) between my friend and I was that he would pay me a certain amount weekly for the use of the bus. My friend and I were small-scale distributors for the same principal, albeit independently.

Two months passed by and my friend paid not a dime to me in fulfillment of our agreement. Meanwhile, he was still using the van for his business. Midway into the third month, he had a problem with Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, over parking at a non-designated area. The van was impounded. Surprisingly, instead of my friend to go about getting it released, he simply hired another van and forgot mine with LASTMA officials.

Meanwhile, with no means of livelihood, I could not afford to pay the exorbitant fine imposed by LASTMA before the supply van could be released. The vehicle spent a good four months in LASTMA custody without my friend making any effort to get it released.  It was only when some mutual friends started giving him cold shoulders for what they considered as an act of wickedness done on a friend in distress that he reluctantly went about securing its release, but even then he paid not a dime to me for the two and half months he used the vehicle.

When the van was eventually released, it was in no shape to be useful for any purpose and would require extra cash to bring it back to serviceable condition. I couldn’t afford it. That was how I lost the van altogether. So much for the friendship! It didn’t take long however before God intervened in my condition and I decided not to bother my head with the van since betters days had arrived.

In spite of this experience, and one or two others more, or perhaps because of them, something still makes me unable not to trust someone. So what is that force that often pushes me in the direction of trust both in my personal and professional life? What is this attraction I have towards trust? What is responsible for this push-and-pull towards trust? Why do I in fact still trust? Why does anyone trust anyone at all in today’s world? The reason may not be far-fetched, for regardless of its inherent risks, there may actually be no alternative to trusting. Now consider the following:

  1. Even though not trusting someone has the advantage of reducing the chances of being deceived, the risks of not trusting may, in fact, be greater. For example, if you do not trust anyone then they may well not trust you. There is no gain-saying the fact that people often end up acting in the way you treat them. Consistently treating a person as being untrustworthy may lead to them acting in this way. When you do not do something, the opportunity cost is the cost regarding what is lost. In not trusting, the opportunity cost is that you will not get the things you might have gained if you had trusted others. Not trusting others is an isolating action. If you do not get close to others, you will not have friends to call on when you are in trouble.
  2. Lack of trust also increases the cost of stress regarding the personal worry and anxiety about what the other people may do.
  3. Trusting increases bonding. People who are bonded care more about one another and naturally trust one another. Bonding makes you feel beautiful and that you can trust and rely on other people. It is also nice to be trusted and that others accept you as you are and do not suspect, question or challenge everything you say.
  4. Trust makes it easier to influence someone. Trust is the gateway to persuasion. If you do not have the trust of the other person, then he will not really listen to you or consider your persuasive arguments
  5. Trust makes detection of lies easier. You might think that people who are highly trusting would be destitute at detecting lies. Strangely, this is far from true. In fact, those who trust a lot are often exquisite at detecting lies. This may be because people who believe expose themselves to exploitation, and so, somehow, develop inner ‘radar’ for detecting lies. Those who trust a lot also tend to be more open and empathetic and so more easily able to understand what others are feeling, including liars.
  6. Generally, society as a whole is better off where a culture of trust has been entrenched. In a healthy society, there is plenty of trusts and people feel safe and comfortable, even in the company of strangers.

 

If it is so much more beneficial to trust than not to trust, how then do we go about building trust so that others would feel comfortable trusting us? In our clime where there is so much distrust, disillusionment, suspicion and skepticism among the people, the leaders, and the led, the various tribes/ethnic nationalities, and among the major religions, how do we begin to build a culture of trust for the benefit of our society? The first step, in my view, should start with us as individuals. This we can do by

  1. Encouraging open and candid communication with the next person regardless of his/her tribe, social status, religious orientation or otherwise
  2. Being honest at all times by telling the truth as best we can. As a leader or an aspiring one, we should be honest with ourselves and own up to the fact that we do not, and cannot, possibly have all the answers to the needs of the people. It will make a world of difference if we are bold enough to admit it to the people and give them assurance that we would do our best to find the solution to the problems.   This is the basic respect that one can offer others in our interaction. Making bogus promises in order to get their vote not only destroys our integrity but also portrays us as people never to be believed.

We should also be courageous enough to own up to our mistakes and failures and offer apologies where necessary. In Nigeria, we find this difficult to do even as individuals. As leaders, we feel it is some kind of taboo or condescension to offer an apology to the people for our mistakes. Few examples would do here:

 

Erstwhile Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, till date has yet to offer an apology for the unfortunate annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election and the attendant calamity that decision visited on the people. Prophet T.B. Joshua, aside from offering condolence message to the families of those who lost their loved ones when his church guest house caved in last year, has also not offered any public apology, or taken responsibility, for the structural defect in the building which eventually led to its collapse.

