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Patricia McGinnis
Public Affairs leader

Patricia McGinnis

Former President and CEO of The Council for Excellence in Government, McGinnis teaches leadership at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute and advises the White House on leadership programs for presidential appointees.

Bonds of Trust

Effective leaders build bonds of trust with their constituents through authentic communications and interaction. Leaders who aspire to influence the thinking and behavior of their constituents have to reveal themselves--their values, their life experience, their aspirations--to earn the level of trust needed to make tough, even unpopular decisions down the road.

To connect with voters across the country during the Presidential campaign, Barack Obama seemed to become more and more comfortable revealing himself by talking about his life and his family as well as his promises and plans. At a time when trust in elected officials was at a low point, he created a bond with enough of his constituents to be elected and to begin his presidency with an abundance of high hopes and good will. He promised not only to listen and act, but to be willing to change his mind or compromise in the face of compelling new information or perspectives he had not considered.

The trust that is key to effective leadership requires meaningful connections, often on a personal level communicated through personal stories, with a variety of constituents. President Obama's growing constituency is now global so it is not surprising that he speaks directly to people around the world about his aspirations as president and his understanding based on personal experience and empathy.

Sonia Sotomayor has a different set of constituents. She is a role model for many, especially young people, women, Latinos and others who are inspired by her life story and accomplishments. As a Supreme Court nominee, her constituents also include Senators, legal scholars, and advocates of points of view from one end of the political spectrum to the other.

To succeed, she, too, must build or solidify bonds of trust with a large core of her constituents--based not on the expectation that she will vote one way or another on a particular issue, but that she will follow the Constitution and bring to her deliberations a deep knowledge of the law and an understanding of people who face hardships and barriers as she has. Both her life story and her legal training can contribute to those bonds of trust.

Similarly, Sandra Day O'Connor continues to be an amazing role model for many, especially young women, who are motivated and inspired by a leader of a different generation who grew up in an isolated rural setting and was undaunted by the reality that after graduating at the top of her class at Stanford Law School, the only jobs she was offered by law firms were positions of "legal secretary." So, her aspirations turned to public service where she succeeded as a leader by building strong bonds of trust through her understanding of people, the law and the American Dream.

By Patricia McGinnis

 |  June 11, 2009; 10:57 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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