Almost everything you read or hear about good leadership involves the need for building trust with followers whether they are volunteers or paid staff members. To be truthful, I didn’t think about this issue when I was young in ministry and even later as I continued to serve in ministry positions. Somewhere along the way, I began to understand the need for building trust among those I was trying to lead and even in my relationships with others. (Remember in a previous article I said I was a slow learner.)
A leader can have people following his leadership out of fear, respect for the position, or by conviction that you should follow a particular leader. But none of these reasons will take the place of trust. When people really trust the leader, they will follow because of their trust.
As I began to understand this principle, I began to ask the question, “How can one build trust?” Probably, there is no silver bullet answer to this question. It involves several actions on the part of the leader. The following actions represent what I learned during sixty-plus years of service as a leader in churches and denominational positions. The ideas are not listed in any priority.
- Become a humble, servant leader. Humility is a great characteristic for any Christian.
But it is of utmost importance for a leader. A humble leader will always be willing to admit his/her weaknesses. Also, a humble leader will always put Christ first in his/her life. Then, others will come second and self last.
In my opinion, being a servant leader is following the example of Jesus. He illustrated his servant heart when He washed the feet of his disciples. At the end of that experience, He said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13: 15, NIV). For three years, Jesus was a servant to his apostles and other disciples. We need to be servants to those we lead, or they will not trust us fully.
- Be a person of integrity. Integrity implies being whole or being complete. David speaks
of integrity in Psalm 101: 1(The Passion) when he wrote: “I’m trying my best to walk in the way of integrity.” Then he continues to write that he will try his best to avoid evil and not let anything keep him from having the right relationship with God.
In verse 8, he writes, “At each and every sunrise I will awake to do what’s right.” Perhaps that would be a good idea for every leader. As you awake from sleep and begin to think about the day, perhaps you might make the same commitment to God. Doing what’s right is a characteristic of being a person of integrity.
Also, being a person of integrity involves your character as a person. A person with a good character shows courage, humility, justice, respect for others, and being responsible. Your character is what you show to others. Sometimes, a leader shows one side of their personhood to the public and another side of their character in private. A person of integrity is consistent in their character.
- Be competent. If you want your followers and friends to trust you, you must show
competence. Followers must believe that you know how to do what you say you can do. You can’t just talk a good show. You must be able to do it. You must have the required skills and knowledge required in your leadership role.
- Make yourself available. Followers will always have questions for the leader. They will
have suggestions or ideas they want to share with the leader. They will need guidance from the leader about the work they are doing. In order for these things to happen, leaders will want to make themselves available to their followers.
In the world of technology in which we live, this can be done in several ways – phone, text messaging, emails, Zoom calls and much more. But nothing takes the place of face-to-face time with followers. They will be able to read your body language and ask clarifying questions much more easily.
For a supervisor, it’s almost impossible to be a leader who develops trust without face-to-face meetings on a regular basis. Most churches with multiple staff members have a weekly staff meeting. Most staff members have assignments that require regular meetings with those who serve with them as volunteers. Making yourself available for this type of meeting is a must.
- Do what you say you will do. Through the years, I have consulted with many staff
members about this principle. I have heard, in different words, the following: “My pastor said he would get back to me about a certain issue; and he never follows up.”
If you want to build trust, be sure to follow up. If you tell someone you will call them back about a question or problem, then call him/her back. If you say, “Let me think about this and I’ll get back to you,” then make a note to yourself to get back to this person with your thoughts or questions. Don’t leave a person, paid or volunteer, hanging out there without a follow-up call or visit.
I’m sure you could add other thoughts about building trust. These are things I learned the hard way that helped me to build trust with followers and other relationships. Ultimately, if you do not build trust with followers, you will not be able to be a successful leader because you will have few or no followers. If you don’t have followers, you are not a leader.
Finally, remember that God is good and very patient with us. Sometimes, we are not that good and patient. Hopefully, some of these thoughts will help you as you exercise your leadership responsibilities – especially as you build trust.