When it comes down to the core of what makes a team “click” and what makes an organization healthy, trust between the members of the team is critically important. Without that, it doesn’t matter how many principles you implement or techniques you use: your team will be dysfunctional.
Trust Your People
We’ve all had negative experiences with trust. We’ve trusted people, and they haven’t come through; we weren’t trusted when we thought we should have been; the list could go on. Because of these things, this heading might make you feel uncomfortable … but that’s not a bad thing. It means you know how important trust is.
However, despite all our potential negative impressions and sour experiences surrounding this topic, as leaders, for the sake of our ministries, we need to lay our self-protection aside and be willing to set the example for our teams.
Trust equals vulnerability. That’s why we draw away from it. But as a leader, your job is to lead—so take the vulnerable position first. Yes it’s difficult, but that’s okay. When your team sees you being vulnerable and giving trust, then they’ll be willing to be vulnerable and trust as well.
Whether that’s letting go of some area of responsibility by assigning it to someone else or sharing your own struggles with the team, your trust in them will inspire them to places of trust in you and in each other that they would never be willing to go to otherwise.
But, you might say, aren’t people supposed to earn my trust? The simple fact is that if you keep track of someone’s good and bad deeds to determine whether or not they’re worthy of your trust, you’ve already defeated the whole foundation of trust in that relationship.
In his book Trustology, Richard Fagerlin emphasizes, “Trust can’t be earned, it can only be given.” As a leader, you can’t wait for your team to “win” your trust, or you’ll never trust them.
So take the risk and trust your team! It may be difficult at first, but if you persevere you won’t regret it.
An important disclaimer: I’m not saying you should just trust anyone blindly, especially in children’s ministry. If you have reasons to suspect that someone is not qualified to fill a role, then it’s your job as a leader to look into that and act accordingly. If you’re in children’s ministry, still get background checks on all your people, follow the best safety practices, etc. As with anything else, use wisdom in how you walk out these principles.
That’s odd, you say. Didn’t he just tell me that trust isn’t earned? Yes I did. However, as a leader, you need to both take the vulnerable place of trusting your people and do as much as possible to make it easy for them to trust you. So how do you cultivate trust on your team?
Almost all of it comes down to living out the principles we’ve discussed in this series: clarity in vision; clear and excellent communication; transparency; serving, caring for, and building up your people. These are all activities that will build their trust and confidence in you as a leader. The key to these, though, is to be unshakably consistent and scrupulously honest in carrying out your roles as a leader.
If you create structure, rules, or roles, you must follow them. If you implement these principles for a while and then let them slide, people will see that your priorities lie elsewhere, and their trust in you will corrode. Consistency is critical.
Here is a quick review of a few high-level principles from this series that particularly impact trust:
1. Communicate Clearly. Always communicate clearly, and always explain the why behind what you’re doing or saying. Base your decisions and how you communicate on your vision; everything must come back to this. When you communicate clearly and effectively and people feel included and not left in the dark, trust will grow.
2. Get Feedback. Humbly and sincerely seek for feedback from your people. It’s hard and risky for your team members to offer feedback or admonition to their leader, yet these are the people who are most able to see clearly how you can improve. As John Piper said, “Ask people around you to be honest and tell you when you’re blowing it, whether you’re blowing it in little ways or big ways.”¹ So seek it out. Ask questions, and then genuinely listen. When you do this, trust will grow.
3. Invest. Invest in your people. Empower them to achieve and succeed. Help them grow. When you make your team your priority and they see that they’re more important to you than getting this project done or being perfectly ready for that event, your care for them will be proven as genuine. Trust will grow.
4. Know Your People. Seek to know and understand them as friends outside your ministry context. What are they passionate about? What do they do in their free time? What are their struggles and joys? Be a true friend. Again, when they see that you care, trust will grow.
A Culture of Grace
One final note deserves a place in this brief treatise on trust: creating a culture of grace. I’m sure we’ve all been in situations where there were such expectations on us that we felt paralyzed—we were afraid of taking action because we might fail, and failure was unacceptable. So we ended up just doing the little we were required to do and nothing more. And that’s okay, except that this type of culture operates on fear rather than trust and stifles growth, creativity, honesty, and healthy risk-taking.
If we desire our organizations to be strong, healthy, thriving places, people need to be given grace to fail. Whether that’s missing a deadline, trying a different teaching technique that flops, or anything else, people need the freedom to fail. Their identity and value must be based on who they are, not what they do.
This doesn’t mean we no longer strive for excellence or have high expectations. It just means those aims are now tempered by grace and understanding. In this culture, your people will be willing to take more risks, be vulnerable, do greater things—and they will grow. Otherwise, they’ll only do what they know they can succeed at, nothing more.
When someone does fail, they shouldn’t be punished overtly or otherwise. It should simply be viewed as an opportunity for growth. They’ve tried something new that didn’t work, and there’s always a lesson to be learned through these experiences that can be applied to future ones.
As an example, our leaders at our Heroic Life debrief meetings could say their small group that night went horribly, and that was totally okay. We’d then talk about it and determine a path forward for them, and we’d support them in their position. This, rather than intimidating them for their “failure,” empowered them to push through the challenge and grow as teachers. This in turn built trust among all of us as team members.
When your team sees you being vulnerable and trusting them first, when they see you caring for them, when you create a culture of grace, and especially when your team sees you doing these consistently over time, they will grow in trust in you as a leader and in each other, resulting in a strong, high-trust team.
Here are a few resources that have been formative in the development of my thoughts and practices on team leadership:
Sticky Teams, by Larry Osborne
Extreme Ownership, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Leading with Love, by Alexander Strauch
Start with Why, by Simon Sinek
Trustology, by Richard Fagerlin
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This is our final post on team unity. If you missed any of our other posts on this topic, check out our series below.