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Leadership, trust and community resilience

John Plodinec
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Plodinec is the Associate Director for Resilience Technologies at the Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI).

In a recent column, George Friedman – perhaps the preeminent geopolitical scientist of our time – wrote a chilling post.  As he looked backward to predict where 2019 might lead our world, he painted a dark and uncertain picture of our future:

…2019.  It is a year in which the old world has already died, but many still think it can be resurrected.  It is a year where the new world has not yet emerged…It will be what it must be – a new world with new rules.

He was talking about the global world order, but we can say the same about our communities.  The Great Recession and the “recovery” that followed have played hob with the economic capital of our neighborhoods and our cities.  More insidious and less recognized has been the loss of trust and the growth of a Zero Sum mentality that is rapidly eroding our social capital – the wellspring of community resilience.

We see this in things great and small:  the opiate-alcohol-suicide epidemic especially among those who have dropped out of the workforce; the virulent incivility of our politics; the growth of anti-social behavior on social media but even extending to more and more incidents of road rage and dangerous driving.

But our trajectory does not have to be our destiny; we can alter our future if we have the will to do so.  But to make this happen, our leaders must have the courage to actually lead (wouldn’t that be a welcome change!).  Lead by bringing us together to develop a collective understanding of where our communities are now.  Lead by bringing us together to develop a shared vision of what we want our communities to become.  Lead by working with everyone in the community to develop and implement realistic plans to achieve the shared vision.  And fundamental to all of this, lead by working with all of us to redevelop the trust that is at the heart of a successful community.

Several years ago, I posted lists of trust builders and breakers.  They’re worth repeating here.

Trust builders

  • Openness.  We have to be willing to let others know who we are in a personal sense, what we value and what we believe.
  • Sharing.  We have to share in conversations – that means we have to listen – really pay attention to what others are saying – as well as speak. We have to show that we respect the opinions of others.  We have to show that we value their opinions as well – perhaps not so much for their content, but certainly for others’ willingness to be open with us.
  • “Trusted” opinions.  Recommendations from trusted third parties, meaningful awards, or certifications can help build others’ trust in us.
  • Collaboration.  Actions speak louder than words; working together is perhaps the best way to build trust.
  • Shared success and celebrations.  Or, as I like to say – never underestimate the power of a party!  Celebrating small successes along the way builds trust and can lead to even greater successes.

Trust breakers

  • Playing the blame game.  Can you ever really trust someone who always blames others when things aren’t going right?  Or who is always making excuses (Certain politicians come to mind?) and never takes responsibility?
  • Shooting from the lip.  It’s hard to trust someone who seems to always be jumping to conclusions without checking their facts.
  • Sending mixed signals.  It’s also hard to trust that a reed that bends to whichever way the wind is blowing will stand firm for you (Certain other politicians come to mind?).
  • Not caring about others’ concerns.  Would you trust someone to do something that you value if they are only concerned about what’s good for them?

As Friedman points out, 2019 is unlikely to be a seminal year in global affairs.  But it can see the foundation laid for a solid New Age for our communities.  Let us dedicate ourselves to putting in place leaders who truly value trust.  Leaders who recognize that building trust is essential to the success of our communities.  Leaders who are committed to the time and effort building trust requires.  Leaders who will use that trust to increase our communities’ resilience.

Editor’s note: This blog was originally published by the Community & Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) and has been reposted with permission from the author. To learn more about CARRI, visit www.resilientus.org