What Anthony Weiner Can Teach You About Leadership

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August 1, 2013 /LinkedIn/ – At this point, there’s no point in piling on Anthony Weiner. With a new poll showing more than half of likely voters saying he should withdraw from the race, and nasty insults flying among his current and former staff, he’s already dug a pretty deep hole on his own.

So instead of speculating about “why he did it,” then, I’d like to focus on the leadership lesson that can be extracted from his woes. Specifically, what is the fate of a leader that no one trusts?

Trust is a leader’s most potent currency. When we work alongside a leader whose integrity and vision we believe in, and who in turn believes in and supports the people around him, that’s when we feel an organization really taking flight.

But without trust, a leader is no longer someone you want to follow. Instead, he’s more like a dictator — someone who governs purely by the use and application of power. The less trust they’ve earned, the less inclined people are to follow them, and the more power they need to force people to fall in line. Instead of devotion to principle and loyalty to the people they represent, these leaders become devoted to their own agenda.

At this point, people would have a tough time believing that Weiner’s interests can be separated from his own ego and, well, id. The only people who’d be able to “trust” a Mayor Weiner would be the politicians, developers, lobbyists and others whose agendas overlap with his. Once the overlap ends, though, the counterfeit trust would too. It would be all about short-term transactions. Text message politics, if you will.

Of course, trust-impaired leaders can be found in every realm – politics is just the most visible one. Look for the CEOs who motivate followers not by encouragement, support and guidance, but with the blunt mechanical trickery of carrots and sticks. They hand down bonuses and promotions to the people who stay in line, and pink slips to those who don’t. These are telltale signs of leaders who spend their energy pushing and pulling on the levers of power. Machiavelli said, “it is much more secure to be feared than to be loved.” This approach works … until it doesn’t.

When the star director’s movie bombs, or the CEO can’t reverse his firm’s cratering stock price, or the congressman’s approval rating is flat-lining, the power they lorded over people doesn’t seem so potent anymore. Since they never cared to foster trust among those they work with, when things go bad, they’ll find they have nothing left to offer, and no one to lead.

The best leaders I know work to build trust over the long term. Rather than accruing and applying power, they distribute it. By sharing the means to make things happen, they create opportunity for, and instill confidence in, the people they lead.

Trust-building takes time, and, if you’re not careful, everything you’ve built can be forfeited in a New York minute. If you choose to lead by investing in trust, expect that you’ll have to keep earning it.

Building trust means becoming a fiduciary – the guardian of others’ interests. It means you’re invested in broader goals than quarterly earnings or career advancement, and it requires listening and humility. Like anything worth building, you may not reap the instant gratification of quick returns. But people will want to work with you, you’ll get more done over time, and you’ll have a career and a legacy you can be proud of.

By Joel Peterson