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Why We Still Demand Trust From Our Leaders Over Trusting Everyday Actions of Strangers

19 Feb 2024 10:24 PM | Chris Fuzie (Administrator)

Do We Really Trust Strangers?

I was doing chores the other day and had to drive to the hardware store (yes, the second trip for the right part…and to return the one I first bought).  While driving to the hardware store I saw the car in front of me drift over the double yellow painted line in the middle of the street which separated opposing directions of traffic.  I thought to myself, it’s a good thing nobody was coming the other way because that would have been difficult to avoid if there had been a head-on crash.  I then started to think about the many collisions I’d investigated in my 28 years as a police officer and how many crashes were the result of people trusting others to drive correctly and observe the rules of the road. 

This cause me to start thinking about the numerous everyday activities where people have to trust others to do the right thing, follow the rules, take the appropriate action, and how frequently throughout the day we trust complete strangers.  I have already mentioned driving and when driving, people trust other drivers to follow traffic rules and regulations to maintain safety on the road, especially in rush-hour or commuter traffic.  But what about some professions or societal norms.  Let’s consider something many do every day, grocery shopping. Customers trust that the food they purchase at grocery stores is safe for consumption and that the sellers have adhered to proper hygiene and sanitation standards.  Have you ever found something on the grocery shelf that has a past due “expiration date?”

Or, what about using public transportation: Commuters trust bus drivers, train conductors, pilots, and other public transportation personnel to operate vehicles, vessels, and airplanes safely and follow transportation laws.  Imagine how you would feel boarding a jumbo jet after seeing the pilot walk out of the airport bar?  Would you wonder?  Or maybe eating at restaurants. Diners trust that restaurant staff have prepared their food safely and hygienically, and that the establishment maintains cleanliness standards to prevent foodborne illnesses.  Have you noticed the signs in the restrooms that tell employees that they have to wash their hands after using the restroom? We “trust” that they do and that others do too. 

Consider online transactions. People trust that online sellers will deliver the products they've purchased as described and that their personal and financial information will be kept secure.  Even taking medications.  Patients trust that pharmacists have accurately dispensed their medications and that healthcare professionals have prescribed the correct treatment.  How would we know if they didn’t?  Remember in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Mr. Gower was upset over the death of his son and put the wrong medicine in the capsules?  That can’t happen today!  Can it? 

Sending Mail or Packages. Individuals trust postal workers and courier services to deliver their mail and packages intact and on time.  I know that I have personally experienced late, or never arrived and damaged packages…who hasn’t, but yet we trust them and continue to use them, as well as using shared spaces: Whether it's shared office spaces, public parks, or communal areas in apartment buildings, people trust others to respect shared spaces and follow community guidelines for cleanliness and behavior.  

Professionally, we also trust others in childcare and education. Parents trust teachers, daycare providers, and other childcare professionals to care for and educate their children in a safe and nurturing environment.  In financial institutions and transactions we also trust other people.  Whether it's depositing money in a bank, investing in stocks, or using credit cards, people trust financial institutions and service providers to manage their money securely and ethically.  These activities all involve an element of trust, whether it's trusting strangers to follow societal norms or trusting professionals to perform their duties competently and honestly.

So, almost everyday we trust strangers to follow the rules of the road, not put our food in jeopardy, operate mass transit and deliver mail, food, and medicine accurately, as well as take care of our most precious treasure, our children.  But these are strangers.  So it made me wonder about why people still put so much emphasis on trusting the people they actually do know, especially their leaders. 

Why Trusting Leaders is Still Highly Desired

Most people know who their boss is and frequently have spent many years working with their boss or organizational leaders. I started to wonder why people put so much emphasis on trusting their leaders even after the leaders have proven themselves to be trustworthy.  Even if a leader has proven themselves to be trustworthy, there are many people who continue to emphasize trust as a highly desired behavior for several reasons.

People want to have consistency and reliability. Trustworthy leaders consistently demonstrate integrity, competence, and reliability in their actions and decisions. People value consistency and are more likely to trust leaders who have consistently shown themselves to be trustworthy in the past. "Consistency and reliability are essential traits for building trust in any relationship, whether it's personal or professional. When someone consistently demonstrates integrity and reliability in their words and actions, others are more likely to trust and rely on them." (Smith & Johnson, 2020) 

This is why a positive track record is important.  Leaders with a history of making sound decisions and acting in the best interests of their constituents earn trust over time. People may emphasize trust in such leaders because they have demonstrated their ability to deliver positive outcomes and fulfill their responsibilities effectively.  "A positive track record is a testament to one's past successes and accomplishments, serving as a foundation for building trust and confidence in their future endeavors. Individuals with a proven history of making sound decisions and achieving positive outcomes are often viewed as trustworthy and reliable leaders." (Jones and Williams, 2019).

Personal connection and loyalty is another reason we want trust in our leaders.  Individuals may develop a personal connection or sense of loyalty to leaders who have earned their trust. This loyalty can lead people to continue emphasizing trust in their leaders even in the face of challenges or criticism.  "Personal connection and loyalty are powerful forces that bind individuals to their leaders, fostering trust and solidarity within a community. When individuals feel a sense of personal connection and loyalty to their leaders, they are more likely to trust their decisions and support their initiatives, even in challenging times." (Davis & Thompson, 2021)

 Frequently we trust because the leader has shown competence.  Perceived competence or actual competence helps develop trust.  Trustworthy leaders are often perceived as competent and capable of leading effectively. People may emphasize trust in leaders who have demonstrated competence in their roles and have a track record of achieving goals and solving problems.

