Dear Leader…… I regret to inform you that you have just failed the Trust test.

There has been a flurry of noise around trust in recent days, perhaps stirred by the impending launch, from my alma mater, of the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer ahead of this year’s gathering of the great and good in Davos.

Lucy Marcus posted elegantly on why Trust Must be Earned, while the brilliant Michael Wolff (like me, weary of the flagellation of the ‘t’ word) called – in USA Today – for Trust’s re-invention as a form of social media, a sort of glassdoor.com ratings system that would decapitate the continued trivialization of trust.

I am with Wolff: my longstanding hunch is that there is an inversely proportional relationship between the frequency with which leaders speak the word trust and how trusted they really are. Trust simply spoken is trust rarely earned.

Meanwhile, Dr. John Kotter’s thinking, previewed in an earlier Citizen Renaissance post, makes the all-important distinction between management (essential but process-driven) and leadership – a true behaviour that is about vision; about people buying in; about empowerment; and about producing change. Real leaders can help us step into the future of possibilities, together.

But are real leaders really fit to trust?

Here are five suggested criteria on which we should assess business and political leadership and determine whether our trust is properly and securely placed:

1. Vision

Is the leader’s vision credible, deliverable, sustainable and consistent with what (s)he has demonstrated before? Does it lead us to a better place – or does it simply reinforce a malignant status quo?

2. Transparency & Accountability

Is the person open and honest? Is (s)he prepared to be accountable for his/ her actions – not just to a boardroom or cabinet few, but to a wider universe of employees, customers and citizens: a true majority? Is (s)he prepared to be often and openly measured against benchmarks of success? Is his/ her reward proportionate – to society and not just to the 1%?

3. Empowerment & Democracy

Does the leader empower those around him/ her? Is (s) committed to citizen democracy – listening from the bottom-up and not just dictating from the top down? Is (s)he a participant in social democracy – that is the new leveler of social media and social business? Does every stakeholder (admittedly, an increasingly ugly word) have an equal share of voice…. and share of ear also?

4. Transformation & Transition

Does the dear Leader get that we just cannot go on like this? Does (s)he understand the key challenges for citizenship today – around climate change? Around social justice? Around re-calibrating the relationship between wants and needs? Does his/ her programme actually facilitate the change we need – and does it have measurable outcomes (see ‘Accountability’ above and ‘Proof’ below)? Is (s)he committed to common good – putting purpose above profit? Is there a transition plan in place?

5. Proof

Is the leader walking the walk and not just talking the talk? What tangible evidence is there to underline this? Is this evidence independent, socially-sourced and properly democratic?

These criteria rightly deserve organized metrics and some hard-and-fast numbers. I plan to begin work on these now. But, within the wider conversation of whether leaders are indeed fit to trust, these questions demand answers – just as citizens deserve values-led, principled leadership and as leaders increasingly understand that trust is earned, not just spoken or self-annointed.

The ‘t’ word is exhausted, while the need for societal change is urgent and imperative. The time for just talking trust is over.

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