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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Veldon Law: Trust as an Element of Leadership

Learning From Don Quixote

The use of the word “trust” in this treatise is the consideration of “trust” as “belief in the ability and perhaps the personal characteristics of a leader.” It is confidence in another that if given the responsibility and the authority, they will choose the best course of action.

It is commonly understood that we all hold positions of leadership. For some this leadership role is held within the home, at school, at work, at church, in a civic club, etc. Some leadership roles are filled by those we elect to represent us, and other roles are not necessarily chosen, but circumstances cast them upon us.

It is through leadership that the world around us is shaped. There are many ways to lead and just as many or more types and styles of leadership. It is widely recognized that leaders have the power to influence and alter the lives of those around them. For most of us, there is the sense that leadership ought to carry with it a moral responsibility to those being led. The goal ought to not be to lead, rather it should be to lead toward a better, more fulfilling way of life. Some leaders use that power and influence for that kind of good while, regrettably, other leaders have wrought sheer terror.

We can learn much from current and past leaders. Their successes and mistakes, especially the more visible and public leaders, are scrutinized academically as well as in self-help books.

After a great deal of reflection on the topic of leadership, I have concluded that leadership, other than leadership brought about through tyrannical means, involves an act of trust – a belief in the unseen. Accordingly, leadership is an act of “trust,” both on the part of the leader, and of those who have confidence in his or her vision. This level of “trust” is what separates leaders from managers. Managers have lots of ways to mandate their ends – rules, schedules, plans, and procedures. Leaders go beyond these potentially punitive “compliance tools” to inspire people to trust in a vision, and trust in their own abilities to carry out that vision.

Trust begins with confidence. You have to have confidence in people. Confidence, if you will, between the leader and those being led. This kind of trust is akin to the trust and empowerment that parents’ display with their children. A parent encourages them to try, to develop, yet doesn’t scold when they falter. Perhaps, a definition of a good leader that epitomizes the level of trust leadership needs is – a good leader is not someone to lean on, but someone who makes leaning unnecessary. It takes trust that the other person can, if given the opportunity, do the job as well, or even better than the leader. Encouraging trust, and action based on that trust is certainly a fundamental element of leadership.

There is a play that expresses the point of trust, confidence, and leadership so powerfully that every potential leader should experience it. The play is Man of La Mancha. In short, it is about an old man who goes mad who puts on a rusty old suit of armor, thinks he’s a knight, and calls himself, “Don Quixote de La Mancha.” Don Quixote saw the world not as it was, but as he wanted it to be. He saw a world of chivalry, of caring acts, of noble deeds, and impossible dreams. As the play unfolds, Don Quixote picks a pathetic wretch “Aldonza” as his “dolcenea,” his lady. Aldonza is a realist protesting that she is, in her words: “Born of a dung heap, to die in a dung heap, a strumpet men use and forget.”

Yet Don Quixote insists she is “Dolcenea.” He sees in her far more dignity, more nobility, than she could dare see in herself. Aldonza resists, but eventually gives in to the old man’s idealism and dream of a better world.

After the death of the old man, Aldonza addresses his squire Sancho Panza. She cries out to Sancho, “Don Quixote is not dead. Believe, Sancho, Believe.”

When Sancho calls her Aldonza, she ends the play with a single statement. “My name is Dulcenea.”

“My name is Dulcenea,” says it all. She accepted another’s trust and confidence in her until she was able to find what Don Quixote saw deep within her. Because of his act of trust in her and she in him, we somehow know that life will never again be as squalid, as hopeless, for Dulcenea.

Obviously, the application for leaders is the need to realize our power to influence and alter the lives of those that have given their faith or trust. The two questions we as leaders might wish to ask of ourselves are: 1) are we worthy of the trust given, and
2) do we inspire and lift as did Don Quixote?