Shared vision and values along with emotional investment also create a high need for trust. When leaders align with the values and vision of their followers, they are more likely to inspire trust and confidence. People may continue to emphasize trust in leaders who share their values and work toward common goals that benefit the broader community. "Shared vision and values serve as a powerful foundation for trust in leadership, uniting individuals around common goals and ideals. When leaders and followers share a vision for the future and uphold similar values, it fosters a sense of alignment and commitment, enhancing trust and collaboration within the group," (Miller & Thompson, 2020). 

Individuals may have invested emotionally in their leaders, believing in their abilities, and feeling a sense of pride or identification with them. This emotional investment can reinforce trust and lead people to continue emphasizing trust in their leaders. "Emotional investment in leadership cultivates a deep sense of connection and loyalty, fostering trust and commitment among followers. When individuals invest emotionally in their leaders, they become more personally invested in the success of the leader's initiatives, strengthening bonds of trust and solidarity within the group," (Roberts & Garcia, 2018).

Trustworthy leaders provide a sense of security and stability, which is essential for maintaining social order and cohesion. People may emphasize trust in leaders who promote stability and create an environment of trust and predictability.  Overall, people continue to desire trust in leaders who have proven themselves to be trustworthy because of the potential of continued positive qualities and outcomes associated with such leaders. This is why trust is a fundamental aspect of effective leadership, and when leaders earn trust, they are more likely to inspire confidence and support from their followers.

Which Is More Desirable, Trust of Our Leaders or Trust in Everyday Strangers

This made me want to compare why people still put so much emphasis on trusting their leaders, even if the leader has proven themselves trustworthy, as opposed to trusting strangers who we may never have even met before.  When comparing the risks associated with trusting leadership versus trusting others in everyday actions like driving or grocery shopping, it's essential to consider the context and potential consequences of misplaced trust.

              Trusting Leadership: The risks associated with trusting leadership can be significant, especially in situations where leaders have a disproportionate impact on the lives of many people. If leaders abuse their power, make poor decisions, or act unethically, the consequences can be far- reaching and affect entire communities or even nations. Misplaced trust in leadership can lead to economic instability, social unrest, loss of rights and freedoms, and other serious consequences.  This is why the ability to trust a leader is still one of the most desired behaviors.

              Trusting Everyday Strangers’ Actions: While there are risks associated with trusting others in everyday actions such as driving or grocery shopping, the potential consequences are generally more localized and immediate. For example, trusting other drivers to follow traffic rules carries the risk of accidents or injury, but these risks are usually limited to the individuals directly involved in the situation. Similarly, trusting sellers at grocery stores to provide safe products carries the risk of foodborne illness or contamination, but the impact is typically confined to the individual or household consuming the product.

Putting It All Together:

In conclusion, while both trusting leadership and trusting strangers in everyday actions entail risks, misplaced trust in leadership can have broader and more severe consequences on a societal scale. "The risk of misplaced trust in leadership cannot be understated, as it can lead to significant consequences for individuals, organizations, and society as a whole. When trust is placed in leaders who abuse their power, act unethically, or make poor decisions, it can erode confidence, undermine morale, and damage relationships, ultimately hindering progress and success." (Smith & Johnson, 2021).  It's essential for individuals to critically evaluate the trust they place in leaders and to hold them accountable for their actions, while also taking appropriate precautions in everyday interactions to mitigate risks associated with trusting others.


Davis, E. L., & Thompson, R. M. (2021). The Role of Personal Connection and Loyalty in Building Trust in Leadership. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 28(4), 567-580.

Jones, S. R., & Williams, L. M. (2019). The Importance of a Positive Track Record in Leadership: Building Trust and Confidence. Journal of Leadership Studies, 12(3), 45-58.

Miller, K. A., & Thompson, J. D. (2020). The Impact of Shared Vision and Values on Trust in Leadership. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 17(3), 321-335. Top of Form

Roberts, L. M., & Garcia, M. A. (2018). The Role of Emotional Investment in Building Trust in Leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 24(2), 189-204.

Smith, J. D., & Johnson, A. B. (2020). The Role of Consistency and Reliability in Building Trust. Journal of Trust and Reliability, 15(2), 123-135.

Smith, J. D., & Johnson, A. B. (2021). The Risk of Misplaced Trust in Leadership: Consequences and Considerations. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 18(4), 567-582.

About the Author:  Dr. Chris Fuzie is the owner of CMF Leadership Consulting and is currently the Business/HR Manager for a District Attorney’s office in California. Chris is a Leaderologist II and Vice President of the National Leaderology Association (NLA) who holds a Doctor of Education (Ed. D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education. Chris is a developer, trainer, consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations since 2010. Chris is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and a former National Instructor for the International Association of Chiefs of Police and California P.O.S.T. Courses. Chris is the author of "Because Why... Understanding Behavior in Exigencies." and of "S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior." Chris is honorably retired from the Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service leading such teams as the Homicide Team, the Hostage Negotiations Team, the Street-Level Drug Team and the School Police Officer Team.

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