Two ingredients for great leadership

Love is free.
Trust is earned.

They’ve become a regular fixture around our town in the last couple years – signs in front of churches, electricians, flower shops, veterinarians – advertising not just services, but also featuring inspiring or funny quotes and sayings.

And while they might seem overdone and simplistic, sometimes they strike a chord. All week I’ve driven by one that says “Love is free. Trust is earned.” At first I thought nothing of it, but each time I pass it I think a little more about the truth in it and how it relates to companies and leaders.

Love and trust are vital ingredients of good leadership. You want people to love their leaders, to care for them as they do their family and friends. You also need them to trust their leaders without a doubt to make decisions on their behalf.

But love is definitely easier to achieve than trust. We want to give love away. We love loving people and things. It makes us feel good to care for others. They don’t call them the “warm and fuzzies” for nothing. And the risks are arguably low. We can stop loving someone at any time. In some cases it might hurt for a while, but we will find someone else to give more love to.

It’s easy to get people to love as well. It can be through a series of simple gestures or a single big one. It can be because a person brings out the best in us, is fun to be around, or believes in the same things we do. We don’t always need that person to constantly be with us to love them. And if they mess up, we’ll forgive them. As long as they make us feel good when they are around  that’s what’s important.  

Trust is much harder though. We don’t trust easily. We know innately that to trust is to put our safety and well-being in another person’s hands. And that type of responsibility requires proof before we give it. Trust is earned through constant vigilance. It’s the near-perfect alignment of words and actions. It is continually being present and accessible. It is being open and transparent.

Trust comes from honesty and vulnerability. And these aren't easy to be held accountable to because often they show our weaknesses.

Trust is hard work and it’s uncomfortable. And that’s why it’s so much easier to work on just being loved. But love will only take a leader so far and without the solid foundation of trust, love will easily fall away.