Sources of Distrust
One of the reasons why leaders are needed is to solve problems that have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, and with good judgment, which creates a risk of inconsistency and unpredictability.
More generally, the reason why leaders are needed is because decisions have to be made for an entire community that can hardly be made directly by its individual members. Yet, one the most obvious problems associated with agency is the risk that “agents”, or trustees, be perceived as serving different interests than the ones of their trustor. This is particularly true for school leaders, who have to serve a community with different constituents and individual members.
Another issue associated with agency is the risk that those entrusted with responsibilities be seen as misusing or even abusing their “authority” or decision-making ability. Who will “watch the watchmen”?
Finally, leaders are needed when complex problems require a level of expertise to be effectively addressed. The risk, here, is that leaders might be seen, either as failing to tackle pressing issues, or to the contrary as dispersing their efforts without proper prioritization and strategy, and thus with poor results.
Sources Of Trust
The previous sources of distrust are the exact opposite of the definition of trust proposed by McKnight and Chervany (2001): the belief that another person is willing and able to make good decisions. More precisely, these authors lay out the following sources of trust:
Importantly, trust is the combination of such personal attributes. A leader perceived as predictable could still be distrusted if they were not also perceived as making consistently good decisions. Of course, this expectation of good decisions has to be rooted in a belief in the benevolence of the leader. However, a general goodwill would not be enough if the leader wasn’t also believed to be transparent and ethical. Finally, all this good intent would be irrelevant if the leader wasn’t perceived as being capable of delivering on such great promises.
As McKnight and Chervany (2001) put it, “a trustee who is consistently (predictable) shown to be willing (benevolent) and able (competent) to serve the trustor’s interest in an honest, ethical manner (integrity) is indeed worthy of trust.”
Based on this definition, how can leaders generate and cultivate the trust they need from the community of individuals they have to serve? As obvious as it sounds, the only way for leaders to appear trustworthy is to be trustworthy, and to communicate this trustworthiness:
Because issues of trust are so pervasive and critical, leaders must be acutely aware of the issues associated with agency and constantly mindful of the effects of their decisions on their long-term credibility. The only way to generate and cultivate trust is to be intentional about it. Part of it involves making sure that one’s decisions are rightfully perceived as being in line with the best interest of the community as a whole; but the other part also involves helping its different members see this group-level interest as their own.
McKnight and Chervany (2001) - Harrison McKnight D., Chervany N.L. (2001) "Trust and Distrust Definitions: One Bite at a Time". In: Falcone R., Singh M., Tan YH. (eds) Trust in Cyber-societies. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 2246. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/3-540-45547-7_3