 

Similarly, Abba Moro has yet to offer the public apology for the stampeding to death of tens of unemployed Nigerians during a Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment exercise in 2014. Abba Moro was Minister of Internal Affairs at the time with Immigration as one of the agencies under his watch. The calamitous recruitment exercise was anything but professionally handled as tens of thousands of job seekers were gathered at different venues across Nigeria without adequate preparation. In the stampede that ensued across the centers many were dispatched to their early grave, and instead of the minister to take responsibility for the arrangement, all he could do was to issue a wishy-washy ill-tempered statement alleging that candidates at the various centers failed to obey simple rules, hence the stampede. A responsive and responsible leader would have accepted responsibility for the occurrence of such a tragedy, offer the apology and show an appropriate dose of penitence with a promise to ensure it does not ever happen again. But this is Nigeria where strange things are never strange.

 

Even President Jonathan has also not offered any apology to Nigerians for his mistake in not taking Boko Haram insurgency seriously initially until the monster became uncontrollable. That error cost Nigeria some 15,000 lives, and billions of dollars’ worth of property destroyed so far. This is not to talk about the huge blow that negligence has dealt on our corporate image as a nation, the armed forces and security agencies, and more, unfortunately, the exposure of our soft underbelly to the international community. That Nigeria today finds herself in an embarrassing situation where foreign armies and mercenaries are fighting on our soil to rescue us even when the country is not officially at war is a sad commentary on our self-worth as an independent sovereign state.

Another way of building trust, whether in our public or private lives, is to strive to walk our talk continuously – that is, to deliver on our promises. This is one thing that is a scarce commodity in Nigeria over the years. Former military president, Ibrahim Babangida made promises upon promises to hand over power to a democratically elected president, but he never did. Instead, he annulled that election that would have, to all intents and purposes, ushered in a democratically elected president in 1993. He paid dearly for it when political pressure from the people forced him to quit power in a shoddy manner. His public image is yet to recover from that grave mistake.

 

Ditto President Olusegun Obasanjo who promised never to go for a third term. On the contrary, however, he did everything to thwart the constitution so as to enable him to go for the third term. His integrity and public image are today still suffering from it. On assumption office as elected president, President Goodluck Jonathan promised to solve the problem of epileptic power supply in Nigeria within four years; else he would not seek a second term. Today we know better.

Finally, to build trust, we must of necessity be fair and just to all and treat everyone with respect. We should also take decisions based on facts and not sentiments or emotions. To take decisions, especially decisions impacting the people, based on sentiments or emotions, is a recipe for disaster. Side by side with this is to listen more, act more, talk less and take a genuine interest in people.

 

As this year’s general elections draw near, our leaders should do well to reflect and evaluate how they build trust or distrust with the people. What is that one thing they would do now to increase trust levels with the people or decrease their trust levels? Our leaders should also reflect on the nature of trust. Trust is something you earn by keeping your promises. Now is the time for leaders to think about how much of their past promises they have kept.  There are also other aspects to developing trust that is worth noting.

The first and most important feature of trust is that it is a reciprocal arrangement between leaders and followers. One reason Nigerian voters do not trust Nigerian politicians is that politicians do not respect them. Nigerian politicians tend to take the patience of the people for granted. Respect means treating people as rational agents who can understand the realities of public policy and the decisions leaders must make. But all too often, our leaders think of trust and respect as a one-way traffic or worse, as something they are entitled to, or must expect from the people.

The second aspect of trust is that people will not trust any leader who says and does things that do not make sense to them. Trust helps people navigate complexity. Giving rust to people requires leaders to know what information they need in order to understand current problems and proposals for how to solve them. This includes a full explanation of what a leader wants to do and the reasons for it.

When leaders do not make sense to the people, the people will not trust them, and will lose interest in serious political discourse. They then turn their interest to entertainment, religion or some other things that evoke emotions, as is the case in Nigeria.  

For trust to exist between leaders and followers, a certain amount of transparency must pervade the intentions, direction, and actions of the leader. Over the years our leaders have lost our trust in so many ways, some of which are:

  1. Failing, to tell the truth, often with the intention to deceive or confuse us.
  2. Telling lies by omitting certain aspects of the truth, thereby giving us false impressions
  3. Failing to fulfill their campaign promises
  4. Failing to deliver on their party manifestoes; and
  5. Making random, haphazard and unexpected changes for no apparent reason
  6. Making the people appendages or subjects of the leader instead of the other way round. Perhaps this is a cultural thing, but in the contemporary world where servant-leadership is the norm; you would expect that our leaders at various levels would begin to make conscious effort to change the current paradigm. Unfortunately, all they do is to, in fact, perpetuate it.  Sad.