Your Leadership Legacy

Building trust with your congregation is determined by how those who follow you will respond to seven statements.

by Cal LeMon

I have refused for the past 32 years to change my personal physician. And I am scared. Dr. Tim is hinting he may be considering some beach where the sun shines almost every day to enjoy his retirement years.

Frankly, at my age, I do not want to fill out a sheaf of forms, introduce myself to a new medical professional, and get started again recounting my medical history.

I am already grieving the loss of someone who knows me well and who I, without hesitation, trust. Dr. Tim has joined an exclusive club that includes my family, my financial consultant, my automobile mechanic, my dentist, and my accountant as people I completely trust.

Oh, one more person should be on that list — my pastor. The legacy of my pastor, my spiritual coach, and friend, will always be wrapped in trust. I regularly open my heart and mind, with abandonment, and know my pastor will guard these personal treasures.

Are you leaving a legacy of trust? Are you for real? Building trust with your congregation takes time and is determined by how those who follow you will respond to seven statements.

Your Trust Quotient

In my work with for-profit corporations, trust is plastered everywhere. The verbiage of the marketplace is constantly morphing into the next “must read” book or full-day seminar. The latest buzzwords that decorate leadership writing include transformational leadership, servant leadership, engagement leadership, organizational leadership, and compelling leadership. In spite of the mania for another catch phrase to sell something, there is, and always has been, one foundational leadership characteristic: trust.

In commenting on the meteoric success of the Whole Foods grocery store chain, Gary Hamel, in his book The Future of Management, says, “Conversely, team members will stay motivated over the long term only if they trust top management to let them share in the bounty of their own productivity.”

Daniel Goleman, author of the perpetually best-selling business book, Emotional Intelligence, says leaders with high E.Q. (emotional intelligence quotient) can create around them vibrant “trust networks.” These are collections of colleagues who risk professional futures, income, and reputation based on the trust quotient they have with their leader.

Therefore, your ministry (your ability to gather and build a covenant community of faith centered around Someone greater than you) is actually a collection of trust networks. These networks follow you and endure difficulty with you because they … trust you.

But trust takes time. People need time to see if you are for real. They determine for real by whether those who follow you will respond to the following seven statements.

I Will Trust You If You Tell Me the Truth

Tom Hanks entertained us with, “There is no crying in baseball” (A League of Their Own). How about a new adage, “There is no lying in the church.”

What constitutes lying in the church? Have you ever said to someone in your trust network, “I do not see any problems with getting $1 million in financing for this new addition,” even when you had serious doubts?

When asked at a clergy meeting if your congregation was numerically growing, you responded, “We have doubled our attendance in the last year,” when you knew the numbers were far below that statement?

Has a staff member looked at you in your weekly meeting and asked, “Will you be here all day today?” and you responded, “I will not be leaving until 5 p.m.” You also knew, at that moment, you would be picking up your child from school at 3:30 p.m. and likely would not return.

These are the kind of lies that do not result in an immediate request for your resignation. At the same time, it is the accumulation of mistruths that chip away at trust.

I Will Trust You If You Tell Me What You Are Thinking

Second guessing is not productive.

We usually are able to accurately read others’ nonverbal messages. Looking down when giving a decision, turning away from the speaker when we do not agree, and constantly interrupting when we think we are losing control of the conversation, all scream nonverbal messages.

You diminish trust when people around you have to constantly try to figure out your real message.

The antidote for this communication malady is to either say, “Right now I do not have a response. I will let you know by noon tomorrow,” or “My answer is no to your request for the following reasons. …”

Most people in your ministry will tell you they would rather have a definitive no than to play the game, “What Is He/She Really Saying Today?”

I Will Trust You When You Correct Me in Private

Twelve people sit around this oblong conference table. It is a normally scheduled meeting in your ministry.

You are the final decision maker in the room. A spirited debate has been bubbling over the past 20 minutes about budget priorities for next year. You have listened to one person at the table who has been, in your opinion, sucking the air out of the debate with an unmet need for power, and you break in with, “If you had thought through your position, you would know there is no way any of us would approve that unrealistic amount of money.”

The room goes into freeze frame. Caught in the silence you trudge on with, “Now, let’s get back to spiritual and rational conversation over this budget area.”

No one moves or says anything. With halting gate the meeting continues. You have already done the damage.

Personal comments that excoriate an individual will always decimate trust. If you, the leader, are disappointed, disgusted, or displeased with someone, end the meeting, make an appointment with the person you are concerned about, and, above all … close the door.

I Will Trust You If You Do Not Shoot the Messenger

Have you ever delivered bad news only to find out you, the messenger, have become the bad news?

The high school pastor walks into your office and says, “The preregistration for this year’s summer camp is about 50 percent below what we need.”

You, the lead pastor, respond, “Well, if you were doing what this congregation is paying you to do, these numbers would not be so dismal. I don’t care what you have to do, fill that bus with at least 35 kids. Do we understand each other?”

The youth pastor is the responsible messenger, but you do not solve this problem by emotionally beating up the messenger.

This trust network could have been strengthened by the lead pastor responding, “Sounds like we have a challenge about youth camp. How about if both of us take some time to create solutions to fill that bus and meet back here at 3 p.m. tomorrow. Will that work for you?”

I Will Trust You When You Listen to Me

We build the art of listening on attending the speaker with “unconditional positive regard.” This means when another person is speaking, you, the leader, have locked into his or her story.

When you, the leader, look at your wristwatch while someone is talking to you, when you check your e-mails on your Smart Phone when a parishioner asks you a question, or when you do not respond to an inquiry in a staff meeting because your “mind was somewhere else” … you have just added to your trust-deficit account.

Your inattention will always hobble your leadership. Listening is not a biological event; listening is a decision. And, everyone around you can tell when you have just checked out of a conversation.

Good-bye, trust.

I Will Trust You When You Forgive My Failure

The sum total of your ministry is restoration. With fevered pitch and weeping eyes we eloquently declare the kingdom of God has arrived on the coattails of an ancient Carpenter from backwoods Nazareth who, with a touch of His hand, restored the selfish, arrogant, and broken among us to become children of the Creator of the universe.

Does this magnificent, life-changing story extend to the staff, elders, board members, historic parishioners, and family members who, because of imperfections, often fail?

This is not an appeal to excuse failure; rather, this is an appeal to forgive and then, with our restorative Lord’s help, refuse to remember. If there are silent but pervasive reminders that, “You failed and I really cannot expect much more in the future,” watch trust evaporate.

Writing Your Legacy … Now

Our message to a watching world is we are travelers, not landowners, in this world. Today is transitory and will evaporate with another tick of the second hand on our watch.

So, with eternity approaching, what will be the residue, the legacy of your spiritual leadership? Yes, people will talk about you.

Frankly, these friends, colleagues, neighbors, fellow-believers will not summarize your life by surveying your academic transcript, bank account balance, or even homiletic hortatory. No, the precipitate of our lives and leadership will ultimately be whether or not we were trustworthy.