Rice U. expert: ‘Trust is the basis of leader influence in times of uncertainty’


Jeff Falk

Rice U. expert: ‘Trust is the basis of leader influence in times of uncertainty’

HOUSTON — (Jan. 24, 2018) — The resolution to the recent federal government shutdown was premised on trust between the negotiating parties. Rice University’s Tom Kolditz, a leadership scholar and director of Rice’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders, is available to discuss the importance of trust in leaders and organizations, including government.


“Trust is important for leaders because it is the basis of leader influence in times of uncertainty,” said Kolditz, a retired brigadier general. “In routine management contexts, leaders make decisions and exert influence based on known facts, logical analysis and common sense. People are easily led when the facts are known and there is no threat. But uncertainty is characteristic of virtually all crisis situations. In such ambiguous circumstances, the only leverage a leader has is trust, and that trust must have been reinforced, nurtured and built over time.”

Kolditz said levels of trust in the media and in the U.S. government have radically declined after the election of President Donald Trump, as measured by the Edelman Trust Barometer, www.edelman.com/trust2017.

“Our president has been fact-checked and shown to lie, on average, five times per day,” Kolditz said. “This is exceptionally dangerous, because our national leadership has, for the past year, only faced problems we would historically define as routine — no brushfire global conflicts, no major terrorist attacks, no pandemic, no destabilization of markets, just policy arguments and ideological posturing. Such conditions of low trust and normal activity cause leaders to be vastly overconfident in their ability to influence people and exert control. When the inevitable serious crisis occurs and conditions of uncertainty soar, there is no basis of trust in our political leadership and thus no real basis for influence in crisis. A president and Congress with low levels of trust will see a precipitous, predictable collapse in the willingness of people to be influenced by them, or to even believe what they say, and it will be very difficult for the United States to organize an effective national response to a major threat under such conditions. The irony of this circumstance is that the mistrust of the media has been engineered for political purposes, rather than by consistent failure of journalists to do their job. A large part of Russian meddling in our election has been by undercutting trust in the Fourth Estate and creating conditions of uncertainty.”

Kolditz biography:

Prior to joining Rice, Kolditz taught as a professor in the practice of leadership and management and director of the Leadership Development Program at the Yale School of Management.

Kolditz led the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point for 12 years. In that role, he was responsible for West Point’s teaching, research and outreach activities in management, leader development science, psychology and sociology and was appointed professor emeritus after retirement. His career has focused on either leading organizations himself or studying leadership and leadership policy across sectors.

Kolditz served for two years as a leadership and human resources policy analyst in the Pentagon and for a year as a concept developer in the Center for Army Leadership. He was the founding director of the West Point Leadership Center. He was instrumental in the design and formation of the Thayer Leader Development Group and is the managing member of Saxon Castle LLC, a leader development consultancy. Kolditz is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, the Army’s second-highest award in order of precedence, and recently received the Warren Bennis Award. He is the author of “In Extremis Leadership: Leading As If Your Life Depended On It,” which explains how leadership lessons and principles in dangerous settings also apply to leading in business and everyday life.

Kolditz holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Vanderbilt University, three master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Missouri.

To schedule an interview with Kolditz, contact Jeff Falk, associate director of national media relations at Rice, at 713-348-6775 or jfalk@rice.edu.

Rice University has a VideoLink ReadyCam TV interview studio. ReadyCam is capable of transmitting broadcast-quality standard-definition and high-definition video directly to all news media organizations around the world 24/7.


This news release can be found online at http://news.rice.edu.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Related materials:

Tom Kolditz bio: https://doerr.rice.edu/content/tom-kolditz-0

Photo link: http://news.rice.edu/files/2017/09/170426_-Doerr_fitlow_085-1658web.jpg

Photo credit: Rice University/Jeff Fitlow

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.