Building Trust With Your Team

by Glenn Reynolds

Trust is the currency of leadership. If leadership is a relationship between those who lead and those who follow, then trust cements the relationship. When trust collapses, the relationship crumbles. When trust is strong, change, growth, and mission fulfillment stand on that foundation.

On August 1, 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, bringing attention to the relationship between increased truck weights and bridge stress. The result of the National Transportation Safety Board investigation cited several reasons for the bridge’s collapse, including the extra weight of heavy construction equipment combined with the weight of rush hour traffic. The bridge simply could not stand up under the weight it was carrying.

Engineers design bridges to withstand a certain amount of stress from the weight of cars and trucks that cross it. Any weight that increases the stress above what it was designed to support could possibly cause the bridge to collapse.

Leadership works in much the same way. Leaders build bridges from the present to the future, from where the organization currently is to where the vision demands it goes. To bridge the gap between the present and the future, leaders can only move forward based on the amount of trust they possess with team members and followers.

A limit exists to the amount of trust followers and team members extend to their leader. Just like every bridge has a limit, every leader has a limit imposed by the leader’s relationship with the team.

When leaders make changes with their teams that exceed the weight limit of trust they have established, the relationship often collapses. So how do leaders build trust with their teams? How do they ensure there is enough trust to carry the weight the change demands?

How to Gain Trust

Equifax, Transunion, and Experian are credit bureaus that keep track of who is paying whom and who is not. They tally the record and give every consumer in America a credit score. But they are not the only ones who track credit trustworthiness. Every team member watches and asks questions to see if the leader deserves a good credit score — if the leader deserves to be trusted.

Team members will ask three questions to determine whether or not they can trust you. With the right answers, you can build trust with your team.

What Is His Agenda?

I open every staff meeting by asking if everyone has an agenda. One day someone quipped, “Yeah, but does everybody have the same agenda?”

This incisive comment reveals the fact everybody has an agenda, and leaders should not leave team members in the dark about their agenda. Team members want to know what the leader’s agenda is for the organization, for each team member, and for the team. Is the leader using the team or ministry to attain personal goals, or are the leader and team working together to achieve the organization’s mission? Is the leader using their position as a stepping-stone to another job and substituting short-term results for long-term benefits? What is the leader’s agenda? What is the leader trying to accomplish? What is the vision? And, who benefits from it?

Obviously, a leader’s agenda needs to involve fulfilling the mission of the organization while empowering team members to fulfill their potential under God. The effective leader reveals that agenda through every decision that is made, through the respect shown to team members, through the way each team member’s role is clarified, and how the leader confronts the real issues between reality and vision. To make the team trust you, you cannot play tricks or try to hide the agenda. The redemptive leader makes sure everyone knows the agenda, their role in it, and how it benefits the organization and the community it serves.

If the team senses the agenda is personal, self-centered, or off base, trust begins to erode and the ability to lead collapses. So, make the mission plain.

Is There Alignment?

Team members look for alignment of action and agenda on two levels: personal and organizational. Followers want to know if the leader’s walk matches their talk. They also want to know if there is alignment between the leader’s stated vision and values and the reality on the ground in the organization.

First, they look at the leader. Does the leader practice what is preached? Is the leader good at issuing dictates that apply to everyone else in the organization, but exempt the leader? Does the leader demand a strong work ethic and embody it? Does the leader practice the same accountability to which other team members are held? Does the leader talk about transparency and authenticity, but keep essential elements from the team? Is there personal alignment between the leader and the vision and values of the organization? If there is, trust grows. If there is not, trust crumbles.

I heard about a leader of a large ministry who repeatedly told the staff he had an open door policy, but only a few staff members had a cardkey to the executive suite where he worked. His stated agenda and actions did not match. This undercut the trust the team members placed in his leadership. The gap between agenda and action resulted in a gap between leader and team. The gap came as an unintentional consequence of security concerns, but intentional or not, it was still there. To make sure the gap was closed, the leader reversed policy and gave everyone access to the executive suite in an attempt to match agenda to action.

In your leadership, are there intentional or unintentional gaps between your agenda and your actions? If you cannot spot them, ask two or three of your closest and most supportive leaders to help you keep an eye out for them.

Second, team members look for alignment in regard to the leader and the organizational aims. Team members often look at vision and values exercises as a needless waste of time concocted by an academic in some ivory tower. Why? Because they have been through this before and nothing happened.

In a way this is like the parent who continually tells their child that discipline is coming if behavior does not change — but discipline never comes. The parent’s lack of action deafens the child’s ears to the parent’s words. In the same way, the leader deafens the team’s ears when talk and walk do not match.

I consulted with a church that stated one of its primary aims was to reach the next generation for Christ, but its children’s facility was in horrible shape, while the rest of the campus had undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation. The organizational gap between stated agenda and realized action diminished trust the team members gave the leader.

The primary location for the gap to develop is in the budget. It is easy for the leader to state the agenda is to reach people, create a vibrant youth ministry, or any number of great goals; but, if the budget of time and financial resources does not match up with the agenda, the team will be left wondering if the leader is telling the truth.

Is the Leader Capable?

Every time I board an airplane I look in the cockpit. I do not know what I am looking for. I could not tell an altimeter from an emergency brake. I guess I am checking to make sure it looks like the pilot and copilot know what they are doing. Do they look awake? Do they inspire confidence? Are they capable of getting the plane in the air and then back on the ground?

Similarly, your team wants to know if you have what it takes to get them where they want to go. In the same way, they want to know if you are capable of getting the organization from point A to point B.

Is the leader capable? To answer the question, team members often look over their shoulders to see if the leader has a record of success. This is why it is important in a new assignment to get some small wins under your belt to build trust.

It is not just the big three credit bureaus deciding if you can be trusted — it is every team member and every follower of Christ. When you do your best to answer these three questions, you will increase your trust with your team.