Understanding Trust and Power

Learn how it can develop you as a leader

Illustration of powe and trust — by dooder and freepik

Some people naturally gain followers. Do you remember when you attended high school and looking at fashionable people? Wondering and thinking about, hum? How do they influence so many people around them? Later in life, you experience people with greater power, people leading nations, commanding an army, or just your regular boss at work.

What seems to be the reason that people choose to follow you or other people? Even in desperate situations? I think much of this has to do with power and trust. Confused? Me too at the start but keep with me. I will try to explain to you the bond between these two. For then to look at the connection trust and power have regarding credible leadership.

What is power?

The word power is frequently seen as something negative, in Norway we talk about politicians having the power to decide. The police have the power to enforce the law, and the teacher has the power in the classroom, the most aggressive boy on the street has power over the others in the gang. It frequently appears in the media and the press that someone is power crazy, power generates a form of fear.

Many charismatic leaders have had power as it is a necessity for them to be able to lead. “Power remains the ability to establish influence in others.” (Lunenburg, 2012). By having power, you can influence those around you. How you choose to achieve this, however, has an impact on how effective your leadership is. As a leader, you must get A to become B and influence the situation to achieve the goal you decide on as a leader. Leadership is, therefore, power since you influence.

Power does not depend on authority. Power enters many forms and having authority can be seen as possessing legitimate power. You have power as an example because of your position.

Good examples to mention are police, military, judges, and politicians. In these jobs/positions you have the power to convince others to behave the way you want. This is primarily because you have “been given” power from a system they trust and know is working. Influence is also a form of power.

The way you are, your values, and your attitudes, are reflected in those you lead. You gain power because someone believes in you. They show you confidence, accept you know best, and therefore grant you power over them. Common to both is that you gain power because the individual trusts that your actions are for their best. (House, Spangler, & Woy, 1991)

What is trust?

Trust represents the human feeling that the goodness, honesty, and skill of others are trustworthy. The willingness to be vulnerable, you open up, you trust someone. Trust frequently involves the transfer of power to a person or a system, the power to act on my behalf or my best interests.

You reveal a secret to your friend when you have confidence that this person will not tell it further. By doing this you give the friend power, the person can now manipulate the information he has received to blackmail as an example. Trust is thus a result of interpersonal interaction that generates power for a party. (Mayer, Davis, & Schoor, 1995)

Controll — by dooder
Controll — by dooder
Controll — by dooder

Trust is not something you receive, it is something you deserve, you must work for it. According to Sweeney, the foundation of the house is trust, competence, character, and care. (Sweeney, Matthews, & Lester, 2011, p. 168) Collectively they construct the walls and ceiling that aid us to create a warm and good environment inside, for those you are to lead.

Competence is about your ability to perceive and use the resources you have around you. But also, professional knowledge within your field, showing you know what you talk about. And that you can learn when your knowledge is put to a test.

Character is the values ​​and principles you stand for, there is interaction and a link between what you say and do, you are stable and show this overtime.

Caring is based on relational skills, you care about those you lead and show this, the work you do is for the best for those you lead. Very often are one’s benefits set aside for the good of the community.

Each wall in the house has its strength. If you prioritize character, more than care as an example. One wall will be sturdier than the other. If this is done too much, you run the risk that when your confidence is put to the test during a storm, the roof will collapse as not all the walls measure up.

Therefore, during the development of trust, you must focus equally on all points to secure a stable foundation for your exercise of leadership.

So how do they connect?

Power is a prerequisite for you to be able to influence, and the exercise of power can promote or inhibit trust. For you to have power, trust must be present. People listen to you as the police when they trust the system, they listen to you as a leader when they trust you as a person.

Imagine a glass on the table. It is filled with 2/3 of water. The glass, in this case, is trust, the water is the ones you lead. The closer to the top of the glass the water is, the more trust do you have. Your fist is power, and you force it into the glass. As you push your fist deeper into the glass the more confidence you create until the water overflows.

Power can build up trust in this way, but it can also cause someone to lose confidence in you. Those people will, even if you have the power, set themselves up against you. In this way, power and trust are intimately linked.

