The fundamental role of a leader is to build trust, bear pain and give hope.
Ultimately, all leadership flows from these three streams.
This week I was reminded once again of the crucial and irreplaceable stream of trust. It is the least common denominator in all leadership contexts, the fuel by which the leadership car moves. It is impossible to lead effectively over the long haul absent of trust. In Patrick Lencioni’s helpful book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he lists the major destructive factors among team dynamics: fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. But the keystone trait that undergirds all the others is the absence of trust. As one of my doctoral professors recently said, “The absence of trust is ultimately the absence of grace.” Conversely speaking then, building and deepening trust is the single greatest thing leaders must cultivate within and among their team in order to be healthy, fruitful and effective.
Albert Winseman, in his book Growing An Engaged Church, wrote that every person who walks into your church is asking two questions: Am I valued? and Do I have something to contribute? These questions get to the heart of the matter. Yet, I would offer that these are not just questions asked by churchgoers; they are also asked by any person who serves on any team in any capacity.
I don’t think anyone would argue with what I’ve offered thus far. Every well-meaning leader I’ve met believes trust is important. And every leader I’ve talked to wants people to feel valued and to allow space for collaboration, participation and contribution with their team. However, you may be thinking: Yes but how? Practically speaking, how am I to go about deepening trust with my team?
With Lencioni’s book in one hand and Winseman’s book in the other, it’s important for leaders to drill down further and consider how we can cultivate health in specific and practical ways, first by self-assessment. I offer the following ten elements – and questions – for self-evaluation.
- Value and love: how do I treat the people on my team (i.e. my words, posture, presence, tone, affirmation, etc.)? Is it a judgement-free zone? Which is more important to me: healthy relationships or accomplishing more? Are our team meetings and interactions safe spaces for people to really share what they are thinking and feeling?
- Participation: how much do I actually empower and include our team on decisions being made? Am I collaborating or simply informing them of decisions already made?
- Congruence: how much do my words match my actions? Where might I be out of alignment? How would I even know?
- Consistency: is there evidence of results in my leadership over an extended period of time? Do people have confidence in my ability to lead?
- Self-differentiation: How much of my identity is wrapped up in me being the leader? Being a “successful” leader? Ultimately, which direction are the arrows pointing: toward me, toward our team or toward our mission?
- Vulnerability: how vulnerable have I been (and how vulnerable am I willing to be) in order to model what a safe space looks like on the team? When others are vulnerable how have I responded? Am I capable of readily admitting “I don’t know” and verbalizing phrases such as “I’m sorry”?
- Failure: How do I respond to risks and failures, individually and as a team? How much does it define who I am as a leader or who we are as a team?
- Truth-telling: How am I at telling the truth – and embracing it – even if it stings? Am I actually telling the whole truth or am I telling the truth, plus or minus ten percent?
- Unity: how much are we pursuing unity (not uniformity) as a team? Am I willing to let go of my personal preference(s) if it means we will be better off as a team in the long run? Do dissenting voices have a valued role among our team or are they hushed, ignored or swept aside?
- Clarity: How clear and compelling is our vision, priorities, what we care about? How do we know if we are being clear in our communication?
In closing, I submit these additional questions worthy of reflection for leaders when it comes to deepening trust among our teams:
- Why should people follow me? What gives me the right to lead others?
- Because I have power, who, in turn, is flourishing?
It takes courage to ask these questions of ourselves about our own leadership; and it requires even more courage to ask others these questions about our leadership. But because trust is so crucial to the process, we can’t afford not to ask them. Ironically, we may find that if we ask these questions of ourselves and others with a humble, inquisitive and courageous tone and posture on a consistent basis, trust among our team will deepen.
J.R. Briggs has three passions: to equip and invest in hungry kingdom leaders, to grow fruit on other people’s trees and to collaborate with others to create good kingdom mischief. In short, his calling is to help leaders who want to get better.