Leaders need to be authentic to build trust

It is heartening to note that Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing highlighted the importance of ensuring that the public's trust in the Government is sustained, in his speech last Thursday (Exceptional leadership and trust; Jan 12).

Research has shown that trust in a government is one of the most important foundations upon which the legitimacy and sustainability of political systems are built.

The pioneering leaders demonstrated that trust is essential for social cohesion and well-being as it affects leaders' ability to govern, and enables them to act in the best interest of the citizens during times of social and economic uncertainty.

As it does not take much to fuel the flames of mistrust, I would like to share several best practices from the private sector from my time working as an adviser and executive coach to top management.

First, leaders need to be authentic. Do what you say you will.

Research has shown that trust in a government is one of the most important foundations upon which the legitimacy and sustainability of political systems are built.

Predictability is critical. It is the foundation upon which trust is built. This applies not only to the political office holders but all leaders in the public sector and government agencies too.

Leadership must also be demonstrated and earned, and not merely claimed. Leaders need to be accountable for mistakes or shortcomings in their organisations.

The need to continually engage with stakeholders to better understand their needs and expectations is important. Leaders will suffer a trust deficit if they fail to communicate clearly and authentically with their people.

Fostering a culture of trust will require the Government to consider its policies not just in terms of the results they might produce but more directly as a means to build quality relationships with citizens, who are the key stakeholders.

To be an inspiration, leaders need to be good role models of Singapore's shared values.

Sattar Bawany (Professor)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2018, with the headline 'Leaders need to be authentic to build trust'. Print Edition | Subscribe