The biggest issue in any election is not the economy, or education, or even employment – it is trust.
The British election is now underway. After a brief lull in proceedings, for the funeral of the Pope and the Royal wedding, politicians are now in full swing.
Party leaders are launching almost daily manifestos on this and that, while pollsters give there daily prognostications on who is gaining ground and why.
Across Europe and the world, the political landscape is constantly changing. Once something which existed at the periphery of most people’s experience, politics has now come to touch almost everything in our lives.
In many countries, the day-to-day business of politics is carried out by people who are truly dedicated to the cause of public service. Yet politicians often attract more scorn than admiration.
The public’s criticism of civic and government leaders is most often motivated by a sense of mistrust.
‘All politicians make promises in their manifestos,’ some people will tell you. ‘But their promises are worth nothing after they’re elected.’
This issue of trust is at the root of so much of the antipathy Europeans generally feel toward their leaders: whether in politics, in business, or in other areas of life.
Trust is the basis of all real influence. Whether we’re building governments, businesses or families, there can be no leadership without trust.
Autocratic power may be a potent force for change, but it is short-lived. Autocrats are generally regarded with fear more than affection during their time at the top -- and with loathing once they are gone.
Power can be grasped, but true and lasting influence must be given. Influence comes with the establishment of trust.
When people trust their leaders, there is openness, vulnerability, which is the currency of all social change.
Nothing changes in groups of people unless someone is willing to trust someone else; whom they believe has their best interests at heart.
So, what is the source of this trust? And how might today’s politicos and other civic leaders gain the currency of trust?
A few years ago, the renowned Christian evangelist Dr. Billy Graham was the subject of a LIFE magazine article.
The writers of the feature piece noted that when people were drawn to Graham’s ministry and campaigns, it was not his communication or organizational skills which held them.
The key to his success, they noted, was that people saw in him a mark of sincerity. On that basis, they allowed him to influence their thoughts and decisions.
That is, surely, the first key to establishing or earning trust – sincerity.
The word comes to us from the joining of two Greek words: ‘sin’ and ‘cera’, which put together mean ‘without wax’.
In the golden days of Greek culture, expensive marble statues were not easily repaired. If someone knocked a chunk from a sculpture, the waxman went to work, moulding a lump of wax to match the missing piece of stone.
When the wax was coloured and dried, you couldn’t tell the real from the fake – at least, not from a distance. It was only when you got close that you could see the flaw. Sin Cera, without wax, basically equates to ‘real up-close’.
Reputation, said one wise man, is what people think you are; but character is what people close to you know you are. Trust is the result of a life lived with integrity, even before those who know us best.
Influence comes when we match our walk to our talk.
Trust is also the by-product of character.
Character is about more than keeping rules, or going along with the niceties of political correctness. Our character is gauged by the quality of our decisions and responses under pressure.
Will we do the right thing, the morally upright thing, when we’re under pressure to do the opposite?
Mother Teresa spoke to a US presidential prayer breakfast in 1994. She looked out over a crowd of eminent political leaders and media figures and spoke out boldly against contraception and abortion. She also spoke for the poor.
One reporter present at the time said that by the end of the talk there was almost no-one she hadn’t offended. Yet, when she concluded, the group rose as one to give her a lengthy ovation.
What were they applauding? It wasn’t her conservative agenda: many of them disagreed with much of what she’d said.
They were affirming her right to hold the strong convictions she expressed. She had earned the right to be heard.
She had faced many challenges, which would have destroyed people of lesser character. Yet her generous and selfless responses revealed a strong character which matched her convictions.
Even in an age which all too often elevates empty celebrity over real achievement, character is attractive.
The creator and producer of the Star Trek TV shows and movies, Gene Rodenberry, was once asked why he thought his characters were so attractive and meaningful for so many people.
He reportedly answered that his characters were people who were willing to lay down their lives for a cause they believed in, and, he added, 'there's a vacuum of that kind of leadership in our world today.'
Trust is also built upon relationship. No-one can come to a place of real influence, as opposed to naked power, without establishing strong connections with other people.
It’s been said before: ‘If you want to know whether you’re a leader, take a look behind you and see if anyone is following.’ The evidence of real leadership is followers.
In many organizations, the real leaders are not those who hold positions, but the people who have established strong, informal networks.
Because they have taken time to invest in relationship, their opinions are sought out and respected.
For every one of us, in whatever walk of life, the stronger our relationships, the greater will be our leadership and influence.
Strong relationships are built upon encouragement. Nothing attracts people like magnet of encouragement.
In a world that often seems intent on robbing people of courage and the will to go on, encouragers literally give people back their courage!
Our world is looking for leadership which will inspire people and call them boldly forward in a risky world.
Relationships are also strengthened by a service mentality. Not service as in, ‘I’ll do this service for you if you pay me for it.’ No, service that says, ‘I’ll do what’s best for you because you have value before God, and before me.’
People still want to trust. We don’t mind being led. But we’re looking for a certain kind of leader, at all levels of society.
We want leaders who will demonstrate that they’re real up close. Leaders who are able to make morally upright choices even under enormous pressure to do the opposite. Leaders who are committed to building maintaining strong relationships with those they lead.
Most of all, we’re looking for servants.