Restoring Trust in America’s Leaders

One of the most pressing challenges America faces today is restoring trust in its leadership. Growing up my generation was blessed with iconic leaders in all areas from government and politics, to sports and religion. There were numerous examples of role model leaders including Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, Vince Lombardi, John Wooden and many others.

Who are the trusted leaders of today?

A better question might be, Why does leadership matter? We look to those in leadership to set the tone by providing focus and clarity, vision, goals and direction, motivation and to be the catalysts for change. Unfortunately, too many of today’s leaders don’t measure up to our expectations because we tend to hold them to a higher standard than we do ourselves, and this goes to the root of the problem.

According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School in 2011, 68% of Americans believe there is a leadership crisis in our country, and leaders in only four of thirteen sectors inspire above average confidence (the military, the Supreme Court, non-profits and medical institutions). It’s probably of no surprise that leaders in the news media, Congress, and Wall Street received the lowest scores.

Wikipedia describes leadership as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”. However, I prefer Alan Keith’s definition of leadership “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.” This places the burden of leadership where it should be – with the people. 

Although the figures aren’t available support to this, it’s likely that more money has been spent on leadership development during the past two decades in both the public and private sectors than was spent in the previous ten decades combined. So why are we not turning out better leaders across the board? There are several factors that could account for this:

  1. Our leaders are held to a higher standard, and the expectations of leadership today are greater than they have been in the past.
  2. The complexity and the rapidity of change our leaders must confront has drastically increased, and as a result most leaders are ill-prepared to manage this complexity and change on their own.
  3. Virtual real-time access to information through the various media sources and the Internet, smart phones with cameras, etc. have placed our leaders’ public and private lives under the constant scrutiny of the general public.
  4. Our society seeks instant gratification to problem solving and this creates unrealistic expectations of our leaders in their efforts to provide short-term solutions to long-term problems.

How do we restore trust in America’s leaders?

Participative leadership in a global society is not someone else’s job, it is our collective responsibility. Each of us must assume a broader leadership role within our families, local communities, churches and workplaces. To restore trust, leaders must work together to solve the most pressing problems we face here in America and in other parts of the world.

How can you assume a broader leadership role and become an effective, trusted leader? Start by asking yourself these simple questions at the end of each day:

  1. Did I make a real difference today?
  2. Did I meet all of my commitments?
  3. Did I give my best effort to support others?

As a first step, it really doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that despite the challenges ahead of us. Remember too, great leaders come in all sizes, shapes, colors and faiths. We need trusted leaders from all walks of life and all age groups who are committed to solving America’s problems and shaping our future.

Changing your thinking about the definition of trusted leadership starts by making leadership synonymous with stewardship. If you want to help restore trust in America’s leadership, it starts with you and your efforts to get involved and make a difference.

So, what are you doing to become a better steward, and in turn a trusted leader, in order to make something extraordinary happen?


COPYRIGHT © 2012-17 John Carroll