No control illustration — by dooder
No control illustration — by dooder
No control illustration — by dooder

When someone loses confidence in you, they will no longer do as you wish. You can no longer influence, and so you also have no power, and in this way no opportunity to lead. One can argue you can threaten someone to do as you please, and you thus have power.

A bank robber who storms in and screams: “lie down or I will shoot”, has power because he possesses a weapon. But the bank robber also has confidence. The people in the bank do as the robber says because they have confidence that he will perform what he states. If they did not trust this, they would not care. By identifying the key between trust and power, you start by laying the foundation of credible leadership.

Using trust and power in your leadership

Credible leadership is based on mutual trust. It does not help that your colleagues believe in you if you do not believe in them. If you cannot trust your team or project manager can perform the tasks, you provide, there will be no effective leadership.

Because you cannot always control every single small action in a group or project. By controlling everything too much, the trust will also be weakened as it is no longer mutual, and colleagues will begin to doubt whether you want their own best (Sweeney, Matthews, & Lester, 2011, p. 178). You must be able to trust your colleagues to understand you. You grant them the power to carry out their own decisions for your good, and in this way develop mutual trust.

A prime example is being a commander in a military unit. Here you have been given power from a system the soldier’s trust. This is not to say they will follow all the orders you carry out, especially during threatening situations. Since you are not the system, they trust. It is your job to establish their trust in you as a human being. Credible military leadership, therefore, consists of trust developed by human relations that grants you the power to influence.

Therefore, to exercise the most credible military leadership or any other leadership for that matter. Before, during, and after combat or a regular day project, it is important to focus on the human side among your soldiers. Before the conflict, you need to develop trust that can survive and work when it is needed the most and nurture it when it is over.

Before the battle, you lay the foundation. You show you possess the required skills, maintain good values and care about your soldiers. Because when the battle comes, it is the foundation you have created that the soldiers reconsider before they take the next step.

Basic leadership — by dooder
Basic leadership — by dooder
Basic leadership — by dooder

When the battle comes, it is all the more important that you stick to what you have created, you must be stable and not change masks. Changes in your personality will cause uncertainty among those you lead, and you may therefore lose the trust you have build up (Horn & Walker, 2008).

When the battle is finally over, the soldiers will look back on what happened and judge you again, you have now laid the foundation for a new arena. An arena where you have to re-establish the trust you have lost. Or an arena where the human relationship between you and the soldiers, has become strong and you must maintain and take care of it.


Therefore, there may not be an exact recipe for developing a credible leadership, that will remain from start to finish. It is a continuous work between people and the relationship they have between themselves. What plays a critical role, is how much energy you as a leader put into the work, of establishing the foundation before the battle comes.

When the walls are up and the battle begins, is it too late to do anything. You must maintain what you have generated. All you do now to maintain your trust is nothing more than small pillars of support on the walls.

The foundation is set, it is not until everything is over that you get the opportunity to reconstruct it. Do you think this was thrilling and want to read on? On that occasion I recommend you look at some of my other articles on leadership. Over here are some examples you might enjoy.

And last make sure you give this post 50 claps if you enjoyed it and want to see more.


Horn, C. B., & Walker, D. R. (2008). The Military Leadership Handbook. Ontario: Canadian Defence Academy Press.

House, R. J., Spangler, W. D., & Woy, J. (1991). Personality and Charisma in the U.S. Presidency: A Psychological Theory of Leader Effectiveness. Cornell: Sage Publications, Inc.

Lunenburg, F. C. (2012). Power and Leadership: An Influence Process. Sam Houston State University: INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT, BUSINESS, AND ADMINISTRATION,VOLUME 15, NUMBER 1.

Mayer, R. C., Davis, J. H., & Schoor, D. F. (1995). An Integrative Model of Organizational Trust Vol. 20, №3. The Academy of Management Review, 709–734.

Sweeney, P. J., Matthews, M. D., & Lester, P. B. (2011). Leadership In Dangerous Situations. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.

IT Consultant with extensive experience in computer security / programming, and leadership / management development of personnell.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store