USD Professor Rangapriya Kannan-Narasimhan Pens U.S. News & World Report Article on Trusting Leaders During a Pandemic

Associate Professor of Management Rangapriya Kannan-Narasimhan

University of San Diego School of Business Associate Professor of Management Rangapriya Kannan-Narasimhan penned an op-ed article in the U.S. News & World Report in which she determines what makes a leader trustworthy. "During this pandemic, two types of trust have been guiding how we motivate, impact, listen to, and influence one another: affect-based trust and competence-based trust." 

Article as it appears in U.S. News & World Report:

How to Assess Trustworthy Leaders During a Pandemic

For people deciding which leaders to trust during the coronavirus pandemic, examine their arguments.

"HINDSIGHT IS 20/20" may be an early front-runner for the slogan that will define the coronavirus pandemic. We've seen the re-emergence of Bill Gates' rational, resolute warnings about our collective unpreparedness for such an event. Even George W. Bush has been retrospectively deemed as insightful in the COVID-19 era, with his 2005 address on the need to be prepared for pandemics ringing true in audiences' ears.

The fact that Gates and Bush are being praised for their wisdom shows there has been a collective, cohesive breakdown of sensibility before and during the outbreak. That may sound like an insult to the Microsoft co-founder's public health experience and an attack on the 43rd president's overall intellect, but it's not.

Rather, it's an evaluation of how, with so many voices shouting at us from afar, informed and ignorant alike, we've become isolated and unable to determine whose opinion to trust and to whom we give intellectual authority. Do we take the sage advice of the calm Dr. Anthony Fauci if our local mayor or state governor objects? If we were supportive or unsupportive of President Donald Trump's policies and actions from a week, month or year ago, should we refute his COVID-19 plans and proclamations, even if some do seem justified?

We cannot deliver a prior warning to our past leaders and former selves about how to prepare for the current state of affairs. What we are still able to do is determine who we trust and if they are giving us enough justification to change our behavior.

Whom Do We Trust?

During this pandemic, two types of trust have been guiding how we motivate, impact, listen to, and influence one another: affect-based trust and competence-based trust.

Affect-based trust is tied to emotion. As a teen, you trusted your parents when they told you it's not a good idea to go out drinking with a gang of questionable misfits, not because they were experts in adolescent behavior or city drinking statutes, but simply because of your shared familial bond.

Competence-based trust is exactly how it sounds. It's our ability to trust someone based on their knowledge and skill set. We have no emotional attachment to the plumber who comes to fix the leaky kitchen faucet, nor do we have the ability on our own to determine why the faucet is sprouting water at a 90-degree angle. We do know that plumbers possess the necessary training and education.

For this pandemic, there isn't necessarily a most appropriate or "best" type of trust. Rather, it's an active decision to incorporate both in our decision-making. We love our parents, but we should be skeptical if they say social distancing "is no big deal" or if they argue it's necessary to wear a full hazmat suit at all hours. We may hold an affinity or a distaste for our mayor or governor, but before we let emotion guide us, we need to consider...

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